This year has been stressful and difficult in many, completely unforeseen ways. No one was expecting COVID-19 and, whether you’re a healthcare professional or not, your life will have been impacted. During the peak of the epidemic, almost half of US adults reported struggling with their mental health. Effective self-care isn’t about waiting until you’ve hit rock bottom to take steps in managing your mental health. Prevention is always better than cure so here are some things you can try to help prevent stress and anxiety snowballing and live in the moment.
Mindfulness is a practice that can help you slow down. If you feel like your mind is always buzzing with a million things to do, and you haven’t got time to stop and take a breath, then this meditation-like practice can help.
You might find that you look back at every day and can’t remember what you’ve done, where you’ve been, who you’ve seen. It can be difficult to focus on the present and live in the moment. It’s not about recklessness or even spontaneity – instead, it’s about getting into the habit of appreciating where you are right now in your life.
It takes a bit of focused effort – how many times have you found your mind wandering lately? – but mindfulness can have hugely positive effects in terms of relieving anxiety and stress levels, and enabling you to handle everyday situations calmly and with more ease.
If mindfulness is something you’ve heard of, but haven’t felt equipped to give it a go, then try using an app that can walk you through it. Headspace comes recommended by clinical psychologists – try starting with their basic meditation course for short (think less than five minute) meditations that you can fit in anywhere, anytime.
So this initially might seem counterintuitive to living in the moment, but knowing that there are good things on the horizon can be a huge benefit to your daily mood. It can be something simple, like having a beer over Zoom with a friend, or scheduling in time to watch a favorite movie or game. What can happen is you feel like you don’t have time to fit everything into your busy schedule, and it’s the pleasurable activities that always seem to be the things that slide. Don’t let that happen – give your hobbies and things you do to chill out equal weight to your job.
Try giving yourself visual reminders to engage. If you’re a huge basketball fan, then try getting some MagnetStreet basketball schedule magnets to give you a clear signpost to when the next game is. You can also set reminders on your phone to make sure you’re getting some time doing something that’s just for you.
If you’re in a relationship, especially living with a partner, have a conversation with them about what you’re doing. They can schedule their own activities at the same time, so no one’s left feeling isolated, especially if you’re somewhere currently under lockdown.
Taking a breather and getting into the great outdoors is a great way to help alleviate stress. Especially if you’re working from home, isolating, and/or under lock down right now, it can be difficult to find the time and motivation to step out of your front door. Vitamin D gained through natural light (even if it’s not sunny) is a massive mood-boost. It can also be taken in supplements as research has shown that this vitamin is beneficial in helping fight depression. Studies have shown that, even if it’s gray or overcast, being outside can help with symptoms of SAD – seasonal effective disorder – when you feel less happy and like yourself during the darker and colder months of the year.
Getting outdoors can also help you sleep better. The daylight will help reset your body’s natural clock so your brain knows when to start shutting down at night. Not only that, but the exercise that you’ll be getting from even a gentle walk will boost your circulation and tire you out, ready for that all-important sleep.
This also might be a new way to socialize. We’ve all seen less of our families and friends this year and, if your area is locked down or you aren’t comfortable meeting people indoors, then going for a socially-distanced walk is a great way of meeting your friends and family whilst still staying safe.
If you’ve been confined to your house and the gym has been shut for months, you will either be raring to go and desperate to get back on the treadmill, or finding the prospect of picking up a kettlebell again after six months on the sofa in front of Netflix falling into the category of things you never want to do again.
Whatever your standpoint on it, research has proven that exercise helps with mental health and wellbeing. There are thousands of apps that mean you can start getting back into the swing of things from home and if your energy levels are good and you’re keen to get going, you probably already have your favorites. But, if getting up and moving is filling you with dread, then it’s worth considering alternatives to traditional exercise.
Start Googling to see what appeals. Trapeze classes or trampolining are two examples of great exercise classes that are also fun and creative – you won’t feel like you’re doing a workout when you’re hanging upside down, but you’ll still get the arm muscles and, more importantly, the endorphins.
Screen Free Time
If you’ve got kids, experts are still saying you should prioritize screen-free time where possible, but there isn’t evidence that connects screen time directly with harm to kids or their education. But what about you and your own screen time? If you find yourself twitching towards your phone when you’ve gone more than a couple of minutes without checking it, or scrolling mindlessly through social media without enjoying or even really absorbing what you’re seeing, then it might be time to start detoxing from your phone.
Studies have shown a direct link between social media usage and depression and anxiety. Constantly having a window into other people’s lives, drawing comparisons, or even finding the screen light stops you sleeping are all contributing factors to how your phone might be causing you harm. There are a few simple techniques you can try if you’ve found COVID-19 has caused your phone use to start spiraling out of control.
1) Put your alerts on hold.
This doesn’t have to be all the time, but just a few hours a day when your screen isn’t flashing every time you get a notification means that you will get a break from constantly checking and means you can focus on the moment at hand.
2) Don’t check social media during work hours.
This means your attention will be directed towards your job and, especially if you’re working from home, will improve your concentration and so lessen the chances of you having to work late and your job bleeding into your rest and relaxation time.
3) Media-free meals.
It might not be every meal, but turning off your phone when you’re eating means you can pay attention to your food. This can help contribute towards eating mindfully and you’ll be more in the moment than if you’re scrolling. If you don’t want to eat in silence, then you can always play some music, or listen to the radio or a podcast while you eat.
Working from Home
If, like many people, you have been unexpectedly moved to working from home during COVID, it can be a really difficult transition to make. You might be struggling without a home office, or even designated workspace, and that’s not even mentioning the distractions that kids, pets, and even partners can cause.
However, one of the main tolls working from home can have on our mental health is the separation between work and leisure. If you are on the same couch to type up reports, take calls and have meetings, send and receive emails, as you are when you’re having a date-night, watching TV, or having a nap, this can make it incredibly difficult to switch off.
One of the most beneficial things you can do is try and have a separate space for work. This isn’t always easy so, if space is tight, at least pack away every day when you finish work, so you aren’t sitting next to your work laptop or papers.
The commute was a good way for many people to switch off and decompress after being at work so try getting outside for a walk, either on your lunch break or after work, so you can find yourself a bit of separation from your work life, and your home life, even if they’re happening within the same four walls.
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone and, even if you have been managing all the additional stress, it’s still worth checking in with yourself and taking some time to make sure you’re living in the moment.