By: Dr. Sarah Davies
Given the current coronavirus pandemic, we find ourselves in new, unknown and fairly uncertain territory. With parts of the world going into complete lockdown, travel restrictions and cancellations being applied, panic buying and stockpiling, more and more of us are being advised to stay home and/or work from home wherever possible.
This, as well as good hygiene practises are of course well-guided advice, however self-isolating and home work can come at a cost to our mental health and wellbeing.
Here are some tips and ideas about how you can take care of your mental health and wellbeing during periods of home working or self-isolation.
For some people, working from home will be a big change to their daily interpersonal connection with others. We are social beings – we all need human connection and it’s incredibly important for our wellbeing. Many of us will experience a big change from working in a busy environment to perhaps then being largely alone.
Try to stay connected and reach out to others as much as you can on a daily basis. Also try to arrange video or phonecalls as much as possible, instead of just using email or slipping into less and less contact with others to help keep as much interaction as possible.
Check in on friends, family and neighbours – particularly those who you know may be more vulnerable or living alone. It’s time for us to look out for each other and help bring communities together.
Keep in touch with people via social media or phone. You reaching out to offer support for others can be just as beneficial and rewarding as you reaching out for yourself. It works both ways. There are online forums and support groups available too.
Boundaries & Routine:
It can be really important for your mental health to keep to your usual daily routine as much as possible. Get up and ready for your day at the normal time and switch off at the end of the day.
If working from home, I suggest getting up and ready for work as usual, get dressed and prepared for work as you normally would and equally, finish your working day at the normal time too. It often takes more self-discipline to do this from home, but it’s important for your wellbeing to boundary off ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ time.
It can also be a big help to create a separate space for work within the home, ideally an office. If this is not possible then set up a specific physical space to work from and then be sure to clear it all away at the end of the day. Mark the end of work by changing the space, change your clothes, take a break, mark the switch between working and resting.
Take regular breaks. Take a lunch break.
Aim to continue getting up and going to bed at the usual time and get enough sleep.
For those of us who live in a house share, this can throw up different kinds of challenges, such as managing personal and individual boundaries and space. It can be helpful to encourage an open discussion where everyones individual needs can be understood and supported collectively. For example, some people need more alone time and space than others – this is also vital for positive mental health and wellbeing. If these kinds of things can be talked about in a healthy way, then all parties can understand more clearly how to support one another.
Exercise is vital for positive mental health. Exercise is still possible whilst in isolation – and especially important. Despite the current health concerns, if you feel well enough, it is still possible to head out for a walk. Exercise can still be done outside without coming into contact with high risk situations. Walk around the block, walk in nature, get some fresh air and some sun. Go for a jog. Power walk. Stretch.
There are infinite online classes and instruction videos for all sorts of exercise you can do at home with or without equipment.
Be sure to exercise daily. Ideally more than once a day.
Try to eat and drink well – with balanced nutrition – drink plenty of water.
Sugar, alcohol and excess caffeine can negatively affect mood and play a role in stress and anxiety.
Practise mindfulness meditation:
The practise of a mindfulness-based meditation each day can bring about a great number of benefits for psychological and emotional wellbeing. It’s especially helpful for stress and anxiety. Search online or in the app store for guided mindfulness practises to help you get started.
Beat the boredom:
Sometimes, being alone or being stuck at home can create much mental unease and restlessness. For some, being alone with your thoughts for too long is unhelpful.
A ‘Mindfulness of thoughts’ practise (see previous advice) can be especially helpful for that. Otherwise, now can be the time do something you’ve always wanted to but haven’t got around to doing yet, like; reading a book, practising yoga, learning meditation, draw, knit, DIY, admin tasks, accounts, tidying and sorting etc. Getting the family together for board games or binge-watching a new series on netflix…
Online counselling, therapy & support:
Whilst not ideal, during a period of time when we may be isolated or restricted from travel, there are many online resources to turn to for connection and support. You may find online support groups or forums to connect with in relation to any specific issue or concerns you have. I would exercise some caution and try to find groups or site that are generally positive and solution-focused, rather than being too focused on the issue, as that can be counter-productive and unhelpful.
If you feel you might benefit from more specialist professional support or input there are many therapists now offering online counselling or coaching sessions. There is interactive online professional support available even if you are physically or geographically isolated.
Avoid reading too much press
It can be alarmist, negative, highly and unnecessarily anxiety provoking. The level of news exposure has been linked to anxiety and irrationality. I think moreso than ever, with the rise of fake news and sensationalism we need to be mindful and careful as to how much we expose our minds to negative or misleading news. My advice would be to get enough clear and correct information as you need and try to leave the rest.
Try to focus on the positive:
This may sounds a little strange, but trying to list what you find positive about the situation can be a powerful way to manage not slipping into a downward spiral of negative thinking. Aim to list as many things are you can find on a regular, daily basis. Writing a gratitude list at the end of each day can also be a helpful practice. It helps to maintain a healthy and more helpful perspective.
Watch you don’t do too much time-travel:
When we are anxious its very easy to go ‘time-travelling” in our minds, off into the future into all sorts of ‘what ifs’ or ‘whens’. We can catastrophise, get into predicting, jumping to conclusions, deciding a whole load of awful things have happened before they have or that may never even ever happen at all and so on.
If you notice you do this, gently bring your focus back to right here and right now and remind yourself that you are likely OK in this moment.
This whole situation is not permanent. It will pass.
Be sure to mark out some time specifically for self-care, relaxation and nurturing. Be it, a netflix binge, long soak in the bath, reading, a walk in nature, a catch up on the phone with a friend, not much at all…
Our emotional experience is very much connected to our breath.
Chances are if you are feeling stressed or anxious, your breathing may well be restricted or shallow. Take some time each day to practice some calming breathing techniques.
‘Box breathing’ is ideal. (you can find guided instruction online).
Overall, now is a good a time as any to focus on your mental health and emotional wellbeing, and that is not forgetting physical health care. The guidelines for prevention and precautions for coronavirus are out there.
Please take care and stay safe and let’s stay connected and look out for one another.
Remember this too shall pass!