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  • Fiona McNally

Ideas for Maintaining Mental, Physical and Emotional Wellbeing during COVID-19


As we enter the third week of official lock down, I have been thinking about ways I can keep myself both physically and emotionally healthy in the coming weeks of continued uncertainty. For me, the first week was about transition. Transitioning from office to home working, face-to-face counselling to telephone and online support, training in the gym at 6am to swinging kettlebells in my front room at random times of the day. I could go on, but you get the gist. I was kind to myself, allowing time to adjust and not berating myself for failing to start (let alone finish) all the things I thought lock down would enable me to. The beginning of the second week proved much harder. I was mentally and physically exhausted and experienced an overwhelming fatigue that penetrated my whole being. Going to bed at 8.30pm one night I wondered what had happened to me. Talking to a friend about what was going on, he was sure it was simply due to staying up watching a box set until 2am Monday morning (something I have never done before and now know I will never do again…) With only 4 and a half hours sleep, and knowing my track record of not coping with too little sleep, of course I was going to feel that way, he said. And I think perhaps he was right. By Friday, after a series of early nights, I was feeling myself again. Lesson learnt!

Realising how easy it is to forget, or even dismiss the most obvious, and from listening to my clients experience similar struggles this week I thought it may be useful to go back to basics.

Routine

If you are finding it difficult to maintain some equilibrium, start with following your usual routine as much as possible. Set your alarm clock for the same time as normal and follow your regular morning routine. If you are working or doing school work from home, start your work or school day at the usual time, and stick to your set time for breaks and lunch. Instead of your journey home at the end of the day, go for your walk / cycle / run to signify the transition from work back to home. And remember to go to bed at your usual time! The mind and body like routine – if your body is used to being fed at 12pm every day and then one day circumstances mean you must wait until 1pm, you know about it! It is the same for your daily routine – an unplanned change is unsettling for mind and body and it takes time to adjust.

Tips:

  • Decide on a routine and plan how you will spend your time. It might help to write this down on paper and put it on the wall.

  • If you aren’t happy with your usual routine, this might be a chance to do things differently. Perhaps make one change at a time and allow a few days to adjust before introducing the next one. Ideas include going to bed earlier, spend more time cooking or introduce time to meditate in the morning.

  • Think about how you will spend time by yourself at home. For example, plan activities to do on different days or habits you want to start or keep up.

  • If you live with other people, agree on a household routine. Try to give everyone you live with a say in this agreement.

  • Try to respect each other's privacy and give each other space. If someone wants an hour of quiet time every day allow this. Another family member may want to talk about everything they are doing so provide a listening ear.

Connect with people

In recent times we have been encouraging people to put technology down and physically spend time with friends and family. Whilst this is still possible for those living in the same household, keeping in touch with people digitally is the easiest (and in most cases, the only) form of maintaining contact with others during this time. Connecting with people is vital to minimise feelings of loneliness and isolation so even if you are someone who does not like technology or finds it stressful, I recommend persevering because the feeling of connection is sure to outweigh the discomfort.

Tips:

  • If you are living with people, arrange to sit down and eat your evening meal together or start the day sharing breakfast. Make sure this is a time when the TV and mobile phones are off.

  • Make plans to video chat with people or groups you would normally see in person - instead of meeting for your usual Saturday morning coffee, meet online with coffee cup in hand!

  • Arrange a regular call with a friend or relative or ring spontaneously to catch up with someone you haven’t been in contact with for a while.

  • Send instant messages or texts – checking in with someone you know may be struggling can make a huge difference to how they are feeling that day.

  • If you are worried that you might run out of stuff to talk about, make a plan with someone to watch a show or read a book separately so that you can discuss it when you contact each other.

  • Write a letter or send a card to friends or family. Postcodes of Kindness is a fantastic group on Facebook which was set up to combat loneliness and isolation in care homes and care settings - anyone from anywhere in the world can get involved. Whilst most of the world is facing loneliness and isolation, this is a perfect opportunity to connect.

  • Think of other ways to keep in contact with people while meeting in person is not possible. For example, you could check your phone numbers are up to date, or that you have current email addresses for friends that you have not seen for a while.

  • Putting up extra pictures of the people you care about might be a nice reminder of the people in your life.

  • Listen to a chatty radio station or podcast if your home feels too quiet.

  • If you are feeling anxious about COVID-19 or finding it difficult being at home more than usual, you may find it helpful to talk about these worries with someone you trust, especially if they are in a similar situation.

  • You could join a peer support community. Mind runs an online peer support community called Elefriends, where you can share your experiences and hear from others.

Keep active

Build physical activity into your daily routine, if possible. Most of us don’t have exercise equipment like treadmills where we live, but there are still activities you can do, in addition to getting out for your daily walk, run or cycle. Exercising at home can be simple and there are options for most ages and abilities.

Ideas:

  • cleaning your home

  • dancing to music

  • gardening

  • going up and down stairs

  • seated exercises

  • online exercise workouts

  • sitting less – if you notice you’ve been sitting down for an hour, just getting up or changing position can help or walk around while speaking on the telephone.

Fresh Air and Nature

Bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. It can improve your mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger, and make you feel more relaxed. It is possible to get the positive effects of nature while staying indoors at home.

Try:

  • Spend time with the windows open to let in fresh air.

  • Arrange a comfortable space to sit, for example by a window where you can look out over a view of trees or the sky or watch birds and other animals.

  • Look at photos of your favourite places in nature. Use them as the background on your mobile phone or computer screen or print and put them up on your walls.

  • Listen to natural sounds, like recordings or apps that play birdsong, ocean waves or rainfall. Get as much natural light as you can. Spend time in your garden if you have one or open your front or back door and sit on the doorstep.

  • If you have safe access to green space like a garden, you could bring some natural materials in to decorate your living space or use them in art projects. This could include leaves, flowers, feathers, tree bark or seeds.

  • You may be able to buy seeds, flowers or plants online for delivery, to grow and keep indoors.

Relax and Be Creative

It is tempting to use this time to have a clear out both materially and digitally. Whilst it can be therapeutic to sort through your possessions and put away tidily the things you decide to keep, or delete any old files and apps you don’t use, upgrade your software or clear out your inboxes, try and set aside some time to relax, take notice of the present moment and use your creative side.

Suggestions:

  • arts and crafts, such as drawing, painting, collage, sewing, craft kits or upcycling

  • DIY

  • colouring

  • mindfulness

  • playing musical instruments, singing or listening to music

  • writing

  • yoga

  • meditation.

Keep your Brain Stimulated

If you are not able to work from home or do not have to help the children with their schoolwork, you may notice your brain becoming idle or going into overload as you read the news and hear other people struggling. I recommend listening to the news only once a day and limiting your time on social media.

Tips:

  • Keep your brain occupied and challenged. Set aside time in your routine for this. Read books, magazines and articles. Listen to podcasts, watch films and do puzzles.

  • Although high street library branches are closed, some libraries have apps you can use online. These allow you to borrow ebooks, audiobooks or magazines from home for free, if you are a library member.

  • FutureLearn and OpenLearn have free online courses you could try.

  • There are lots of apps that can help you learn things, such as a foreign language or other new skills. This is a great opportunity to try out various different activities or hobbies and if you decide to keep going with it once our lives return to a degree of normality, then even better!

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