With the recent lockdown imposed on the UK, we can’t help but think a lot about the coronavirus COVID-19 and the stress that it might have on all of us. The virus is dangerous and is posing a real challenge to the survival of some people, and our freedoms and usual activities are being curbed – for understandable reasons.
To offer some help, Mr Victor Thompson, a London-based psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in treating anxiety, depression and stress has created some suggestions on what we can all do to maximise our physical and mental wellbeing during this difficult period.
12 tips to successfully manage your physical and mental wellbeing
1. Move it - physical exercise is really important. While you may not usually engage in formal exercise, in the time prior to this coronavirus lockdown, you may have routinely racked-up a lot of steps and units of activity by simply walking to and from buses, trains, and the office during your usual working day. If you are now stuck at home, your activity will likely plummet without a bit of planning. And if you were a regular exerciser, many of your go-to exercise options are no longer possible. So, now it is time to consider what you can do. For instance:
- You can still go for a local walk (in green open spaces if possible)
- Move more within your home, including taking the stairs more often – the original Stair Master.
- Dig-out one of your old exercise or yoga DVDs, or search for some more modern offerings via YouTube or use an exercise app.
To help with your motivation and activation, consider 1) why exercise is important to your physical and mental health, 2) what options you have, and 3) when you will do these.
2. Connect – when going to work or doing your usual thing, you probably had a fair amount of social interactions with people, even fleeting exchanges. Those are important for the brain as we have evolved in groups, so seeing and speaking to people is ‘normal.’ Being isolated and not seeing someone for hours (or longer) will feel weird to us. Therefore, look for opportunities to maintain your connections with people. This includes work colleagues, neighbours, friends and family.
You can create WhatsApp (or other) groups to keep chats going. There are different levels of connection - such as SMS, phone, or in-person - but if you can, always aim to engage in a higher level of connection. That is, rather than nothing, send a text, email, make a phone call, or even better a video call. Now is a great time to set your relatives up on a video calling app, so they can connect with us a little better by seeing us during our phone calls.
I learned a couple of days ago of someone who replaced his usual phone call to an older relative with a ‘visit phone call.’ This person knew that his elderly relative was not going out, so he visited them by standing outside their kitchen window and talked over phone call so they could see each other. Now, that’s an improvement on a video call, while minimising risks of illness transmission. I know that isn’t possible for many of us, but a great idea for those that are nearby.
3. Use and grow your brain – don’t let the mental rot set in. Start exercising your grey matter! Now could be a great time – or the best time ever – to learn something new. If you are lost for ideas – could that really be true?
- Check out Udemy for hundreds of online courses.
- Maybe it is time to (finally) start learning that new language you have been thinking about learning for years (Duolingo app is a great place to start).
- You can learn to cook something different (if you can still source the ingredients!).
Spend some time thinking about what you would like to learn over the next few weeks (or months).
4. Tick-off some to-dos – gain an increased sense of achievement by getting some of those to-dos done. If you are at home more, you have more time to address these. Go on, impress yourself (and maybe others too). Make a list, crack on, gain satisfaction by ticking-off some of those outstanding projects.
5. Relax – now this could be a challenge, but you are up to it! With our normally busy and stressful lives, we usually do not have much time to slow down and relax. This could be your best time in ages, to slow down and find time for some relaxation. Plus, with the coronavirus situation, we are likely to be more stressed out and in need of some quality relaxation. Think about what might work for you: Perhaps it’s time to have some long soaks in the bath or maybe it’s time to dust off some of those books to get lost in a good story. Time to slow things down a little by focusing on taking slow, deep, calming breaths. My Stress Management audio programme (here) teaches you relaxed breathing, two other physical relaxation techniques and much more. Or, perhaps it is time to see if mindfulness-based meditation works for you (two good options are Calm and Headspace).
6. Limit exposure to the news – the news is available 24/7 and it’s all rather scary. It's good to be informed; however, by listening to and reading about the coronavirus situation throughout much of our day, we expose ourselves to a lot of stressful material, activating the threat centres in our brain. A good plan would be to think about how much news exposure is informative and helpful. Consider where you will go to to get your news. For instance, 2 x 30 minutes a day could well be plenty.
7. Maintain your religious practice - If you are spiritual or religious, think about how to maintain your practice. Maybe you will need to plan your own activities more than usual; perhaps you can connect with other worshipers to plan your practice or share experiences over the telephone or video calls. Consider other ways that you can connect with your religious community.
8. Get off to a great start – get up and follow a good morning routine. Ideally, this won’t be far off your pre-coronavirus morning routine which will make it easier to follow. So, get up, wash, dress and eat your usual breakfast in a way that is similar to what you would usually do. This will act as a cue for your brain that today is a workday, not the weekend or a day off.
9. Develop your ‘on,’ ‘off’ and transition routines – if you are working from home, it is important to corral your work and non-work activities and time. This can be fed into your timetable planning. Establish your times to be working, when you will break for lunch and finish your work at the end of the day. If you can, create your working area and territory that is protected solely for work. This isn’t the time to work from your bed or your sofa, as it will become more difficult to relax there after it becomes associated with work.
Next, create transitions, actions or signifiers that go between your non-work to work and then back again from work to non-work. Ideas include doing something such as going for a walk around the block – what I like to call a ‘commute walk’ – before you start working. Then at the end of your working day, when you log-off and park your work stuff (computer, papers, work phone, etc.), go for another commute walk. Consider what transition activity would suit you.
10. Go old school – with some bonus time, why not unplug and go old school with your entertainment options? Maybe it’s time to dust off some of your board games, card games, a jigsaw, etc. to have some old school fun. Trivial Pursuit anyone?
11. Get dirty – this could be a great time to get out into your garden. Escape the confines of your home and exercise your green fingers. There are many health benefits to be gained from gardening: For instance, you will be getting fresher air, you'll be involved in a project and you will be making a difference and having an impact. There are also many health-boosting microbes in the soil and given out from plants, and you will be less stressed by being in a more natural environment that feels more normal to your brain than these manmade homes that we live in.
12. Timetable – schedule things or they won’t happen! This is really key. If you don’t timetable these your ideas, then they will likely remain as an ‘I might do it soon.’ Or, if we are being really honest with ourselves, it is likely to be ‘I probably won’t do it ever.’
Left to our natural way, we will usually choose the easier path, which means lots of milling around, butterflying from one thing to another, without doing what takes a bit of effort and will benefit us a lot more. So, get a pen and piece of paper out and get planning. Then place this plan where you will see it – or you will ‘forget’ it! Perhaps the fridge door would be a good place.
There are 12 suggestions for you to consider and take action to experiment with. You will likely have your own ideas too! What matters is that you work out what to do during these times and take control, or the situation, the stress, and more challenge will come of it, which didn’t have to.
Use the information here to act as a steer to get planning and start better today. What are you waiting for?
You can make an e-Consultation with Dr Victor Thompson via his Top Doctors profile if you are suffering from any coronavirus-related stress, depression or anxiety, or any other psychological problem. His e-Consultation service means that you can have a video call with him from the comfort of your own home.