Photo: coyot – Pixabay
If you’re amongst the hundreds of thousands of us who are either on lockdown or voluntarily self-isolating, you are technically alone, but we’re all in this together. Virtually.
Following the closure of all restaurants and bars, like many others, I am now temporarily out of work. For those of us whose workplaces have been forcibly closed for trade by the government, this is a worrying and uncertain time. The fact that our wages will be paid by the state is welcome (and unprecedented) news, and, while it is a silver lining for many of us, it doesn’t take away from the feeling of a lack of purpose.
It’s completely normal to be feeling some kind of confinement depression and anxiety during this time, and it can be hard to know what to do with yourself. Whether you’re nervously working your way through all of your streaming subscriptions so you can delete your direct debits in time for the economic collapse, or you’re out in the wild panic-buying soap and paracetamol, we are all experiencing the same global low mood.
Staying indoors for long periods of time can be damaging to the mental health of the happiest of people – so I’ve put together a little list of things you can do to improve your mood and lift the feelings of despondency.
Balance and focus
The key to remaining sane while stuck within the confines of the same four walls is to make the most of the resources at your disposal. It’s important to find a balance between keeping our brains active and slowing down and shutting off. So, I’ve put together a list of activities that will keep your brain ticking over, and a few which will allow us to power down.
Dr Aman Amir, General Practitioner and Magistrate, has expressed worries about some patients who have a mental health diagnosis, and is equally concerned about the general population.
“I fear these circumstances might exacerbate their underlying conditions – we will be making follow up calls and dedicate time to speak to these patients, but of course this is limited. I think all groups will soon find out how they cope with isolation; we are all on a spectrum of mental health.”
He has also warned that the fact people are choosing not to self isolate indicates that many are not realising the seriousness of the situation. So, although it can feel completely unnatural, it’s absolutely the right thing to do.
Keeping our minds healthy during this time is paramount to surviving social distancing, as social creatures, we are going to find it to be an extremely tough period of time.
Almost all of us have smartphones, and if you don’t, you’re reading this on some form of laptop or tablet. There are millions of free apps which, if you can stand the adverts, make life a little less boring. You can take your mind off being quarantined by shifting focus to brain training apps and games. The best I’ve come across are listed as follows:
- Peak – Brain Training available on App Store or Google Play.
- Yahtzee – Dice game available for single or two player on App Store.
- Wordscapes – Word game for single or two player.
- Sudoku.com – Thousands of number puzzles for Apple and Android.
Student doctor at The University of Manchester, Kartik Kumar, says that the NHS often promotes mindfulness as a good tool for coping with potential mental stressors. Good mental health is not just the absence of diagnosable mental health issues, it is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfil a number of key function and activities, which include:
– The ability to learn, feel, express positive and negative emotions
– The ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty
– The ability to maintain good relationships with others
We can maintain relationships with others from a distance by checking in on each other, and by making a conscious effort to check on people who we know will be particularly struggling at this time. For now, we can combat the first two of these categories with mindfulness training.
There are a number of books available on Amazon.com which will enable you to reach your goal, whatever it may be, some of which I’ve listed below. Realistically, the next few months will see Amazon put under huge strain and if, for whatever reason, it temporarily shuts down, there are alternatives. You can also wind down using the help of applications if you’re new to the process. Zenning out and meditating is pretty alien to most of us, understandably, but if you’ve ever thought of giving it a go, now is your chance. Meditation is as easy as experiencing your immediate surroundings and ultimately grounding yourself in the process. For those of you who wish to follow guided meditation, or want to learn more about the practice, I suggest the following apps and websites:
- Calm – Meditation and sleep application.
- Headspace – Meditation app.
- Smiling Mind – Popular (free) mindfulness app.
- Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions by Lori Deschene.
- Guided Meditations website by Tara Brach.
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle – available for free as an audiobook.
While it might be tempting to plonk ourselves in front of the tele and binge our way through Netflix, we will grow lethargic soon enough. The above is largely screen-based, but we absolutely don’t want to be spending our whole lives on apps if we’re to maintain our mental wellbeing.
If you fancy some escapism in the form of word art, I’ve decided to look into some books that might be of interest to some of you. I know I absolutely love reading, but as a journalist a lot of what I consume is non-fiction, real-time news. There’s so much to be gained from losing yourself in a good crime thriller.
I’ve listed a range of books below – only some of which I’ve read but almost all of which I’ve been recommended:
- The Trail Series by AA Abbott. Her books are also available in large dyslexia-friendly print and her works are wonderfully exciting – I featured her in an article for National Storytelling Week last year after we bonded over espresso martinis.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. A frank, beautifully written, immersive story.
- Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s a children’s book, but it shouldn’t be.
- Mr Mercedes by Stephen King. This is one of my favourite of his books but literally ANY Stephen King book will have you hooked.
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood. If you know, you know.
- Annie! Are you OK? by Dr Aman Amir. Written by real-life General Practitioner following a fictional protagonist through the trials of trauma.
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This book inspired an Oscar-nominated film, which you should watch after reading the book.
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. A book about healing and love, what better for a time like this?
While we are trying to temporarily postpone any feelings of negativity we have towards our current situation, learning something new has proven to be a fabulously positive way of doing this. Monotony is the continuation of the same occurrences with no interruptions – we can upset the rhythm of this by trying our hand at something we’ve never done before.
A blogpost by CCSU Continued Education listed 7 benefits of learning a new skill specifically geared towards older audiences because they may have already been experiencing the solitude and social isolation that we are about to, so I champion its relevance here. The most important pointer I took from the read was – not only does it fight boredom – it allows you to adapt better to change. Perceptions and preconceptions change as you learn, and as your experience of the world expands. These are trying times, and I know I could make use of any aide to understanding my new life.
You may have always wanted to learn an instrument or pick up where you left off learning to play the flute in secondary school (ahem, me). The benefits of learning an instrument are exponential: playing can relieve stress, develop your creativity and listening skills. It can also teach discipline and give one a sense of responsibility, something which will prove valuable in times where many of us aren’t working.
These are worthwhile but can be expensive habits, and may seem a pipe dream if one doesn’t have the means, so, maybe it can be as simple as wanting to get better at drawing, or colouring, or sketching. I’ve sifted through a few online art classes on YouTube and this was my favourite series:
Before we enter the rationing phase of lockdown (which, I’m sure is inevitable), cooking new recipes has been suggested by The British Heart Foundation as a good way to keep the mind and body healthy while isolating. They published an article which includes some healthy recipes for you to try as well as some extra tips about when to shop and exercise. Eating well is important for maintaining your sense of routine and general wellness.
And there are some healthy, inexpensive (and vegan friendly!) recipes which can be found here:
Exercise is THE BEST WAY to keep your mind and body healthy – I’ve put it in this section because working on yourself absolutely counts as levelling up. For now, we can still go for jogs, runs and walks – I suggest making the most of this. I am fortunate enough to have a garden where I can skip or (if I run in very small circles) jog, without putting anyone else at risk. While some of you are still feeling well enough, you can exercise outside of your home if you remain 2 metres away from other people. If you’re self isolating because you’re showing symptoms of the virus, please don’t leave your home. If you don’t have an outdoor space of your own, try some home workouts in the comfort of your living room.
Feeling under the weather might discourage you from doing any exercise, and if you feel that rotten – rest up! This advice is for people who are well enough to expend energy but are being sensible and isolating as good practice.
The workout guide I use is TaylorKayteee’s gym guide, but she also produced a home workout guide and she’s just announced a 20% off deal for this particular guide, to encourage people to work out at home: https://taylorkayteee.com/#glute-guide
She has also published YouTube videos going through isolation workouts which you can do from your living room!
Adebayo Akinfenwa has also started publishing part-by-part workout guides for those of us who enjoy going to the gym and can no longer attend due to the spread of the virus. These videos will be of more interest to people who’ve been hitting the gym for a few years and keeping up with their regime is more of a lifestyle than a hobby.
If you’re a bit more of a novice, here’s an easier all-round workout video targeted at older audiences that I recommend:
Dr Amir said that he hopes once people stop denying what’s going on then isolation/social distancing will be easier to tolerate and understand. It is now time to reflect on that.
He often asks people to name 5 things that will make them happy, and more often than not, they are not actively pursuing these things. List 5 things in your immediate environment which make you happy, and some additional things that are currently within your means to make you feel positive.
For me, it’s been challenging accepting my new circumstances and the uncertainty of when I will next be paid makes me nervous. However, I am lucky that I have savings, a supportive family and a good network of friends and colleagues on which I can depend. Others aren’t so lucky. I know there are parents who are struggling to self isolate and look after young children, key workers who want to keep their kids at home but have no choice but to send them to school.
Now is the time to reflect on your situation as it relates to others within your world – are you really that put out by having to stay at home 24/7? I know I’m not.
My ‘5 things’ list
1. My family
3. Being able to contact my friends/boyfriend
4. Access to books and streaming sites
5. My garden
For those of you who are struggling with mental health, isolation and social distancing, I hope some of the above will help you cope outside of the medical realm, but I am – by no means – a mindfulness professional and you should seek help if you need it.
There are services set up specifically for people who need someone to talk to in tough times like this and I implore anyone who feels the need, to use them. A list of contact numbers for relevant facilities can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/
Stay safe, stay at home
The most important thing to remember at this time is that by staying at home you are doing your bit in reducing the spread of a deadly virus. Nobody wanted to put their life on hold, or even have to deal with a pandemic threatening the lives of people they love, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Keep in touch with your loved ones from a safe distance.
To keep up to date with the latest advice on how to play your part in slowing the spread of Coronavirus – check the government website regularly.
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