I’ll be honest, I’ve not been following my own advice this week. There are lots of things that I know I should be doing to protect my mental health, from years of experience of dealing with depression and anxiety. This week though, everything has felt overwhelming and I’ve just been trying to keep my head above water. I sunk under yesterday though, and pretty much just spent the whole day crying. So today I am making a new commitment to myself – to follow my own advice and take active steps to protect my mental health during this time.
We are in the UK, and have been isolating since the middle of last week. Neither of us have symptoms, but the advice is to stay at home as much as possible, so that’s what we are doing - we want to do everything we can to help prevent the spread of this virus! So, to try to help you through this difficult and uncertain time, I have set out a list below of tips and tricks I have learnt over the years to protect mental health.
1. Try to stay active
I know how hard this can be at the best of times, let alone when the gyms are closed and we are being told to stay home, but I can’t stress enough how much it will help your mental health if you can stay active. Even things like stretching and walking will really help, but if you are able to do full workouts from home then I really encourage you to do so! If you have equipment then that is great, but some people will have limited resources and/or space – but don’t worry! You should still be able to work out – you just might need to get a bit creative with it! Jonny and I have made the first week of our 12 week at-home workout programme available for free here, so please feel free to use that. Otherwise, you can get creative with items around the house such as books and water bottles to add resistance to your workouts – or just use your own body weight! You can get in some really great workouts with just your body! For some of our favourite home workouts check out our blog post here, and for some body weight exercise ideas check out our blog post here.
2. Try to eat well
It’s so tempting when you are feeling a bit down to just eat junk food – but really try to eat well if you can! In the UK, a lot of people are panic buying which is incredibly frustrating (and selfish) as it means many of the supermarkets are completely sold out of essentials. But if you are able to access healthy foods, please do make an effort to keep up your healthy eating habits. You will feel so much better for it! I find that staying physically healthy helps a lot with my mental health, and good nutrition is key to staying physically healthy.
Another key thing is to remember to eat. Not eating enough is a common response to stress, but that will leave you lethargic and will likely make you unwell. Even if you don’t really feel like eating, try to stick to a schedule to remind yourself to eat - try to stay as healthy as possible!
3. Try not to drink too much
I know it’s tempting to drown our sorrows when we feel stressed (and potentially bored!), but alcohol usually makes you feel worse! Alcohol is a natural depressant, so although you might feel better initially, the following day you will likely feel down and anxious – which really isn’t great if you are already struggling with maintaining good mental health. I’m not saying don’t drink at all, just be careful how much you are drinking and consider your motivation for it – do you genuinely want that drink or are you just trying to escape?
I’m such a huge advocate of meditation. I’m still really early in my practice, but I find that it helps me so much! Just breathing and being present is really calming, and most times after I meditate I feel lighter and better. All of yesterday I was feeling like I couldn’t breathe (anxiety, not Covid-19), and this morning I woke up feeling the same way, but after I meditated I felt like I could breathe easier again. I usually only do it for about 10 minutes, but find that it is time well spent! There are some great books and online resources, so why not use some of the time you are following social distancing/isolation to learn more about it?!
5. Do some yoga
I didn’t include this with staying active, because for me it plays a separate role to fitness. This isn’t the case for everyone – some people use it as their primary form of exercise. But for me, yoga is relaxing and I find that slowing down and focusing on movement and breathing really does help me. Sorry to be another person suggesting you try yoga (I heard it ALL the time, both for my physical and mental health), but once I tried I really saw the benefits of it. I don’t yet have a regular practice, but it is definitely something I want to work towards! Again, there are some amazing online resources to help get you started!
6. Reach out to people
It is so easy to feel isolated when we are told to stay away from other people. I’m a natural introvert, and even I am finding it difficult. I think it’s the fact that I know that I can’t see other people that makes it hard. But there are SO many ways we can stay connected, whether that’s via the phone, video call, text messages, social media etc. So, if you’re feeling low (or even if you aren’t), reach out to the people in your life. See what they are doing to pass the time at the moment! Not only will you feel better for reaching out, they probably will feel better for you having reached out! And remember in particular to reach out to any vulnerable people in your life – they may well be feeling lonely too!
7. Try to avoid falling down social media/Netflix holes
Social media can be great for keeping in contact with people, but it can be quite impersonal and it can be a real time drain. For some people it will be fine, but just be aware of how it affects you (and if you don’t already know, have a think). I know that I don’t tend to feel all that great if I suddenly realise I’ve spent an hour mindlessly scrolling through social media, so I am trying to avoid doing that at the moment, even though the temptation is at it’s greatest. If you do want to use social media, by all means do, but remember there is a lot of false information out there and it can sometimes be draining to read your neighbour’s views on current events. Maybe set yourself a time limit? Or remove the app from the home screen of your phone so that you don’t automatically open it when you reach for your phone?
Netflix and other such services have been a bloody life saver over the past couple of weeks, but it can also be a huge time drain. I know that when I’m feeling down, I can easily spend hours just sitting in front of the TV, half watching something and clicking “yes” when Netflix asks me if I’m still watching. The problem with doing this is that you aren’t moving about, which isn’t good for you physically or mentally. Maybe set yourself a limit on the number of episodes of your TV show you will watch in a day, or give yourself a time before which you won’t put the TV on?
8. Keep a journal
Another classic that everyone tells you to do! But they tell you for a reason - it really helps! I know that writing things down helps me to process how I'm feeling. I tend to babble when I try to explain my feelings to people, so I find that writing in a journal is a safe space where I can work through whatever is going on in my head. I usually feel lighter and better once I've done it. I find it helps to have a nice journal that I WANT to write in. I usually just write whatever is on my mind, but there are some great resources out there if you want something a bit more structured.
Finally, it is so easy to feel overwhelmed at the moment. I’ve been in a constant state of overwhelm for a few days now and it has taken a toll. Despite this, it’s important to try to remember the things in life you are grateful for. Why not spend some time when you wake up or before you go to sleep (or both) and just write down a few things you are grateful for. Whether that’s your family, friends, pet, health, home or indeed Netflix, just thinking about the things you are grateful for can have a really positive impact on your mindset, which can help contribute towards protecting your mental health.
I hope these have been useful. As I said, I have used all of these in the past when dealing with mental health struggles, so hopefully some or all of them will help you. I will certainly start being stricter with myself, and reprioritise my mental health.