Coronavirus: How to look after your mental health during lockdown2020-04-07
Mind, the mental health charity, and the NHS recommend five steps to improve your mental health and wellbeing. These include getting some exercise and connecting with others, but how can we follow them in the middle of a lockdown? It may be easier than you think – and could create good mental health habits for when life returns to normal.
The steps were developed after researchers examined more than 400 scientific studies and identified five key factors that contribute to our mental wellbeing.
1. connect with others
2. learn something new
3. keep active
4. give to other people
5. be present, or mindful
The idea was to help us do something every day to maintain good mental health. But since coronavirus hit the UK, our mental wellbeing has taken a back seat to more urgent worries. New research by the Mental Health Foundation and the Institute of Public Health found millions of us feel unprepared, panicked and hopeless during the pandemic.
So here is how you can follow the five steps during a lockdown and how they can improve your mental health – every day.
CONNECTING IS CRUCIAL
“Connecting with others is probably the most important thing we can do for our mental wellbeing,” says Dr David Crepaz-Keay of the Mental Health Foundation. Studies show that strong social networks act like a buffer against poor mental health, but how can we keep these up when we’re not allowed to meet up with friends and family? “If there’s someone you’d normally visit, keep up contact with phone calls, FaceTime or WhatsApp chats,” adds Dr Crepaz-Keay.
The quality of your connection counts, too.
Rosie Weatherley, spokesperson for Mind, says “Don’t just ‘check in’ but make sure you’re really listening. Ask questions like ‘What’s keeping you going today?’ This allows you to talk about positives and negatives.”
You can find different ways to connect, too.
Dr Crepaz-Keay says, “Try sending each other photographs via email, or even write postcards if you can get to a post box safely.” Many bars are now running pub quizzes on Facebook, or you could organise a “party” with friends via digital platforms like Zoom. Just make sure you do stay in touch. “The important thing is not to become socially isolated, as that’s when your mental health can start to suffer,” warns Dr Crepaz-Keay.
Why not try: putting aside 20 minutes every day to make a call someone; reconnecting with old friends you’ve been meaning to call; organising a digital Sunday lunch with family.
KEEP ON LEARNING
Now we’ve all got more time on our hands, you could pick up a new hobby or go back to a project you abandoned months ago.
Research has found that learning, especially as an adult, can boost your wellbeing and self-esteem, and help you feel more positive.
But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel like studying Spanish or picking up the guitar. “There is a lot of pressure at the moment to do some self-improvement,” says Rosie. “But when we talk about learning, what we really mean is having a challenge of some kind and working towards achieving it.” Small challenges may be better right now.
“Think of it as giving your brain something to chew on,” says Rosie. Rather than putting pressure on yourself to learn how to make your own clothes, for example, set smaller goals like how to fix a zip. Aim to come out of this with new skills, not as a new person.
Why not try: Duolingo – the fun language app; FutureLearn – the free learning site for (almost) everything; skillshare.com – explore creative skills, like photography.
STAY ACTIVE EVERY DAY
Exercise is a known mood-booster, but how can we fit in fitness while stuck at home? Julia Buckley, personal trainer and founder of juliabuckleyfitness.com, says, “Pick a time when you’d normally be too busy to exercise. I’m doing Facebook Live workouts at 8am every weekday, the same time people would usually commute to work.”
Doing a workout at the beginning of every day also acts as a buffer between home-time and work-time, especially when you’re working from home. “It’s good to have that division,” says Julia.
Make the most of being allowed outside to exercise, too. “I’ve seen more people exercising than ever.We’re all taking advantage of that break to go for a walk or rediscover a love of running,” says Julia. But don’t push yourself too hard, as this could lower your immunity. Julia advises working to an effort level around 5/6 out of 10. She says, “You don’t want to collapse in a sweaty heap, stick to moderate intensity.”
Why not try: the Couch to 5K running programme; online studio workouts from the NHS (nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-fitness-studio/); live workouts with Body Coach Joe Wicks online or Mr Motivator on BBC’s HealthCheck UK Live
GIVING TO OTHERS
Before the coronavirus crisis, this step would most likely mean donating money to different causes, sponsoring friends or volunteering to help out in a charity shop. Dr Crepaz-Keay says, “Giving to others gives us pleasure and positive feedback – it’s good for other people and it’s good for us.” But just because we can’t do that now, doesn’t mean we can’t give to others in a different way.
“We know doing good reduces the psychological impact of self-isolation, but it may help to reframe what we think of as ‘doing good’,” says Dr Crepaz-Keay. Simply staying at home and social distancing is doing something for the benefit of our wider society, so remind yourself of that.
If you’re healthy and able to leave your home, you could become a volunteer. Many local Facebook groups have set up community or street pages where you can offer your time, while most local authority websites have information on volunteering to help others. “It helps gives you a sense of purpose and is good for other people, too,” says Dr Crepaz-Keay.
Why not try: checking in with neighbours more regularly; looking for ways to volunteer during the crisis at ncvo.org.uk; keep supporting your favourite charities
BECOMING MORE MINDFUL
Unless you’ve been living on a desert island (the ultimate social distancing), you’ve probably heard of mindfulness meditation, or becoming more aware of the present moment. The NHS says mindfulness can improve our mental wellbeing, making it perfect for during a lockdown.
Neil Shah, founder of The Stress Management Society, believes this is actually the best time to start practicing mindfulness. He says, “It’s the most fantastic opportunity as we have no choice but to be mindful.”
Taking notice of the present moment also helps us feel we have some control over the situation. “If you’re walking outside, listen to the wind rustling the leaves or feel the breeze on your face.” You can also tune in to your breathing – notice the way you breathe in and out. Don’t try to take deep or shallow breaths, but “be a passive observer of your breath from moment to moment,” he adds.
Why not try: the Headspace or Calm apps; the 30-day stress-busting challenge at stress. org.uk; the Be Mindful online course to reduce anxiety
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