It’s strange to think that this time last year Covid-19, lockdown and self-isolation were words/phrases that didn’t overly exist in our vocabularies like they do today. It’s almost funny in a ‘if I don’t laugh I’ll cry’ kind of way. Regardless of your situation, you’ve most likely felt the impact of one or all of the above over the previous year and have struggled in the process, and that’s completely understandable if so. You’re definitely not the only one.
One thing we do need to be careful of however, is that whilst we are adjusting to the next tiers of lockdown and what comes next, that we aren’t losing ourselves and our happiness in the process. I thought about exactly what that happiness meant to me, and how I have been keeping (mostly) mentally healthy over the past few months, and from that this article appeared. So, without further ado, here are 8 methods I’ve been using to help me through those rough days. Hopefully they will help those who are struggling:
1. Keep Connected with Those Closest to You.
If you read pretty much any article or study on mental health, especially with regards to tips for combatting depression, it is almost certain that you have come across one or two suggestions which are consistently promoted. One of those suggestions is having a balanced social life. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, we as a species are not designed to go through life alone.
That being said, Covid-19 has come along and created so many challenges and difficulties over the previous ten months, and one of the hardest trials many of us have faced and still do is the instant drop in our social lives. No more coffees or last-minute plans to grab a drink at a local pub, no cinema trips, no spontaneous catch-ups. All of them replaced with government advice to stay at home and socially distance.
It’s really no surprise that these instructions have taken a toll on our mental health, even more so if you live alone. However, there are still ways to stay in touch with those closest to you. Pick up your phone and give your best friend a call just to say hey. Send a text to your family to check in on how they are doing. Organise a zoom catchup for your friend group. Just because you have to be physically distanced doesn’t mean you can’t have any contact with others in your lives. Think more along the lines of physically distanced, not socially.
If you are fortunate enough to live with a partner, family, friends or any other form of housemates, then try and encourage some additional socialising. We’ve all had a tough time during lockdown, be it the first one or whatever number you are on now, but it’s even more of a reason to reach out and open up. Even just having lunch and making small talk with the person you live with can give you a small sense of normalcy and do way more for your mental health than you realise.
2. Re-work Your Routine.
This one took some practice for sure. Let me start off by saying I don’t think every minute of every day needs to be planned and executed to the finest detail, that’s not exactly healthy and also for most of us it just isn’t a viable option. If you’re anything like me and value your general day-to-day routine, the smallest change to your daily life can really throw you off for a minute. Now imagine instead of a tiny change, it’s a global pandemic. Feeling lost or low is nothing to feel ashamed or guilty about. One way of gaining back a little bit of control in your life is to re-work your routine.
Since early last year, millions of people have become furloughed or unemployed, and millions more have completely scrapped their normal routine to incorporate remote working etc, but this doesn’t mean you can’t have a routine at all. For those of you who still have a job, it’s important to prioritise your work-life balance more than ever. Regardless of whether you are office based or working from home, it can be difficult to find motivation outside of your work hours especially if you live somewhere that is in lockdown.
After a while it can really feel like you’re waking up to go to work, to get home and go to sleep, and repeat. The proverb ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ may immediately make you think of The Shining and a crazed axe-swinging Jack Nicholson, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Creating a routine beyond your work hours can be of great benefit to your mental health. Maybe every Monday night you plan to watch that TV show you’ve always had on your list, or maybe every Wednesday after work you want to try cooking a new recipe. It doesn’t matter what your routine includes, but it is important that you have some sense of stability beyond work in an otherwise chaotic time.
If you have been left without a job or placed on furlough due to Covid-19, this is all still possible. I know first-hand what it’s like to wake up in the morning and not know what to do with your day, and I know how easy it is to slip into depression from this. I can’t begin to fathom how difficult it must be if you lost your job as a result of pandemic, but having some markers of a routine can at least stop your mental health from deteriorating more than necessary. Pick a time to wake up and go to sleep each day. Set a few hours aside each day to job-hunt and also a few hours to focus on relaxing and doing what makes you happy.
I know it may not seem like a priority to some in the situations described above, but poor mental health makes us less likely to be motivated to get back up again and work towards something better, so make sure you keep it in mind when thinking about your routine.
3. Be Sure to Keep Active.
This one should go without saying when it comes to working on your mental health, lockdown or not. I know that situations are varied at the moment with curfews and limitations on where you can go, but it is still possible to work in some time in your schedule to work up a sweat. You don’t have to do an intense workout for 4 hours each day in order to make you happy, but using 30-60 minutes of your day to exercise can have resounding results for your mental wellbeing and dopamine levels.
If you’re in a country that is in a full lockdown excluding essential journeys and an hour for exercise each day, then put this hour to good use and go for a long walk or run. Just remember to go at your own pace and try and enjoy yourself.
If you are shielding or have to self-isolate due to exposure to someone who has since tested positive, I know you’re probably tearing your hair out wanting to leave your house. I’ve experienced this personally. However, there are other options available. Follow one of the many solo home-work out programmes on social media, or have a search for an online group Zumba call if that’s more your vibe. There are alternatives available, you just have to go looking for them.
One final thing worth noting is that if you have children or a pet such as a dog, don’t be afraid to make it a group workout. Get the kids involved with a fun home workout or take your dog for a long walk. If you have others there, you definitely don’t have to do it all alone.
4. Find Yourself a Passion Project or Hobby.
This one in particular has been a huge help to me so I thought it would be important to cover. From March to November last year, I did very little outside of my work hours. This was for two reasons: Firstly, my local cafes and pubs were closed, as were the other places I would meet up with friends during most given weeks, so this wasn’t an option. Secondly, I was just fed up, and this led me to waiting on ‘normal’ coming back. It took a little longer than I had hoped, but eventually I realised that things wouldn’t be normal again, so why was I waiting?
That is actually how this blog came about. I knew I needed a project, and I knew it needed to be something that I could passionately pour my time and energy into. Since thinking about this and realising I wanted to start a blog, I’ve had constant motivation in a way like never before, and my happiness levels have reflected it. I know this wouldn’t be everyone’s passion project so I am not saying starting a blog will definitely improve your mental health and make you motivated, but find what works for you.
There are so many passion projects people can work on. It could be something you’ve wanted to do for a long time like write a story or design a graphic novel, or it could be something brand new like learning a new language or enrolling in online study. Regardless of what you choose, having a project will not only get you through your day-to-day lives, but also give you something to look forward to and feel proud of as you progress.
5. Plan Some Things to Look Forward to.
Speaking of things to look forward to, plan more! Due to being stuck in our houses with not much in the ways of scenery changes, many of us have been feeling kind of stuck or just generally low. One way to counteract this is to give yourself things to look forward to. Sometimes that’s all we need to keep us going on those extra difficult days.
I’d suggest approaching this one from two different angles. First of all, plan some bigger things to look forward to in the world post-lockdown (whenever we eventually get there). It could be something such as a big day out with friends or a weekend getaway where you can explore new places outside again. Whilst I know it’s difficult to plan at the minute, with all of the uncertainty in the air, having an idea and some savings to spend when things get a little bit less chaotic can be a smart investment.
The second approach focuses on planning smaller things. Having something to look forward to in the distant future can sometimes feel lacklustre compared to what you had in mind, so making daily or weekly plans can help a lot with this. It doesn’t have to be every single day, but like I mentioned above with routines, it’s nice to have those little stand out plans to look forward to. My partner and I have recently started having ‘cinema dates’ each Sunday, where we draw up a fake cinema screening list of movies we think the other would like, then we grab some snacks and enjoy just like we would before lockdown. It may not sound like much, but these kinds of plans can get you through quite a lot more than you realise.
6. Stay Clear of Negative Triggers.
This particular tip is honestly so, so important in our current climate. When we find ourselves feeling low it is very easy to turn to negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol or junk food, nowadays more than ever. However, whilst there is nothing wrong with treating yourself in moderation, overindulging can cause you to feel even worse than when you started. Making sure you are aware of our triggers and trying to avoid them the best you can, is a great first step to maintaining your positive mental health.
Another huge trigger for a lot of people at the minute comes in the form of social media. Our news feeds are full of so much negativity between covid-19, lockdown and political drama, that it’s hard to focus on the positives sometimes. If you are struggling with this you could try limiting your social media intake or put some boundaries in place as to which accounts you follow etc.
7. Reach Out if You’re Struggling.
I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it again, if self-isolation, lockdown, or anything else for that matter, has you feeling overwhelmed or like you need some help, then don’t be afraid to ask for it. I know it may seem like your options are limited these days, but online therapy and phone services are available, and many others are there to help. If you’re not coping well and your current methods of relaxing aren’t working, maybe talking to a counsellor or doctor can be the assistance you need. There isn’t anything weak about asking for help.
8. Get Some Rest.
Last but definitely not least, get some rest. You’ve earned it. It’s been a rough 10 months, and it’s set to be a rough few more at the very least. Rest up and get your 8 hours a night. Go for a nap if you’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes it can be the perfect medicine. Just be careful that you aren’t napping too much as over-sleeping can leave you feeling lazy and upset by the time you’re through.
This storm may not seem to be passing as quick as we’d all hoped, but that doesn’t mean we have to switch off until it’s over. It’s different for sure, but we still have the choice to spend some time doing what makes us happy, be it a project we’re passionate about or connecting with our loved ones. Before we know it we’ll be back to seeing each-other once again and visiting our favourite places.
Until then, for those of you reading this post, I hope this finds you safe and well. If you enjoyed reading be sure to follow my blog for more mental health and self-care content and comment below. Do you have any more tips to add to the list? What have you been doing to stay sane during lockdown? If you’re experiencing any of the feelings described in this post such as depression or anxiety, or know somebody who is, then there are many things you can do to help. Talking to somebody about how you or they are feeling can be very beneficial. If you’re not sure what to do but need urgent help, there are many emergency hotlines that provide support and encouragement such as Mind.org and Samaritans.org. You’re not alone in feeling this way, others are there to help.