Feeling Listless in Lockdown? 5 Tips to Manage Your Mental and Emotional Wellbeing
Updated: May 2, 2020
If you're like me, you've experienced myriad emotions over the last few weeks. I felt fairly optimistic during the initial few weeks of lockdown. I could work from home, keep in touch with friends virtually, and thought at least I could put all the hours I’d save commuting to good use. My routine was sorted.
Six weeks down the line, I’ve noticed a dip in my mood and realized that I need to put a lot more work into looking after my wellbeing. Here are 5 things that we can all do to look after ourselves:
1. Have a Routine
I’m going to start with the one that you’ve no doubt heard a million and one times over the past 6 weeks – but that’s because it is important. As tempting as it may be to spend all day, every day, in PJs losing track of time, doing that long term is likely to have a negative impact on your health. If you’re working remotely, getting dressed in work clothes can help get you in the right mindset for work, helpful if you're finding focus harder than usual. It also helps make a clear distinction between work and off time, important to avoid burnout. Try to keep a regular sleep routine too. As lower levels of physical activity may result in delayed sleep, getting your mind and body used to sleeping and waking at certain times will help.
2. Watch the News
Just checking. What I mean is, “watch your news intake”. While it is important to stay informed, the news is only useful to a point. Once, we could only hear the news at certain times of the day, and international news took time to travel. Now, we have access to all that’s happening in the world at the push of a button. This constant exposure to worldwide events that we have no control over is a source of stress, which raises the hormone cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can cause a host of health problems including heart disease, problems with memory and focus, sleep problems, anxiety and depression, and greater vulnerability to illness.
Try setting a designated time for checking the news (say, once in the morning and again in the evening), or to ask a trusted friend or family member to give you a brief daily run-down of anything essential you need to know. News bombardment can filter through to social media too, so if you’re not already, look at how you can make use of friend lists to filter out news spammers.
3. Have Fun
This is another reason to have clear work boundaries – we need time off to nurture ourselves. With all that’s going on during this pandemic, you might wonder how you can have fun and maybe even feel guilty for doing so. However, doing things you enjoy is a way to de-stress and boost your mood, benefiting your immune system and making the curre
nt situation feel more tolerable. Dance around to your favourite music (also good for physical health), try something creative, or engage in activities that challenge your brain.
4. Engage in Mindful Activities
When it feels like the world is in chaos, mindful activities are a great way to change your focus. If you don’t like the idea of meditating, good news; doing an activity mindfully brings the same benefits. As mindfulness just requires you to pay attention to the current moment, non-judgementally, almost anything can be done mindfully if you tune into your senses while doing it. For example:
Touch - If you are able, when walking, focus on the sensation of your feet making contact with the pavement. How do your feet feel inside your shoes, which part of your foot touches the ground first? Where do you feel the most pressure? You can do this in different ways if you use mobility aids.
Taste - Take something you eat frequently and eat it as if it's the first time trying it. What is the texture like? What flavours can you detect?
Sound - again, if able: Sit quietly. What can you hear around you? Focus on the sounds. Can you pick up anything that you've never noticed before?
Engaging in mindfulness calms down brain activity in the amygdala (the emotion centre of the brain, where fear responses are processed) and activates a part of the brain called the insular cortex, letting you move from being caught up in your head to being more present, both physically and emotionally.
5. Express Gratitude
Gratitude is often touted as a panacea – it isn’t - but it is a hugely effective practice, especially when you’re feeling stressed, anxious or low. Gratitude isn’t positive thinking, it is simply being grateful. It's human nature to focus on what's wrong in life. Gratitude is a way to change that focus on to what is right. Try to pick out five things that you are genuinely grateful for every day - nothing is too small. Write them down or say them aloud to yourself. For example, "I'm grateful that my partner brought me a cup of tea", "I'm grateful that the blossoms on the trees look so beautiful", or, "I'm grateful my friend texted me to check how I was doing".
The key here is to find things that you genuinely have gratitude for, not things that you think you *should* be grateful for. If you don’t feel it, don’t count it. I prefer to do my gratitude practice as a wind-down before bedtime, but others prefer to do it first thing in the morning as a way to start the day. Try it out and see which one works for you.
We will still have "bad" days. We'll have days where we feel low, days where we feel angry, and days where we just feel odd. We'll also have days where we feel hopeful and optimistic. These tools will help us ride the waves while we're working towards a way of life that feels closer to normal.
Sarah coaches women to take action in spite of self-doubt, so they can share their brilliance with the world. She has a Master's in Psychology, a degree in Software Engineering and extensive work experience in Tech, Healthcare and Education. To book a free consultation or contact her, visit her website. In the meantime, follow her on Instagram.