What a great time for mental health issues to flare up – an unprecedented situation that means you’re trapped inside for an unknown amount of time. Even people who don’t usually get anxious are now anxious. There are so many ways that the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health – some people are stressed because they are now being overworked, some are stressed because they can’t work at all. Some are stressed because they’re trapped inside, or can’t see their loved ones, or are seeing too much of their loved ones… the list goes on. Of course, the stress that many of us are facing cannot even begin to compare to the suffering of those directly affected by the virus. However, you can only try to make the best of your current situation. If you are feeling anxious or down because you’re stuck inside or because you’re isolated, then you’re not alone! And here are some of my thoughts on how to feel more “normal”…
ROUTINE: If I don’t have a routine, I fall apart. There is no way I’m giving up my daily schedule just because I’m at home. It does help if you work from home but, even if you don’t, having some kind of routine is so good for your mental health. You don’t need to plan every single thing, but I’d say you should at least have a scheduled time when you wake up, a plan (even if a vague plan) for when you’re going to eat, and an approximate time for when you’ll go to bed. Suddenly, your day has structure and purpose – even if your only real purpose that day is to wake up and eat three meals. You can then add other things into your schedule like working between breakfast and lunch, or having a bath after dinner. You can also schedule in video calls with friends and family, or a couple of hours in the evening to watch a film, which will give you something to look forward to.
LIMIT LEISURE TIME: My last point (about having a routine) really helps with this one. A great thing about having a schedule is that it encourages you to make sure that doing the things you enjoy still feels exciting. In normal life, having a couple of spare hours to watch Netflix at the weekend is such a treat, but during lock down it feels more like “Oh there’s nothing else to do, I suppose I’ll just watch 8 more episodes…” Suddenly, all the things that we normally do for pleasure (watching TV and films, reading books, doing hobbies, spending time with our family or housemates, having all day access to our cupboards! etc) begin to feel like tasks that we have to do just to get through the day. Then, when they feel like tasks, they stop making us feel good, and we start to feel down, anxious, unsettled, etc… I would say that, as much as possible, you should try to put a cap on how much leisure time you have (to mirror your normal life). Think of all of the “work” related tasks that you can – or need to – do, throughout the day, and make these the building blocks of your schedule. If you aren’t able to work from home, come up with a list of tasks that you’d like to get done, tasks which are – let’s face it – not “fun”, like cleaning, clearing out cupboards, washing your car, etc. And keep leisure as a treat! You will enjoy that film so much more if you schedule it in for 7pm, having spent the afternoon doing a spring clean and a workout. Booking in the things you enjoy as a treat or reward at the end of the day gives you something to work towards, and helps to make things feel more normal.
SHORT BURSTS OF HAPPINESS: We are all stuck inside, doing the same things, in the same room(s), indefinitely. As well as having leisure time, we need things to help get us through each segment of the day. I have noticed that regularly interrupting my daily tasks by doing things that lift my spirits for a SHORT amount of time helps to stop me from feeling down. You should make a note of things you can do to break up the long stretches of childcare, work, or boredom. I’ve come up with a list of things I like doing to break up the day: having a video call with my family and little niece, doing the hoovering (sad but I enjoy it), having tea and biscuits, messaging my friends, watching a light-hearted YouTube video (my favourites are Mrs Midwest, MegSays & Freddy My Love), etc. It’s important to keep these things brief and regular (do them for around 10 – 15 minutes at least every hour) – it stops them from becoming boring, and it also means that there’s always something to look forward to.
ATMOSPHERE & LIGHTING: During lock down, I think it’s so important that you maintain the feeling of a ‘normal’ day as much as possible. Getting the lighting and atmosphere in your home to match the time (and mood!) of the day will really help. The trouble with being at home all the time is that a) you’re inside, meaning you might not be able to get that much natural light, and b) the atmosphere in your home might not match the various at-home activities you’re now having to engage in (work, exercise, etc). There are small adjustments you can make to the ‘feel’ of whatever room you’re in to support what you’re doing. During the day, try and get as much natural light as possible. Keep the windows open if you can – it’s better to put a jumper on and get some fresh air than sit in a stuffy room all day. If it’s dull and rainy, put the main lights on so that you feel awake. When the sun goes down, turn off the main lights and use lamps instead. It will instantly make you feel cosier and help you to relax. I also use fairy lights and scented candles in the evenings to make the room more tranquil, and I always have a fresh bunch of flowers on the side to keep the room bright.
IT’S OK IF YOU’RE NOT FLOURISHING IN QUARANTINE: Many of us are seeking out ways to be happier, healthier, less anxious and more motivated during lock down. I often think “if I can just make sure I stay happy, and eat healthily, and exercise every day, then everything will be fine”. But realistically life isn’t like that. I imagine myself doing intense hour-long workouts from the small space on my bedroom floor (and somehow enjoying them) every day, reading a novel each week, calling friends and family every night, and eating a super healthy diet. But it never happens. Tiredness, laziness, anxiety, mood-swings and unanticipated events all get in the way. I haven’t finished a single novel yet, and some days I don’t exercise at all. Last week I felt great, this week I don’t. I’m really struggling to eat healthily at the moment, and I waste most of my energy on criticising myself and worrying about all the things I’m not doing, or am doing wrong. But today I realised – oh well. If I’m having a rubbish week, never mind. And if I’m feeling worried about it, that’s okay. If you absolutely hate being in lock down and can’t wait for it to end, then fine! It will pass! We should remember to take breaks from the pressure to feel good – it’s probably a significant part of the reason that we don’t.