As we continue through the Covid 19 pandemic, now more than ever we are realising how much our world is changing. At the start, if you were like me you hoped this would be a short lived event and are now awakening to the reality that this, or some version of this, will be with us for some time.
Although I’m no expert on Covid 19 or mental health issues I have spent the last number of years working with clients on the mindset that helps them deal with challenges in their lives. This is a challenge, unlike any we have faced before.
So how can you maintain a positive mindset during these challenging times;
1. Identifying what you want your new ‘normal’ to look like.
There is so much talk in the media about going back to ‘normal’. So many of us are nostalgic for the time before Covid 19; there was a lot of good in our ‘old’ lives. However, let’s not look back with rose tinted glasses. It is easy to forget the stress and anxieties that we were suffering before this happened; long work hours, long commutes, growing health crises around the world (diabetes, heart disease, mental health etc). This in no way undermines the stresses & anxieties people are experiencing today; concerns about staying safe & healthy, grief of losing family members, loss of jobs & income.
‘We are all in the same storm but we are not in the same boat’
I have seen this quote in a number of places over the last few weeks so unsure who has the original credit (but it’s definitely not me). It captures for me the concept that whilst we are all experiencing the impacts of Covid 19, the impact differs on an individual basis. I am aware how privileged I am to be secure in having a roof over my head, and no worries about where my next meal is coming from. There are many others much less fortunate.
This pause in ‘normal’ is an opportunity to take a step back to identified what is truly important to you as you navigate your own path back to your new ‘normal’.
Do you know what your core values are? Is your life aligned to your core values? If you have not had the opportunity to think about this before now this could be the time to review. If you need help in this exercise click the link below for my free core values exercise.
2. Set Boundaries
Once you have identified what really matters right now focus on the one, two or three things which you can do something about today. Start saying no to activities that don’t matter right now. Set boundaries that allow you to create the time for these priority items.
Research has found that working from home can boost employee productivity, improve work / life balance and foster better mental health. However, this research applies to pre- Covid where working from home was a planned and organised event. Neil Webb, a business development director in London, tweeted that he’d recently heard two people note that “You are not working from your home; you are home during a crisis trying to work”
If you are new to working at home, how are you coping with your work & life balance? For those who have the privilege of having a separate space to work and live might find this easier but for those who are now working in their kitchen or even their bedroom, how do you know when to turn off. It’s so easy to just check your emails one last time and get dragged down a rabbit hole of another couple of hours work. There has to come a point in the day when you leave the office – literally and figuratively.
Once you have identified what really matters to you right now;
- Focus on one, two or three things you can do something about today
- Start saying no to activities that don’t matter to you
- Set boundaries that allow you to create the time for these priority items
3. Take care of your mental health
Recent research in the field of mental health has identified concerns of the fallout on the mental health of entire populations. According to the World Health Organisation in 1990 416 million people globally suffered from anxiety and depression. This increased to over 600 million by 2013, and the numbers are only going up. There are many factors at play when discussing anxiety and depression including complex interactions between social, psychological and biological factors. If you are suffering from symptoms you should discuss with a qualified individual.
4. Don’t let other people invalidate your problems or invalidate theirs
Don’t get dragged into that competition of who has it worse. You know the one I am talking about. We all have that one of those people in our lives. No matter what you are going through they can one up you. You only had 5 hours sleep, they only had 4. You had to work 10 hours, they had to work 12. You broke your leg, they broke both of theirs. When written like this it sounds really funny but in reality it is not.
Remember no matter what you are going through, it is you who is going through it. Yes, there are people who will have it harder. You can have empathy both for yourself and for others, but don’t engage in the negative spiral of chatter, it won’t help anyone.
5. Create a place of no judgement
Do you find yourself either judging yourself or other people during this time?
It’s easily done. Judging yourself or others is of no benefit to anyone, least your own emotional health. When we judge ourselves we generally find ourselves lacking. You said you’d do the laundry today and you didn’t, so you decide to beat yourself up. It is a fact that you didn’t do the laundry today but if it’s something you really want to do just acknowledge that it didn’t happen today and commit to doing it tomorrow. No judgement.
When it comes to others we often find we are on social media saying I would do better, I would do it differently, who do they think they are? Get curious about why this judgement is rising. Is it because it is triggering an insecurity in you? Do you judge these people because you are jealous of their achievements or because you think you are better?
The steps to stopping judgement is to become self aware in the moment that you are judging and then curious about why that might be.
6. What toxicity are you letting into your life?
Toxicity comes into our lives in many forms; from food we eat, to products we use, to media & social media we consume. Now is the time to bring more self awareness to your physical and mental reaction to what you are consuming. What things are you bringing you joy, relaxation, energy etc? What things are bringing you stress, anxiety, interrupting your sleep etc? My big aha moment was when I realised the toxicity of comments and behaviour on Twitter was having a negative impact of my mental health. For my own peace of mind this was an app I had to delete (and the world didn’t end).
We want more of the positive influences and less of the negative. In most cases we follow the habits we have created. Are there new habits you could create to bring more positivity into your life? Stuck for ideas;
- Gratitude journalling
- Online Learning
- Listen to a podcast
- Screen free time (walks, reading a book)
I am an advocate for focusing on new positive habits you want to create, rather than focusing on those habits you want to eliminate. By creating new positive habits you will automatically leave less available time for the negative habits.
7. Distract yourself
When you do find your anxiety and stress levels rising your mind tends to run on a loop over and over around the topic that is stressing us out. If you can change something about your situation do it and if not it is time for a distraction. The goal of this distraction is to interrupt the neurological pathway running the loop. These can be minor interruption patterns….move rooms, walk outside, get up and stretch.
8. Reframe the situation…and change the language
How we interpret our emotions is largely down to how they’re framed; in other words, the context. Take each moment at a time and focus on doing the best you can in a stressful situation.
Changing the language we use to describe a situation can have a powerful effect on our interpretation of an event. I realised shortly into this pandemic that I kept saying I was ‘stuck’ in Ireland. I had planned to depart for Bali and of course changed my plans. It took some awareness and active work to change my choice of words. I now say that I chose to stay in Ireland for mine and my families health & wellness. I am safe & well on the west coast of Ireland surrounded by most of my nearest and dearest.
Change words such as I can’t or I’m not allowed to I am choosing to. This can apply to all areas of your life. Words such as I can’t and I’m not allowed are very childish and have no power. Who decided you are not allowed? Yes, your government may be asking you to stay home but you are choosing to adhere to these guidelines as you know they are in the best interests of you & others.
9. Don’t get hung up on having to be positive or happy all the time.
No one can tell you how you should feel or react during this time. There are very few people alive today who have ever gone through a similar experience. You do you, and figure out what you want and need.
Actively pursuing happiness can lead to the reverse effect. Instead focus on the little things that make us happy. Positive psychology suggests we can improve our mood by focusing on the small things that bring happiness to us each day.
Accept it, own it, feel it. We can all have a bad day, a bad moment and that’s ok. Allow yourself to feel it and then when you’re ready pick yourself up and focus on those things that bring you joy; your favourite meal, a catch up with a good friend, a leisurely walk in nature, whatever works for you.
I won’t bore you with all the research that shows the positive impact to your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing by making exercise a part of your daily routine. You already know.
If you already have a great exercise habit, congrats. Whilst your routine may have changed now is the time to ensure you keep up this great behaviour.
For those that are finding it harder to make exercise a priority think about your why? Are you trying to work out because other people are saying you you should (like me) or can you find a deeper motivation? Everyone of us has a different why for our goals. If your goal is to stay safe & healthy, and have your immune system at it’s best then exercise needs to be a key component. Exercise does not need to be 60 minutes of intensive activity every day (unless this is what you enjoy) but it should be something that gets you up and active for at least 30 minutes a day. A walk, a run, an online dance class, yoga, HIIT. The list of options goes on and on. Find what works for you and be consistent.
11. Time in nature
Research shows that exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones.
In a study of 20,000 people, a team led by Matthew White of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces – local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits – were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those that don’t. Two hours were the hard boundary they found to gain the benefits. If you are short on time this is definitely where you learn to multi task…could your exercise be outdoors rather than indoors, can you connect with friends in nature (while social distancing), could you listen to a podcast or join a conference call while outside? Let’s get creative about how we can get the most of our time.
12. Connect socially, remotely.
So many are missing the physical and emotional connection with family and friends. While we cannot be in close physical contact or hug our nearest and dearest this does not mean we cannot connect.
Humans are social creatures. We are now finding alternative ways to connect. How we connect and who we connect with is very important to the benefits you will feel. How many calls you have been on since this all started? I realised I was on too many calls with limited true connection. Take the time to connect with the most important people, but do it in a way that brings you joy. As I have continued on this journey I have realised that whilst I love the idea of connecting with a load of friends at once this isn’t the best approach for me. I am not so good at small talk and gain much more joy from meaningful connection. I am making a point of connecting with smaller groups more often.
Clutter has negative effects on your mental and physical health. It can leave you feeling anxious, stressed or even depressed. Studies have shown that cortisol (the stress hormone) levels are higher in people who have a cluttered home. A messy bedroom is linked to difficulty with sleep, a messy kitchen is linked to making poor health choices and a messy work space leads to reduce productivity.
Given that we are now all spending more time in our homes, it could benefit your health to get your space in order. Is there a space in your house that you have been procrastinating on tidying?
Disclaimer: decluttering is not for everyone. Hoarders use physical objects to reinforce feelings of comfort and security.
As Anne Lamott said ‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you’
We all know how much better everything seems after a good night’s sleep. Are you creating the environment to get the recommended 7-9 hours a night?
There are so many tips & tricks to create an environment conducive to a great night sleep;
- Create a sleep schedule
- Practise a relaxing routine
- Make sure your room is not too hot or too cold
- Avoid too much stimulation e.g, caffeine, phone in bed
- Practise the four-seven-eight breathing technique
15. Hold yourself accountable…..
Nobody knows better than you what actions help you best manage your physical and mental health. Whether this is meditation, journaling, making social connections, exercise, or adding an extra hours sleep. We all know that we often make choices that are not in our best interest. We know going for a walk in nature will be beneficial, but we remain on the couch scrolling social media or watching Netflix. We’re all guilty of this on occasion.
Those things will be there when you get back from your walk. Now is the time to hold yourself accountable for taking the actions you know will be helpful. If you are struggling to do this find an accountability buddy. Share daily what actions you are committed to making, and check in with each other to stay on track.
16. With kindness & self compassion
Last, but not definitely not least is that this time calls for a lot of kindness and self compassion. You don’t have to have written a new world best seller book, learn a new language or create some insane exercise routine.
Our top priority during this time should be your physical, emotional and mental health,
Depending on your circumstances it might be time to try new things, or maybe it’s time to take a step back and just focus on you. Listen to your body and mind and do what serves you best.
Stay safe & healthy x