It’s no surprise or secret that this current lockdown, alongside the drab winter weather, is taking its toll on people’s mental health. Just a quick scroll on any social media platform will highlight the ways in which people across the country, and the world, are struggling with this strange situation.
Following two wonderful weeks off work to celebrate Christmas and my birthday, I was feeling rested, relaxed and ready to take on the new year. Well, that lasted all of about two days. The dark weather and rolling monotony of every day in lockdown put me right back into a slump.
I’ve been working hard to pull myself out of said slump, and to try and see the positives, however small, in each day. It’s a challenge, and it definitely doesn’t mean every day is a ray of sunshine, but I’ve found a handful of things that are helping me to at least see the break in the clouds, to find pockets of happiness throughout the days, weeks and months.
I wanted to share some of the things that I am doing, or trying to do, to protect my mental health, to keep me putting one foot in front of the other, and to find joy wherever I can. These are definitely not fix-all solutions, but hopefully you might find some ideas to give a go. At the very least, I hope that it helps you to take notice of your own mental health and encourages you to spend time doing things that make you feel calm and hopeful.
Yoga and Meditation
This has been a big one for me. I think this is the first time I have really connected with the benefits of both yoga and meditation. I always understood the benefits for your body and mind, but it’s only now, when I turned to them in a time of need, that I have truly felt the impact on my wellbeing.
I was in a seemingly never-ending rut of feeling pretty awful most days. After festering in it for about two weeks, I decided that I had to change something, anything. I started slow and gentle, with a daily morning practice of 5 to 25 minutes (depending on my schedule) of yoga with Yoga with Adriene and ten minutes of guided meditation (using the Calm app). It’s been an absolute game changer for me .
It’s been really soothing to make time to sit on the mat for about 25 minutes every day and show myself that I am committed to having a good day. Sometimes I just need that reminder that I don’t have to feel bad or start the day in a bad place. I highly recommend trying it out, day or night (or both!), to see if it helps lift your mood or makes you feel more connected to yourself and the moment.
Each day, after I finish my yoga and meditation, I take a couple of minutes to write about how I’m feeling, what I want to do with my day and what I’m grateful for. In the Calm app, there’s three ‘Check In’ areas you can respond to: ‘How are you feeling?’, ‘What are you grateful for?’ and a daily reflection on a wide range of ideas, thoughts and questions.
It’s been a great round off to my morning practice to address how I’m feeling, work through how I might improve my mood or approach the day, and to recognise the good things that I can look forward to – even if that’s just a warm cup of coffee or reading a new book.
Actually sitting down and checking in with yourself can be a great way to recognise your thoughts and feelings. It can give you the space and permission to feel those things, and consider how you might be able to feel a bit better throughout the day.
Something that’s been a great help throughout all of the various iterations of lockdown has been trying different creative projects. It’s a great way to do something tactile that takes you out of your head and focuses you on the task at hand. If you’re anything like me, my mind spins at about 100MPH, but the creative projects have helped to slow that down.
You don’t have to pick something that you think you’re going to be amazing at, just something that you’re willing to give a go! I’ve tried watercolour painting (and adding dried flowers), lino printing and I’m about to try my hand at clay modelling.
You can find some great kits to help you get started (such as from Artful and Inner Canvas), or you might be able to sign up for free or low cost workshops run by local galleries or council initiatives. I did the watercolour painting with Swansea’s Elysium Gallery, and it was great to spend the morning learning and getting creative with other people. They sent all the tools free of charge and ran a paint-along session, teaching us how to use the tools to create different landscapes.
Daily Time Outside
This is an obvious one but the point still stands. Time outside with nature is so, so good for you. The moment you step outside and take a big, deep breath of fresh air, everything feels like it gains a little more perspective.
I try to go on at least one walk a day, or two if I have the time. I’m quite lucky in that I enjoy walking in the cold and rain, so it doesn’t put me off at this time of year. I try to make time on the weekends to go on an extra long walk. I must have done every possible iteration of walk around my local area but there are always new things to see and appreciate. A walk is one of the most simple, non-negotiable parts of my day as I always feel better afterwards.
Restful Evenings Away from Screens
At least a few times a week, I try to spend some time away from screens before bed. I’m fairly good at leaving my phone in another room at night, but I do enjoy switching off in the evening whilst watching the TV or a movie. However, I now spend a couple of nights in the week getting into bed early to snuggle up, drink something hot and get lost in a book.
It feels like a great way to disconnect, relax and feel an element of ‘resetting’ before the next day. Plus it helps me to read the books on my TBR list!
Getting Creative in the Kitchen
One of the best gifts I received this Christmas was the Speedy BOSH! cookbook from my brother and his fiancée. It has been an absolute game changer. Whilst I like cooking and trying out new recipes, I don’t think I have ever loved a cookbook as much as this one!
It’s been so much fun to try out new recipes a couple of times a week. When everything else is feeling a bit stale and repetitive, I’ve been able to look forward to cooking, and most importantly, eating something different each week. From curries and noodles to risotto and soup, everything has been super delicious, quick to make and relies on fairly simple ingredients. It’s been a regular joy to make things from the book, and I’m always looking for what dish to try next.
Writing: Creatively, To-Do Lists and Monthly Intentions
I have fallen in love with writing since the pandemic began. It’s been such a great tool for not only focusing my mind but giving me a sense of purpose during difficult months. It’s not always easy to write, but I do enjoy it. Prior to the last year, I hadn’t written creatively (outside of my blog) in what feels like forever, so it’s new and exciting to be inspired and motivated (and to believe in myself enough) to write poems and short stories.
I’m also finding it beneficial to write weekly overviews of my to-do lists, and monthly intentions. I shared in a blog post about how, in 2021, I wasn’t setting yearly resolutions as I usually would, but instead would be realigning and refocusing my goals for each month with a list of intentions. This has been working well for me as it gives me something to aim for, without feeling overwhelmed.
Whether it’s stories, ideas, articles or personal goals, writing has had a massive impact on my mental health throughout the last 10 months.
Speaking to Friends and Family
Last but not least, opening up to people when you’re feeling down or struggling really does help. It’s a horrible, weird time but we’re all in this together. I tend to shut down or back away from people when I’m in a low place but I have to remind myself that my loved ones want to be there for me and help in the ways that they can. I always feel better once I get something off my chest or talk through how I am feeling.
Nobody is expecting anyone to be having a fantastic time of things at the moment, so don’t forget to reach out to people that you trust and can talk to.
What can you do to help boost your mood at the moment?
I know these activities won’t fix everything (and are obviously not advice for those dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental health struggles) but I hope some of the above points have given you ideas of things that you might be able to try or work into your routine to help life feel a bit brighter.
Everyone has their own specific needs and circumstances, but if there’s something you can do that gives you just 5 minutes to breathe, helps you reconnect with yourself or enables you to feel like you can face the day, then it’s worth doing. As always, please consider reaching out to a doctor or professional if you’re really struggling at the moment.