Covidproof habits for your mental health

We’ve been pretty well off in Nova Scotia for a while in terms of Covid. And in terms of numbers, we’re still doing well. But even if small comparatively, our numbers are going up, which means we are now in second wave territory. If you’re reading this from another country you are likely to be a little further along than us. Either way, we are all in this strange place where we’re fighting this invisible disease. Where the numbers dictate when we can go out or when we need to stay in, how many people we can see and how close we can get. It feels like there is a lot that’s out of our control. Nine months ago not many of us even knew the term coronavirus. I’m not sure I could have told you what social distancing means either. And I didn’t own a mask. Now I have several, dotted around the place, ready to be grabbed as needed. We’ve all had to learn to make space in our lives for this ‘new normal’ and that’s going to be hard on our mental health.

So if you are feeling a little worn out by the events of this past year, this article is for you. This is not about re-inventing the wheel but is about getting back to basics. Simple habits that will give you a resilience toolbox for your mental health. So that you can ride the wave like a pro.

Limit screen-time

It feels ironic to be writing about limiting screen-time on my laptop! The truth is, screens have become all the more important these days. For keeping in touch with family and friends, for keeping businesses going, for accessing important things like healthcare, for keeping up to date on the news. There are a lot of reasons for us to be picking up our laptops or phones.

Think about how your screen-time habits have changed. If the time you are spending looking a screen has gone up, what effect has this had on your mental health? Too much screen-time during Covid has been found to equate to poorer mental health. So put some boundaries in place. Put the phone in a specific place and keep it there, rather than carrying it around with you. Contain your calls to a certain period of the day, or if that is not possible, at least take regular breaks from screens and do something physical that will relax you like walking outside or stretching.

Be in the moment

There’s a lot to keep us from what is happening today. Watch the news and they’ll be speculating about lockdowns and vaccines. It’s easy for our conversations with others to be similar. We might wonder about Christmas or school closures. In darker moments its easy to look back. To remember when we thought nothing of hugging our friends and to wish for that time again.

When we’re in a situation that feels out of control, for some of us our gut reaction is to try to get back in the driving seat, either by planning ahead or by looking back and evaluating how things went. The problem is that its an impossible task. We can’t control this one. So trying to do so can be exhausting and stressful.

The remedy to feeling out of control is to loosen the reins. To stop trying to get back control, and instead go with the flow. To live in the moment. Being in the moment means that you are only focused on now, the split second you are existing in. This is freeing, because it takes you away from these worries about the future and the past. It is not about analysis. Its just about being.

Having said that, it can be hard for some people. So help yourself by setting yourself reminders. Use timers, post-it notes, another person. Reminders to gently bring your attention back to now. Use activities that will hold your attention such as baking or reading. Play with your kids. Mindfulness is another great way to develop this skill. Here’s an app that might help. Whatever works for you. Be in the now.

Choose kindness

Kindness is an underrated emotion. Being kind to others is fantastic for our mental health as it builds up our own qualities of compassion, empathy and gratitude. Plus it brings us closer to others. This is a great article on kindness and mental health. Being kind to yourself is also often overlooked. This can be as simple as getting to bed on time, giving yourself permission to sit and do nothing for a few minutes, or having a bath.

Kindness is a choice. And not always an easy one. If we’re tired or stressed we’re less likely to choose kindness and more likely to be grumpy. But if you’re struggling to be kind to others then start by being kind to yourself. Make the choice. Compassion, empathy and gratitude. Whether its for you or someone else, kindness is an awesome thing.

Foster community

Like screen-time, this is another point that feels a little ironic. At a time when we’re being told to have less physical contact with these around us, it feels more natural to be battening down the hatches and breaking out the storm chips. But having less physical contact with others is precisely why we all need community right now. We all have different stories but most of us will have family or friends that we are missing. Most of us will be feeling a little disconnected. This is not good news for mental health. Good social support can help us feel resilient and empowered. So the challenge is to find ways to keep our community connected despite restrictions. There are loads of great examples of communities coming together. But even something as simple as chatting to your neighbours over the fence can be helpful. Join the local community group on facebook if there is one. Find out about local events that are happening remotely and get involved. Make some new family traditions for Advent or Christmas. A virtual dinner party, quiz or book club. My parents have been reading chapter books to my son via video daily since Covid started. It’s a great way to feel connected even though we don’t know when we’ll see each other next.

Find your community, whether local to you, or spread afar. Make connections. Foster relationships.

Welcome feelings

At the start of the pandemic there was a lot of anxiety. We weren’t sure what the next few weeks were going to look like. We didn’t know how our healthcare systems would manage. We were all hearing stories from other countries that sounded simply scary. Now it’s a little different. We’ve been through one wave and are onto the next. We know what to expect, to a certain extent. Most of the people I speak to now don’t feel very anxious, but do feel low. There’s a loneliness in lockdown and a resignation to the fact that this does not yet have an end date. For some people, they don’t feel anxious or low, but instead don’t feel much at all. Sometimes when things are hard, we can kind of switch off, and feel numb.

A lot of the strategies I’m suggesting are aimed at getting us away from feelings like anxiety and depression and into happier moments. But the danger in ignoring our feelings is that we end up feeling more disconnected. So this habit is about connecting to how you are really feeling. Owning it, and letting yourself feel it.

If you can, be brave and share it with someone else. Friendships tend to move into more meaningful territory when we can respond beyond the ‘I’m fine’. Let yourself be a little vulnerable. You may find some kindness.

And don’t only welcome these heavy feelings. When we become numb we can also disconnect from joy, laughter, happiness.

So consider how you are feeling. And let yourself sit with it. If you need to laugh, stick on an episode of Mr Bean. If you need to cry, curl up in a blanket and cry. If you’re not sure then just sit and let yourself wonder.

Find the beauty

Beauty has a way of creeping in to even the darkest situation. In the middle of this pandemic I have heard stories of Italians singing together from their rooftops, rainbows drawn by children in windows, food being donated to charities for homeless people, free offers of tutoring help for kids. There are so many stories. In our own communities, as well as round the world. Hearing about kindness in communities, connections being made, the dedication that our healthcare workers are showing. When we notice the beauty in a situation it makes the darkness feel lighter. It makes things feel more manageable.

Sometimes though, even if its there, it can be hard to spot beauty. For these times, I take a walk. I notice the spiders web covered in dew. I see the veins on the fallen leaves. I listen to the wind in the trees. That’s what works for me. For you it might be different. Either way, step back and notice the beauty.

I hope this article has given you some ideas or reminders to boost your mental health during Covid. If you need more support please get in touch. We would be happy to help. Or if you’d like to find out more about what we do at Imagine, please visit our website.

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