In the UK we are now in our third lockdown – and this one is during the winter, a time when a lot of us can struggle with our moods anyway. I decided early on that I would need to do as much as I could in order to safeguard my mental health in order to keep plodding through this very unusual time.
Here are the things I’m doing to take care of my mental health during lockdown:
Move your body
Yes, ok I know everyone bangs on about exercise but honestly, it does help. I find that if I have done some form of movement – whether that’s a full on Joe Wicks HIIT workout or ten minutes of yoga – I feel a bit better about my day. Even if I achieve nothing else with my day (and this is often the case) I can at least go to bed knowing I did something with my day. Exercise releases endorphins, so there’s a lot to be said for getting your heart rate up – but also moving your body on a regular basis can really help to stabilise your mood. As well as this, if you can keep up a regular practice of some kind, you will see yourself improving and this can be really good for your self image and mood.
Take a cold shower
Ok, look, I know how that sounds. Cold showers rarely sound like fun. I’m not asking you to stand under freezing water – but at the end of your shower, when you’re done with washing, turn the water to cold and stay under it for a couple of minutes. A cold shower can help you to wake up when you’re feeling a bit dazed and confused, and also increases circulation. It can also help to lower stress levels, strengthen your willpower and improve your immune response. Personally, I take a cold shower every day and find that I feel exhillarated and alert afterwards. Taking cold showers is a great way of showing yourself that you can do hard things,and that you are stronger than you think – both mentally and physically.
Even if you only stand outside your front door while you drink your morning coffee, try to get outside once a day. If your sleep has been disrupted (and really, by this point whose hasn’t), getting outside first thing can help with this. Getting sunlight on your face first thing in the morning triggers your body to realise it’s morning, releasing “wake up” hormones to get your day started. This then sets in motion a whole chain reaction of homonal releases, ending with the release of melatonin at bedtime. Studies have also shown that when you spend time looking at green space around you it can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Stick to a routine
Routines are not just for toddlers! We all function better when we know what is coming next. It’s nice to have a day where you just sit in your PJs and eat crisps while watching Kardashians, but when that day stretches into a week, it can really affect your mood. Having a routine doesn’t need to mean you plan your day with military precision; it just means you get up around the same time, eat your meals around the same time and go to bed around the same time. It’s not very rock n roll, but it can really help you to keep going through the endless days of sameness presented by a lockdown.
Stay in touch
Even the most introverted of people (that would be me) need contact with other humans from time to time. It’s really easy to get lazy about this, and then find yourself at the bottom of a pit of despair. Humans need interaction, and for me, this means being intentional about reaching out to people for a chat. That might be a Zoom call with a friend or a WhatsApp chat – but I try to make sure I’ve reached out and spoken to at least one person every day.
It’s easy to convince yourself that by scrolling through social media posts you’re “staying in touch” with your friends – but what you’re actually doing is staying in touch with all of the doom and gloom, fake news and general shenanigans of the social media world. Photos of people standing in a particular position in order to look skinny; people who want to look more clever by being cynical and negative; people who are constantly angry and trying to recruit you to join their crusade. None of these are likely to be good for your mental health. Stop it.
Help someone else
One surefire way to feel good – and something that’s not mentioned as often as it should be in my opinion – is helping someone else. When you feel rubbish it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of feeling rubbish and doing nothing, and then feeling even worse because you’ve done nothing. Helping someone else helps you to feel like you’ve achieved something, and you get that warm glow of knowing you’ve done a good thing. Do any of your neighbours need anything from the shops?
I am a massive fan of meditation. I use the Insight Timer app for my meditation, and aim to meditate at least once per day. There are loads of free guided meditations on the app – and also loads on YouTube or on other apps – to help you to chill out and relax. I find that a few minutes of just watching my breath can help to de-fuzz my brain (that’s a technical term, obviously) and make me less likely to lose my cool during the day.
Focus on gratitude
Several years ago I saw a TED Talk where the speaker said that you can train your brain to look for the positives in life by writing down the things you are grateful for each day. For the last couple of years I have posted an almost daily gratitude list on my social media Stories, and encouraged followers to share the things they are grateful for. I have to say, it does make me feel a bit better about my day, to sit down and think about the good things that have happened. Some days, I am grateful for a major life event; many days I am grateful for a cuddle from my daughter or time spent watching the birds from my desk. This encourages me to look for – and to focus on – the positive things in my day, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
If you find that you’re really struggling, it’s safe to say that you are far from alone. Lots of people are finding lockdown hard – me included. Speaking to a professional can really help – and that doesn’t mean going to a physical counselling session or visiting a therapist’s office. There are lots of online services available, such as BetterHelp which provide online counselling services at your convenience. It’s really worth looking into, as professional counselling can not only help you to get through this lockdown but also provide you with coping skills for the future.