So many of us have become great at hand washing, social distancing, and isolating. But as our isolation continues, how many of us are being as deliberate and mindful with caring for our mental health?
As we navigate this truly bizarre time, anxiety, depression, fear, and helplessness are all around us. There’s so much that we cannot control. But there is one thing we can… You are in charge of your mental health. You have to work at it. Improved mental health will not come along by itself and it does not depend on receiving good news about the coronavirus situation.
I’ll repeat that… better mental health does not depend on hearing good news. It depends on you. Better mental health depends 100% on what you do, on what action you take. Just like overcoming the virus and ending the shutdowns will take time, so will improving your mental health. Get started. There’s no better time. So, here’s a list of things you can do.
Take device breaks
At least for an hour or two a day. If you’re looking at social media and news on your phone or tablet or laptop all day long, you have a recipe for misery. You don’t need the latest news – you know what it will be. Using devices to stay in touch with friends can definitely be good, but only if they’re helping, not if they’re just joining the Negative Chorus by saying how much everything is screwed up. Before quarantine and isolation and lockdown came along, we knew that spending hours each day on a device was bad for our mental health. If we’re using them more right now, we’ve got more trouble brewing. The more you absorb bad news, the more you train your brain to expect bad things. The more you absorb negative and cynical messages, articles, memes and so on, the more you train your brain to default to negative thoughts. When you get into that pattern, where negative thoughts become normal, you start to believe that your life sucks, that you suck, that nothing will get better, that there’s no point trying. The only way to break that cycle is to reduce negative messaging, add positive messaging, make yourself a priority, and forgive. So, for a few hours a day, leave the devices alone.
Prepare for your brain to resist
If you have depression or anxiety, your condition is going to do everything it can to talk you out of doing anything positive. It will tell you not to try. You’ll feel it in your body. But think for a moment… Nothing is stopping you from getting up, turning off a device, and doing something… Fight your condition. Fight through the message saying there’s no point. Put yourself first and cast off those imaginary shackles. You can – if you really want to.
Contact a therapist
Therapists are considered essential services right now, so they are open. Either see one in person – he/she will ensure appropriate distancing in the room – or set up an online consultation.
Work on forgiving
This ties in with working with a therapist. Forgive the people who’ve hurt you and… forgive yourself. Your depression and anxiety are not your fault. Forgive those who created situations that caused you to dislike yourself and lose hope. You have the choice. Don’t be hard on yourself if you struggle or fail at all this stuff. Just do your best. Forgive. Let go. It takes time and effort. And it’s worth it. Hanging onto old hurts and old ways is so harmful.
Every day, set aside some time just for you. Quiet time to quiet your mind for a few moments. The Insight Timer app is brilliant for guided meditation. You don’t have to be an expert at meditating and you don’t have to join a religion or cult. You need a few moments of peace and reset each day. Meditation can provide you with those things and leave you in a better mindset.
Gratitude is the key to happiness. Start a gratitude journal. Either write it on paper or in an exercise book or download a free gratitude journal app. Write down three things every day that you’re grateful for. In two weeks, you’ll have a big list – and a different perspective. Gratitude can change your life and change the world.
Whatever you can do, inside or outside. Get your heart rate up for 30-60 minutes a day. Tons of fitness companies are putting out free workouts at the moment. Take a walk or bike ride if you’re in an area where you still can. Yoga is brilliant. I’m terrible at yoga, but every time I do some, my body and mind feel easier and more centered. Again, put down the devices and fight your condition telling you to stay put. Make yourself exercise. Then congratulate yourself for doing it.
You’ve probably got plenty of time. Depression and anxiety thrive in mess. Create some order around you and feel the difference it makes to your state of mind.
What’s the point of sitting on the couch eating garbage food? It messes with your mental sharpness, your motivation, and your mood. Your mother said to eat your vegetables. She’s so right. Get off the processed shit, the sugar, the heavy carbs. Get on the vegetables and lean proteins. Oh, and eating better includes drinking water.
Breathe fresh air
Find a way to get fresh air in your lungs. Even if you can only open a window or step on a balcony. Combine fresh air with meditating, even doing yoga or some other form of exercise. This morning, I went outside in the cold rain to put our garbage bins out for collection. Just that couple of minutes in the air and looking around at my neighbourhood gave me a totally different perspective.
Connect with others
When you do use an electronic device, use it in a positive way by staying connected with people. Set up online video chats. Yesterday my wife joined a video cocktail party for her friend’s birthday. Sure, it’s not the same as being there in person, but it’s helpful to see other faces, hear other voices, and share perspectives. We humans are social beings who need to connect. When we lose connection, we suffer.
Offer to do the grocery shopping for seniors or people who are in quarantine. Leave encouraging notes and jokes in your neighbourhood for people to find. And send grateful messages to health care people, hospitals, emergency services, government offices, and so on.
Reach out if you’re struggling
Under normal circumstances with no coronavirus, if you were in your workplace and you stood up and told others you were struggling and started to cry… people would come and help you. It’s a very simple idea: ask and you will receive. But, you must be…
Be willing to receive
It’s no good if your mind keeps putting up barriers. If someone gives you a compliment or a gift or a helping hand, accept it with no ifs, buts or maybes. And with no guilt or sense of obligation. Just be open to receive and be grateful.
Go old school for a while with a book.
Keep a journal
Write down what you’re going through. Write down what this experience is like. It’s beneficial for your mental health and it will probably make a great read a few years from now.
Find an art, craft or hobby
Draw, paint, sing, write, record, learn a dance from YouTube, take up martial arts from online instruction, start some do it yourself projects. Just be productive.
There are so many online courses and virtual tours of famous places that are free right now. If you’ve had the desire to learn about something, now’s the time.
That’s a pretty decent list. No doubt you have a few ideas of your own for how to care for your mental wellbeing. Share them in the comments.
Please work at your mental health, every day – through this crisis and every day after that. It’s a lifelong journey. You’re worth it.