For the best part of 2020, we’ve all been having to operate in survival mode.
Reacting to change and uncertainty in real time, we’re living under constant daily threat of a virus we can’t see – a virus we are feeling, directly and indirectly, impact upon our health and wellbeing, our livelihoods, and the way in which we live our lives.
Then there is the situational chaos we wake up to (or perhaps go to sleep to) every day – all the things we hear, see and read happening at home and abroad, all, to a large extent, very much out of our own control.
This prolonged exposure to uncertainty, fear and chaos is exhausting. It places our minds on ‘high alert’, increasingly forcing us into a ‘service level’ mode only.
And then there’s the by-product of this new operating mode – our lack of social connectedness. Whilst technology is helping keep us connected, there’s nothing more immensely satisfying than actual human contact and togetherness. Research shows social connectedness is a powerful generator to our emotional and physical wellbeing, which is why lockdown has, and is, having such a profound impact on our mental health.
And let’s be real here – the likelihood of any of the above changing in the short-term is highly unlikely, which means focusing on taking control of the things you can grasp, one day at a time. See it as resilience-proofing your wellbeing through this next phase of restrictions and uncertainty.
To help you, I’ve reached out to a few experienced therapists I know, each of us with our own areas of expertise and thousands of hours practice between us, to compile our top tips on to help fuel resilience and your sense of wellbeing through lockdown.
The overall message? Taking care of yourself is the most productive thing you can do for you in 2020.
Catherine Asta’s key changes
Let self-care be your driver. I know it sounds easier than it feels, so start with the basics, and one small act of self-compassion each day. Not some output you deliver for someone or something else – I’m talking about purposely and mindfully taking care of you.
Sleep is always a good place to start
A good night’s sleep literally bathes your brain in serotonin, which is the magic stuff that boosts your mood. It’s completely free and something we all have access to. Our minds have worked some serious overtime so far this year, and sleep is quite possibly one of the most nurturing things you can gift yourself.
Start with creating the conditions to enable sleep, because rest is such a necessary and crucial component to your wellbeing and your ability to cope. Good sleep helps our minds to recalibrate on so many levels, and is one of the most important ‘repair’ mechanisms our body has.
Tips from Taylor Broughton
Lean into seasonal traditions
Whether it be carving pumpkins for Halloween, putting up Christmas lights, making more stews and soups, or investing in some pre-loved woollen jumpers, leaning into seasonal traditions – and perhaps creating some new ones where your usual go tos are out of bounds – helps break up the monotony of lockdown days. Our brains and our bodies crave different sensory activities to look forward to. Changing up our activities to match the seasons can be nostalgic and nurturing.
Embrace the wild
Whilst it’s important to hunker down and create traditions within our homes, it’s also important to have a physical shift of environment for fresh perspective, clarity and mental space. We know time spent outdoors is a prerequisite to sustainable mental health. So, even on the wettest or coldest day, get your waterproofs and wellies on and head off to the park, beach, woodland, or whatever is available to you. Breathe in that fresh air and know your cosy home will feel all the cosier afterwards.
Stay mindfully connected
It’s uncomfortable to feel glued to our phones all the time, yet we need them to remain close to others. The key is in using them correctly. Numbing out and scrolling distractedly through social media can trick us into feeling connected, but it can actually disconnect us from the world around us. Find balance by using technology mindfully to connect at set times, whether it’s a weekly FaceTime with your friend or an online yoga class once a week, and commit to sitting down and eating dinner with your partner or family every evening at a phone-free table.
Natalie Rossiter’s advice for self-nurture
Reset your lockdown attitude
As tough as it sounds, try to see lockdown as a challenge, or even an opportunity, instead of a problem. That doesn’t mean ignoring the very real and difficult struggles you’re facing, or downplaying your feelings of fear or sadness. Rather, adopting a growth mindset means being open to learning, adapting and growing through what you go through. You are probably smarter and more resilient than you think already…
Show some self-compassion
Nothing makes a difficult time worse than being unnecessarily hard on yourself. Make an effort to catch yourself in the act of self-criticism and see if you can change your tune. Would you speak to a loved one in that way? Does it actually help?
Remember, we’re all on uncertain ground in this situation and everyone is doing the best they can in a strange and scary time, including you. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, acknowledge difficult emotions and tend to them with kindness. You’re doing wonderfully. Keep going.
Esther Ramsay-Jones on emotional learning
Ask for help and learn to say ‘no’
When you take on or are inadvertently given the role of ‘carer’, you can be seduced into doing more and more. Often unconsciously, we allow ourselves to be led by other people’s projections of us as strong or unflappable, and while on some level this will be true, you have your own needs too.
Sometimes, it’s vitally important to listen to yourself and to attune to your body, which might be asking you to slow down and seek help. Don’t see this as a weakness, but rather as an acknowledgement that in order to care for others, you also need to be cared for yourself. At times, the greatest act of self-care involves saying ‘no’ to further commitments before you reach a state of overwhelm.
Isolation can be about emotional disconnection, not just physical aloneness. Pay attention to how you process difficult emotion. Do you shut out, lock away or repress sad, anxious or angry thoughts and feelings about lockdown, for fear of being unheard or of sounding as if you are complaining? Ask yourself, have you learned to silence yourself as a woman from your earliest beginnings?
Try to share how you feel with people you can really trust to listen without resorting to judgement or advice. There can be a real sense of relief in quite simply being understood, and very often, feeling heard can mitigate against our sense of emotional loneliness.
Get out of your mind and into your body
As a specialist in palliative psychotherapy, I see grief and mourning weigh people down. There’s a real heaviness in the whirring thoughts of loss, and many of us are aware of what has been lost during lockdown, from people and jobs to social lives and freedoms. We’re all living in a time when we might feel very uncertain and locked into our minds, compounded by the fact that many of us spends hours each day in the heady virtual online world.
In times of mourning, we need to counter the weight of what we’re going through, and we need movement to find light. Get out into nature and walk, run, dance or practise yoga to release some of the pressure and intensity of the pandemic. Even short bursts of activity can help make us feel more alive.