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12 different ways to help look after your mental health during lockdown and beyond

Isolation can present challenges for our work and home lives, our relationships, and our mental and physical health. And although we’ve been through lockdown once before things may be feeling more difficult during the darker, colder months.

One of the most important things we can do to get through the next few weeks is to be kind to ourselves and those around us, and do what we can to look after and protect our emotional wellbeing. This can mean different things to different people. But generally speaking, it involves developing coping strategies, and knowing when to give yourself a break.

Prioritising our mental health isn’t only something that we should do when we are feeling low or are struggling – it’s something that we should think about and invest in all the time, in the same way that we do with our physical health.

With that being said, here are 12 different ways that you can help look after your mental health during lockdown, and beyond.

1. Practice mindfulness

The idea of being ‘mindful’ is something that’s growing in popularity in today’s modern and increasingly technological world. The rate at which we live our lives has generally sped up, meaning that many of us are always on the go, and might rarely stop to check in with ourselves, or to really focus on the present moment. This is usually because we’re worrying about the future, or stressing about what we should have done yesterday, or last week.

This is why mindfulness is so powerful. It encourages you to stop and really focus on what’s going on in any given moment. What can you see, hear or smell? If you’re eating something, what can you taste? And what are the textures like? The idea is to really connect with your body and your surroundings, and let everything else – past and future – in your mind fall away. It can take a little while to get used to being mindful – but with practice, it can become a tool that you use whenever you’re looking for a little slice of peace in your day.

2. Experiencing cabin fever? Learn more about what it is and how to manage it

It’s not uncommon to experience what is commonly referred to as ‘cabin fever’ when staying at home for a prolonged period of time. During this time, you will typically be having less in-person interactions, getting less fresh air, and just generally not getting enough stimulation from your surroundings. When this happens, you might become bored, restless or claustrophobic, which can cause you to develop an irregular sleep pattern, lack motivation, and might even bring feelings of hopelessness or depression.

Cabin fever is not a medical definition, but more of a colloquial term used to describe the mental stress of living in isolation. Sometimes, just learning more about the feelings associated with it can provide comfort, by reminding you that what you’re feeling is normal.

There are also a number of things you can do to help ease feelings associated with cabin fever, such as accepting and acknowledging how you feel, getting outside for a daily walk, and starting a project that you know will take you a while to complete – as this will give you something to focus on. For more tips, check out our detailed guide on cabin fever.

3. Work on developing the skill of optimism

Being optimistic doesn’t mean living in a world full of rainbows and butterflies. It means that you can learn from situations, find and appreciate small positives, and see new opportunities – even when life gets difficult.

Optimism is not something that you have to be born with either. It’s a skill that can be developed at any age, and can go a long way to restoring some hope and happiness when you’re struggling to see a positive path forward. When we feel optimistic, we will generally sleep better, are less likely to engage in unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive drinking, and will be more resilient to life’s setbacks.

If you’d like to work on developing your own optimism, then it’s worth having a read of our article below. It will show you how things like keeping a gratitude journal, imagining positive outcomes, and trying to see your outlook as a choice, can help you to feel more hopeful going forward.

4. Learn how to manage feelings of stress and anxiety

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, then you’re not alone and you might find yourself worrying, feeling tense, or walking around with a sense that something bad is going to happen.

Many of us are feeling stressed and anxious about what the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns will mean for the future. While this is completely normal, it’s important to develop your own ways to help manage these feelings, to make sure that they don’t become debilitating.

There are a few things you can do to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety such as doing something active, focusing your attention on helping someone else, or challenging negative thoughts every time they enter your mind. To find out more about what stress and anxiety is, how it could be affecting you, and ways to cope, have a read of our article below…

5. Consider how you could improve the quality of your sleep

It’s understandable that changes to your daily routine brought on by lockdown might be affecting your sleep. Many people find that when their work, leisure and social activities all merge under one roof, they enter a new state of “alertness” at home – making falling and staying asleep difficult.

The length and quality of your sleep will have a significant impact on how you feel. The majority of us will feel less equipped to deal with the day ahead, and with what life throws at us, if we are tired. Sometimes we might not even realise the impact that poor sleep is having on our daily lives – but it can leave us feeling emotional, irritable, and unable to concentrate or motivate ourselves.

While this is frustrating and often there is no simple solution, there are some proven things you can try that might help. Switching off electronic devices 30 minutes before bed, setting aside an hour a day to explore and offload any worries, and getting some fresh air as part of your routine are just a few of them. You can find more useful sleep tips in our article below.

6. Practice breathing techniques

When we’re feeling tense or worried, our breathing can become shallow, or we might even hold our breath for periods of time without realising. But, the quality of our breathing is incredibly important for our physical and mental wellbeing, so it’s a good idea to stop every now and again and take note of it.

When we breathe air in, our blood cells receive oxygen and release carbon dioxide, which gets expelled as we breathe out. The quality of this oxygen exchange can affect how calm, or how tense we feel because it helps to control physiological functions, such as lowering blood pressure, and helping to slow and regulate our heartbeat.

This is why taking slower, deeper breaths generally helps you to feel more relaxed and in control of your body, while taking short, shallow breaths can increase your heart rate and leave you feeling more tense.

Once you start practicing deep breathing techniques you might be surprised at how relaxing it can be, and by how shallow your breathing was before. Have a read of our full guide to learn more about how breathing can affect your body, and which techniques you can practice when you need to relax

7. Understand how screen fatigue could be affecting your mood, and how to combat it

With the pandemic keeping us at home for a large period of time this year, many of us will have noticed a significant increase in our screen time, and you might have heard people mention that they’re experiencing ‘screen fatigue’ or ‘computer fatigue’.

Technology can be both a curse and a blessing. It allows us to stay connected with loved ones, keep up with news, do our shopping online, and stay connected with friends, family and work colleagues – but too much screen time, can leave us feeling drained. You might find that your eyes feel tired, you’re having trouble sleeping, and that you no longer get the enjoyment out of your screen time that you used to.

Sometimes it can feel as though all your smart devices are competing for your attention – your smart watch is vibrating at you because you haven’t got your steps in, your news app on your smartphone is constantly flashing with the latest news updates, and your work and social interactions are now all done via Zoom. When this happens, it’s normal to want to just switch everything off and hide, even though this isn’t always the most practical or realistic option.

But luckily, there are plenty of things that you can do to minimise your screen time, so that it doesn’t take over your life – for example, incorporating exercise into your day, connecting with nature more, and sometimes opting for a good old-fashioned phone call instead of a video one. We offer more tips on how to tackle screen fatigue in our handy guide below.

8. Learn how to boost your focus and motivation when it’s running low

When we’re lacking focus and motivation, we can experience feelings of frustration and guilt over the fact that we’re not doing better. This then creates a feeling of pressure, which can make it even more difficult to get things done.

You might lack focus and motivation in various different areas of your life. Perhaps, you don’t feel motivated to make yourself healthy meals, to exercise, or to get out of bed in the morning. Or maybe you find it difficult to focus on your latest work assignment, your job search, or even the book you’re reading. It’s normal for this to happen from time to time, and the most helpful thing you can do is to not beat yourself up over it. Perhaps you simply need a rest from your computer screen, your workouts, or just in general – and your motivation will bounce back when you’ve allowed yourself the time away from it that you need. Or you might find it helpful to set smaller, more realistic goals for yourself, instead of larger ones that end up feeling impossible.

It can be helpful to try and see each day as a fresh start, where you don’t let any guilty feelings about what you didn’t do yesterday, affect how you continue to move forward today.Try to remember that a lapse in focus and motivation is never usually permanent. We’re going through an unusual time, so it’s expected that you might be somewhat distracted at the moment. But, if you did want to work on trying to boost your focus and motivation over the coming weeks, then you might find the following articles useful.

9. Feeling depressed? Remember that you don’t have to struggle alone

If you’re experiencing feelings of depression then your days might feel long and exhausting – and simple tasks like taking a shower or making yourself a sandwich can feel like hard work. You might also feel isolated, and find yourself struggling to see a brighter day. Sometimes you might know why you’re depressed – perhaps you’ve recently lost a loved one, have been made redundant, or are struggling with lockdown – and other times you might not be able to really pin your feelings to anything in particular.

One of the most important things to keep in mind here, is that you’re not alone. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that more than 264 million people across the globe are affected by depression. So chances are, you will know others who have experienced depression at some stage in their lives, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Things you could try that might help, include reaching out to loved ones, eating well, and accepting how you feel but trying not to dwell there. There are also people you can turn to if you’re feeling desperate and need someone to talk to quickly – the Samaritans (call 116 124), or Silver Line (call 0800 470 8090) are there to listen and offer some helpful words 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more advice on how to manage feelings of depression, you might find it helpful to read the following articles below.

10. Find ways to express yourself

Keeping your emotions bottled up is never a good idea, because they can build up to a level where daily life becomes too difficult to manage.

At a time when we’re getting out less, and spending more time away from people in our support networks, it can be helpful to explore a range of different ways that you can offload strong emotions. This could mean having a video call with a friend or family member, or it might be something you can do alone, through activities such as painting and drawing, keeping a journal or creating a vision board.

You’ll usually know when you’ve found something that works for you because it’ll help you to feel calmer and more at peace.

11. Feeling lonely or isolated? These tips might help

Feelings of loneliness can be difficult to manage at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic – so it’s understandable if you are feeling particularly isolated at the moment.

Loneliness has various root causes, so you might be feeling lonely because you live alone – or perhaps you still feel lonely if you live with others, because you have little in common, or your interactions aren’t regular enough. Or maybe you’ve recently lost a loved one, and your loneliness stems from grief. It’s also entirely possible you could be feeling lonely and not really know why.

Whatever you’re feeling, try to remember that your feelings are completely valid, and that there will always be someone else out there who can relate to what you’re going through. You might find it helpful to have a look at the loneliness section of the Rest Less community forum – where you can connect with others going through similar experiences to you, and swap tips on how to cope. Some people also find that their loneliness reduces when they stop comparing themselves to others, or when they speak up more, and voice their opinion, rather than staying silent. For more tips, have a read of our article below.

12. Find your purpose

Our mental health can be affected if we feel that our lives are lacking meaning and purpose. When we talk about purpose, this can refer to long term purpose i.e. the career that we choose, or the lifelong mission that we choose to go on, or short term purpose i.e. what drives us on a day to day basis during lockdown, when our regular lives have been temporarily disrupted.

Having a purpose helps to give our lives meaning, and motivates us to get out of bed every morning, because everyday feels worthwhile. It can also help us to feel a sense of accomplishment and reward when we achieve something that we’re proud of. Without purpose, we can feel as though something is missing from our lives, or that we’re aimlessly floating, with no real direction. This can be quite unsettling, and we can find ourselves getting stuck in a bit of rut.

If you’re looking for purpose – either during lockdown or beyond it can help to spend some time thinking about what really makes you tick. What are you passionate about? What comes easily to you? What do you care about doing? These questions can help you to work out what your next journey or career move might be. Or whether you could join the fight for a cause you’re particularly passionate about. You could also consider if there are any ways you could help others, that would add more meaning and value to your life. For example, perhaps you could offer to do some shopping for a vulnerable neighbour during lockdown.

If you’d be interested in exploring meaning and purpose further, and finding out more about how you could find yours; then have a read of our article below.

Final thoughts…

We hope that some of the suggestions in this article will help to make this difficult winter a little easier. Our mental health can affect our work, relationships and our general attitude to life, so it’s important that we look after it the best we can, and know when to reach out for help if we need it.

Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to handle everything perfectly, or to be really productive if you simply need a break. The kinder you are to yourself and others during this process, the more manageable it will feel.