Here in the UK, as with many other countries around the world that have been hit with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, there is plenty of advice and guidance regarding social distancing, staying home, washing hands, being diligent and considerate in order that the spread of the disease is minimised as much as is possible.
One of the things there is less guidance and advice about is how to protect your mental health during lockdown, during these challenging times. Many people are struggling to cope so I wanted to write something that offered up some assistance in that regard today.
Like radiating ripples from a meteorite hitting the ocean, terror sweeps across the world in a heartbeat. The media reporting can create fear as the death toll figures get shared each day.
The horrifying themesin a 1973 sci-fi thriller Panic O’Clock, by Christopher Hodder-Williams showed many stricken with maddening panic when an unknown virus takes hold and causes people to behave like lemmings and destroy themselves. It illustrated the potential of people’s minds to wreak havoc among individuals when faced with such a challenge.
Importantly, we need to take the current spread of coronavirus deadly seriously. But also we need calm heads and measured actions, now more than ever. We’ll also benefit in a wide variety of ways from doing all we can to manage and protect our mental health during these times.
Many are understandably experiencing a lot of different emotions and thinking patterns right now. We are all marvelling at how different the world looks than it did a few weeks ago. Most big occasions are now cancelled. Schools are closed. Public places are rightly empty. The landscape is very different, and our internal landscapes are subject to as much change.
This post is therefore about taking care of yourself and your mental health during this pandemic.
At a time when we are all taking on the anxiety, stress, and fears of how a global pandemic will affect us, it is as important as ever to remember that we cannot efficiently take care of other people if we are not taking care of ourselves.
To be effective you need to stay strong, for you and for your loved ones. Not just physically by utilising your time for exercise, but also mentally.
Here are a few simple ways that will be useful to keep your emotional and psychological life as balanced as possible in these challenging times.
Set a daily routine:
If your day-to-day way of life has suddenly shifted, you may have found yourself a little adrift. But a sense of routine can help create some sanity or, if that’s too strong a word, at least to some kind of emotional balance.
Yes, you can grow bored of routine. But try to stick to a routine as much as possible. Research shared in Harvard Mental health newsletter last month (March, 2019) has found that maintaining a regular sleep and waking routine can help our mental health. Good sleep is vital for immune health, too. But on the flip side, a disruption to routine can cause emotional imbalance.
Aim to get up at the same time each day. Have a list of stuff you plan to do: exercise, call relatives, keep a journal. Having a routine maintains that all-important sense of control, considered to be a vital emotional need.
Read this article for more on the importance of this point: Why You Need Routine In Your Life.
Stay connected with others:
Loneliness and feelings of isolation can be detrimental to mental health. Make connections with other people a priority for yourself. Whether that is messaging a friend on Facebook, or having a video call with a family member on Skype or Zoom. It is beneficial for your own wellbeing. Any communication can be valuable.
“Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the ‘hero’ within us is revealed.” Bob Riley
Especially, connect regularly with elderly or vulnerable people in your community or family, give them attention remotely, and focus on helping them any way you can. Helping others is very good for our mental well-being.
Inactivity raises blood sugar levels, to the extent that a mere two weeks of inactivity can hasten the onset of diabetes in seniors. And on an emotional level, constant physical inactivity makes us feel sluggish, lethargic, and potentially depressed.
Sure, you may not be able to hang out at the gym for a while (I am struggling to hold back the tears, I miss my gym!!), but do what you can at home. Stay fit with a YouTube fitness class, or dig out that old yoga DVD, take walks as you are permitted to do so (adhering to safety and social distancing guidelines) – last weekend, due to the cancellation of the Poole running festival here on the South Coast of the UK, many of my friends and colleagues who usually participate were doing circuits of their gardens; with some doing full marathons!
Get outside in the light as much as you can, even if that is sitting on a balcony or being out in the garden, while of course managing all the precautions you need to right now. Research by Ulrich et al. (1991) shows that we benefit from daylight and sunshine as well as activity to help us feel, calm, clear, and hopeful. So, if you can, get out or work out other ways to move your body as much as you can, and you will feel better mentally.
Try to be mindful and calm:
We only have the present moment. In a sense, everything else – the past, the future – exists only in our minds, because it is not actually happening now. For all intents and purposes, the future is simply imagery (and we can all scare ourselves with fantasy), and the past is also processed through our imaginative faculties. The only true reality is right here, right now. So immerse yourself in it.
“Every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit.” Napoleon Hill
Studies find that regular relaxation strengthens immunity and improves mood. Practise being mindful a couple of times a day. Focus on your breath, right here and now. Breathe in deeply, then extend the out breath and simply watch your breath calm your body. Notice the colours and shapes around you. List in your mind three objects you can see, three things you can hear, and three things you can feel. Watch any thoughts float in and out of your consciousness, like clouds across a blue sky. There are many mindfulness exercises and techniques to be found online. You can invest a couple of minutes or half an hour if you have it, whatever you are able to do, you’ll benefit from mentally.
Don’t keep checking the news!
It’s important to stay well informed, particularly about what’s happening in your own community, so that you can follow the safety procedures that are suggested, and do your part to slow the spread of coronavirus. However, there’s a lot of people who are misinformed and this information goes around as well, and tends to worry us! So please be very careful about what you read and watch on social media! Consider sticking to trusted sources like your government’s important notifications or the World health organisation, for example. Do your best to veer away from conspiracy theories, fake news and scaremongering.
Instead, consider using the same time to pursue a hobby or listen to music. If time to do this is sparse (if you have attention grabbing children like I do, for example) then every now and then, gaze out of the window and enjoy the sights of empty streets and the sounds of quiet nature, speculating upon the specific reasons why the odd person is out on the road. You are not likely to get the chance to enjoy such scenes of serenity and tranquillity again. Make the most of it, choose alternatives to watching or checking the news or your social media feed.
Concentrate on the things you can control:
We are in a time of massive upheaval. There are so many things outside of our control, including how long the pandemic lasts, how other people behave, and what’s going to happen within our communities, what will happen within your professional field or your job. When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what COULD happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the corona virus outbreak is in your city or town, but you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk, such as:
• Washing your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
• Not touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth).
• Staying home as per official guidelines.
• Effectively social distancing on the rare occasions you do venture out.
• Following recommendations from health authorities.
Also though, actively engaging in the types of things mentioned in this article and seeking to protect your own mental well-being during lockdown.
Explore your hobbies:
What can be a better time to open that box deeply embedded in your brain, that you always wanted to open, than in confinement!
Do that thing that you keep meaning to do but keep putting off because of the other thing or that other thing! That means finally start your passion project! Maybe something that keeps your mind active and engaged. Whether you are a crossword puzzler, quick language learner or an avid jigsaw lover, put that brain to good use for an hour or so a day. It might be a new skill, or dusting the cobwebs off a dormant one, aim to come out of this lockdown a better and brighter version of yourself.
However, do not put pressure on yourself to do something major. It is also ok to catch up with favourite TV shows, read a book you’ve wanted to read for a while, for example. Tell yourself that you are choosing to do whatever it is that you do.
Declutter your room:
Use this time to channel your inner Mrs Hinch or Marie Kondo. Clear your cupboards as well as your mind! Why not organise the messy drawer or have a good sort out of all the items that you thought were a bargain in the summer sale. A good thorough clean will do your home and your mind a world of good!
My office has had a good organisational overhaul this past week and it feels great. Consider the drawers in your bedroom, the garage or the cupboard too. A good declutter can help us feel mentally decluttered too.
Make the most of the time:
We can all waste time fiddling with our phones and faffing on Facebook but maybe, just maybe, if you are cooped up, this may be the time to start writing that book, practising that instrument, doing that online course, or reading the complete works of Charles Dickens.
We might emerge from this more rounded and intelligent than we went into it. Worrying is easy when all we do is worry. But now might be a time to really engage in some deep learning and perfecting of skills. I am working with a great many people who are taking up my own online courses right now and there are more online training courses of all kinds available out there in the world than ever before!
Mind you, not worrying is easier said than done, and that may take some practice too. As I already said, please don’t do anything out of pressure or guilt. Do something that brings you joy. There are a lot of coaches and therapists advising people to engage in life goals at all costs right now, and I wanted to add that it is ok not to do these things – don’t feel obliged or pressured or stressed. Do what feels best with you.
Don’t lose hope:
If you are currently self-isolating, remember that doing stuff, keeping a routine, exercising and getting out in nature safely, and keeping contact is vital. But you may still have lots of time to mull, worry, and potentially catastrophise.
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Regular mindful relaxation will help lessen worry, as it’s hard to misuse the imagination negatively when you are calm in mind and body – but you still might find yourself fretting.
Over-rumination is depressing. The more time you spend in your head fretting, the worse you’ll feel, which is why mindful hypnosis and focused activity and exercise, or indeed anything that focuses the attention outward, can be so useful. But research has also found that among people who spent a lot of time ruminating, dwelling, and introspecting, those who maintained hope while doing so were protected from the depressive effects of rumination.
Here’s a great article to help with that: How To Stop Rumination and Overthinking Being Your Downfall.
So if you find yourself going into your imagination and creating scary or hopeless scenarios, remember that this is imagination, and you can choose what you imagine. So create scenarios of things getting better, of you managing, coping, and, one day soon, thriving. If you are going to spend time in imaginative movies inside your head, you may as well start directing them positively and progressively.
Has this piqued your interest in this field? Then have a read of these pages:
1. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others? Are you a hypnotherapist looking for stimulating and career enhancing continued professional development and advanced studes? Explore the pages of this website.
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
2. Are you a hypnotherapist looking to fulfil your ambitions or advance your career?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
Likewise, if you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar. Alternatively, go grab a copy of my Science of self-hypnosis book.