It has been exactly one year since I wrote my post about ways to help with your mental health during troubling times. None of us could have predicted that a year on we would be in a similar position to the first Lockdown of 2020 ( I am dating these in case it becomes an annual fixture! ).
Back in 2020 the idea that this would become a major issue was almost laughable at the start.
“It is just in Asia, never coming here.”
“Oh its just handful of cases in England, not a problem for us.”
Until it was.
It didn’t seem like a huge issue until that night when the Prime Minister made his broadcast to the nation. It felt like the start of something really major, like you see in disaster movies when they announce that the comet will strike and be an extinction level event. I can’t recall any similar announcements in my lifetime in this country. I found it fascinating and shocking at the same time and didn’t really know how to process it for a few days.
But, here we are a year later. Still here. Still not in a padded cell. So things are OK. Here is a list of things I have found helpful over the last year. I intend that these will be a part of my daily life from now on.
I have been exercising more. Partly for mental health but mainly for physical health. Getting out for a walk or a run not only keep all the chemicals in balance but I find it helps with routine. Getting outside will be easier now too that the weather and light is starting to turn, so I expect that my mood will only improve from here.
Critical. Cannot stress enough how important some form of routine is. I struggle during the holidays as I lose that routine of work and lose track of what day it is etc. It really messes with my head and I feel a bit disconnected and out of control. Trying to maintain a regular routine is a huge help with this. I have been lucky that I am considered a key worker and was still working throughout. Losing that routine for that length of time would have been a major problem for me, although I think I would have recognised this and tried to structure my days another way to compensate.
Having a young family, it feels like you are never off duty. When you finish work you are straight into dinner / bath / bed routine etc. Having even a few minutes to just sit and decompress is so important for mental health, more now than before even. And taking time off the usual chores to binge a box set, aimlessly browse YouTube, listen to some music is totally OK. Taking time for yourself is not selfish, because when you are well rested and in balance, you are a better person to everyone around you. Being kind to yourself in turn makes you kinder to others. Everyone wins.
This year has seen us go from paranoid and bleaching things to within an inch of their lives, afraid to go to the shop etc, to now a more measured approach as we have all had more time and data to appropriately weigh the risks and manage our behaviours. Masks are just a normal thing now, it doesn’t feel strange wearing them in public. The first time I went into the bank with my head shaved and a mask on was interesting to say the least, now no one bats an eye. We have all adjusted and found the groove.
Everyone has a different risk profile. A different set of rules they use to navigate their world in a way that feels safe for them and others around them. Each person will have a different fear level. And we all need to give each other a bit of compassion and slack around this.
Everyone has a different home life setup. I have found that people are being more accommodating of each other and I really hope that this is a feature of the pandemic that we can hang on to.
Journalling / Diary for mental health
This is something I have done on and off over the years but the last 6 months I have made it stick. I find it incredibly useful even though I thought it was a bit “hippy dippy” to start.
Each day I jot down a handful of things I would like to get done that day.
Then at the end of each day I write in another section my “Wins” for the day. These are a few lines of things that I got done, or positive things for the day. Every single day you can find 3 positive things that happened, some days you just have to look a little harder. But it can be anything from “Got new server set up and its working well” to small things like “Saw a lovely sunset on way home”
The key feature of this is to have you finishing your day thinking of the good that happened, not ruminating on the bad. For mental health this is a big win.
There is a final section where I can jot down any other thoughts, little things that I would like to remember etc.
I do this all on my iPad with the Apple Pencil. I find it important that this is done in writing and not typed. But iPad gives the benefit of it being stored digitally and it is all searchable as the handwriting (as bad as mine is) is recognised by the system. I use Goodnotes for this.
The last thing I do is have a little bar of 5 emojis from Super Happy to Sad. I circle the one that fits the day. I very rarely have below a 3 as doing this end of day audit makes you see the day as a whole, and any bad moments tend to melt into the rest of the day. It has massively helped keep things in perspective.
I have this all in a custom PDF template that I made. I may share it on here once I have ironed out a few of the rough edges!
This one has been a little harder to stick to but I still find it very useful. I especially like the Netflix series from Headspace and found it a great re-introduction to Mindfulness. I would recommend you give it a go!
Even just 5 minutes of sitting watching my breath gives my 100mph mind a chance to reset and slow down. I find this useful at the end of the day to switch off a bit. I will also use this if I feel myself getting tense and feel a panic attack coming on. A few minutes with eyes closed, turning down the sensory input just calms the storm.
We have managed for a whole year. People thought they couldn’t cope with the initial 3 week lockdown that was announced almost a year ago. But here we are, one year, several extended lockdowns and God knows how many banana bread loaves later. We have adjusted and adapted and will continue to.
Be kind, give some slack and look after yourself. And remember that mental health is just as important as physical health!