I don’t know about you, but I think that staying sane throughout a global pandemic requires a degree of effort.
Over the last few months our worlds have been turned upside down. Many of us have had to adjust to some change one way or another. People have been hit financially, relationships have suffered, people have been seriously ill and many of us have lost loved one. I have. And I was unable to attend the funeral as it was in France during lockdown.
Maybe you have lost your source of income. Maybe your biggest problem has been that you had to work from home. Maybe you suddenly got stuck at home with people you didn’t want to spend time with. Maybe you are living on your own and haven’t touch another human being since March.
Whatever your situation, this stuff is not easy. Do not compare yourself to others thinking that you’ve had it easier and that you have no right to struggle with this. Wherever you are is where you. There is no need to judge it or compare.
What I would like to share with you today are the lessons I have learned over the last few months in the hope that they will help you for the coming months.
Tip #1 Gratitude
What is gratitude all about
Feeling gratitude and appreciation for what you have is a powerful tool to improve the state of your mental health.
When we dwell in what is going well we switch our brain to a positive wave. We feel great when we do it once but to get long term benefits we need to practice gratitude daily.
The easiest way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal and write 3 things you are grateful for every morning.
There are other ways to bring gratitude into your life of course and one I particularly love and practice with my clients is gratitude letters. Once in a while write a letter to someone to tell them how grateful you are for having them in your life. What has this person done that has really impacted your life positively? What have you learned from them? Not only you will feel great for basking in this positive energy but you will make the day of the person receiving it.
Another simple way is to create a ritual. For example, you can go through the things you are grateful for when you are brushing your teeth or in the shower. You can do it with the people you live with at breakfast. Everyone in turn should mention one thing they are grateful for and go around the table several times. This one is great to teach gratitude to your children.
Once you get familiar with gratitude you can try the next level: being grateful for the difficult things.
What makes us who we are are the difficult times as much as the good ones. Every obstacle we have overcome, every hurt we have recovered from, every loss we have felt have build us.
What difficulty in your life can you be grateful for? What have you learned from it? What happened that wouldn’t have happened if this thing hadn’t happened? Who would you not have met? What would you not have seen?
Personally I have learned over the years to be grateful for the severe episodes of depression I have experienced because they have motivated me to start my research which led to this blog which is now helping many people… So maybe everything does happen for a reason?
Being grateful for the pandemic
So now that you have achieved the master level in gratitude, can you look at the last few months differently?
Perhaps you have spent more time with your family than you normally would have done. Perhaps you have stopped commuting and won 3h of your day back to do something you enjoy. Perhaps you have saved a lot of money by staying in every evening and have been able to build up your savings or pay off your debts. Perhaps you have learned something about yourself.
I have had difficult moments, especially the illness and loss of my grandmother to COVID-19 in France, but I also have a lot to be grateful for and these are the things I choose to focus on every day. Focusing on the fact that I could not attend my grandmother’s funeral will not bring her back. But focusing on all the small good things that have happened over the last few months because of the pandemic are helping me to stay positive and forward looking and that is what is important for my wellbeing.
Tip #2 Social interaction
Social interaction is hugely important for our mental health. Humans are social animals. We thrive in a group, we need others. This is why we can get depressed when we are isolated.
Just being around people even if we do not interact much has biochemistry benefits for our mental wellbeing.
The current challenge at the moment is obvious: how do we keep the benefits of social interaction while being careful not to spread the virus any further?
This is the question that many people far more knowledgeable than me have been working on. However, I would still like to share with you how I have dealt with this until now.
Stay in touch
I am the type of person that has no issue being alone and I have lived on my own for many years.
This is not necessarily a good thing. While it is a good thing that I don’t need anyone to entertain me and can get lost in my work or in a hobby for hours at a time, it also means that I can easily isolate myself and cut myself off from the outside world. Over the years this has proven to be a problem as it contributed to the downwards spirals.
Therefore, I make a point now of staying in touch with the people I love. If you are like me and this is not a natural thing for you to do, my suggestion is to make a list of the people who would like to speak to regularly. Maybe you have not taken the time to reach out to some of your friends recently and this is the opportunity to make time for them. Or maybe you now work from home and as a result you have lost touch with some of your colleagues that you would normally have a friendly chat with every so often.
Once you have a list, send them a message and book a video call. This is the second best thing after an in person meeting. It will allow you to speak to them and see them. Added bonus it doesn’t matter where they are! A lot of my close friends are abroad. Video calls is the best way for me to catch-up with them.
After a while you might find that spending the day on video calls is exhausting. If you don’t feel like talking but still would enjoy some company, organise exactly that. Since the start of the pandemic I have had quite a few dinners with friends over video. I have also set up a weekly working session with my lovely web-designer and creative director. We have the video opened while we are both working and can exchange as and when needed but most of the time we are just doing our own thing. It’s kind of like being in the office sitting next to a colleague. You are mostly working next to each other but have the occasional coffee break or bounce back ideas.
Interact with people in a socially distant way
Even though I apply all of the above advice myself, a few weeks ago I felt like I needed a boost.
I have now been working from home since March and will most likely continue for the foreseeable future. While I love it and am enjoying the many benefits of working from home, there were days where I really struggled to get out of bed and some days I even worked from bed! I can tell you that my intuition was screaming at me “don’t do it” on these days because I know that not getting up can very quickly lead to a downwards spiral.
So I found a solution by joining a brilliant local, small gym who is super hot on social distancing and offer early morning classes. They are following government regulations down to a t and are super friendly. It is the type of place where all the staff know your name.
I absolutely love it because it makes getting up a lot easier. I know that if I don’t get up at 6am I won’t make it and there are financial penalties for cancelling / not showing up to a class that you have booked as the classes are limited to 8 people and there are always people on the waiting list. So I get up at 6am, go to the class ready for a 7:15am start, exercise, go home, shower and by 9am I am at my desk ready to win the day.
It has made a huge difference to my energy, my mood and, added bonus, my silhouette.
I found this a brilliant hack because I get my exercise done first thing in the morning (just how I like it) and get my in person social interaction done too. Let’s cross fingers gyms stay opened throughout the winter!
Help someone, anyone
Even if you are home you can still help another human.
I have spoken many times about the benefits of helping others. For starters you get out of your own head, even if for just a minute. You make a difference in someone else’s day and that is hugely rewarding and will make you feel better.
A couple of suggestions to get you started:
- Who do you know live on their own and could do with a phone call today?
- Could you join a charity and work for them remotely by taking phone calls for example?
- Is there any charity that you could work with right now while observing social distancing rules?
Let me know what action you take in the comments below!
Tip #3 Routine
Routine: good or bad?
I often say that routine is the best friend of a healthy mind. What I really mean is that we can use our routine to help us stay mentally healthy. I mentioned earlier how you can create a ritual to include gratitude in your day.
But today I’d like to address the fact that it is how you build your routine that will turn it into your best friend. You can have a healthy routine or a not-so-helpful-for-your-mental-health one.
How your routine can take you down
A few years ago I had a strong routine. Very strong. I rolled out of bed at the very last minute possible. Jumped in the shower, got ready in record times while listening to the news and rushed off to work. I would get there for 8am and then drank mugs of super strong coffee all the way until lunchtime. At lunchtime I would grab a plate of whatever was available at the canteen, swallow it as fast as possible then rush back to my desk for the next call. The afternoon would be the same as the morning, alternating between coffee and cigarettes.
More often than not I would leave when I was chucked out of the building around 7:30pm. I would pop home to freshen up and would then head out into town to meet colleagues for dinner. After dinner we usually popped in the pub for another couple of drinks. At least once a week I wouldn’t go to bed before 3pm. I would sleep 3 hours on and off (because of the alcohol) and would roll out of bed at the last minute possible to make it to work on time and do it all over again.
This was my routine for about a year before the depression kicked me hard. And back then I wondered why!!
How your routine can bring you up
Being older and wiser I now have learned to use my routine as an ally to support my wellbeing. And my routine now could not be more opposite to my old one!
I have recently shared my current routine and how to build yours in my article How To Overcome Depression so I won’t repeat it here but you get the idea. Spoiler alert, my now routine does not include cigarettes and alcohol 😉
When lockdown started our normal routines were taken away from us. Some of us are fortunate enough that we still work from home. Office hours give us a framework. Let’s use it to our advantage!
If you don’t have any work to do right now it gets tougher because all the days turn into one. So you need to create your own routine to support your wellbeing.
The way to do it is at have things to do at regular times that involve over people so that you have to do them.
One of my clients was in this situation. All she had in her diary was 2 language lessons booked in at 10.30am twice a week. We agreed that she was going to set up video meetings or calls with friends or family at 10.30am every day to force her to get up at a reasonable time and get ready ahead of the lesson / call.
Make it as easy as possible for you to follow and don’t go crazy at the beginning. My current routine is the result of years of getting up earlier and earlier and including one more thing here and there. I did not go from my old routine to the new one overnight! I wouldn’t have known how to and it would never have stuck. So please be gentle with yourself, one step at a time.
Tip #4 Exercise
If you have been following me for a while, by now you know that exercising is the number 1 action that you should take to improve your mental health. That’s because physical exercise targets 6 out of the 8 chemical circuits in the brain responsible for our mental wellbeing.
So it is paramount to exercise regularly at the moment to help maintain our wellbeing.
Since the start of the pandemic I have massively increased my exercise regime and it has served me well during the last few months.
Depending on where you live and on your circumstances (self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown area) you will have different options so I am going to cover the extremes and you can pick and choose what makes sense for your situation.
You are not currently restricted from leaving your house and gyms are open
Please, make the most of it!! Go to your favourite gym as often as you can, have private sessions with your personal trainer or your yoga teacher, go for a hike with your favourite Meet-up group (all of these are great because you also get the benefit of the social interaction) or simply go for a walk or a run.
My current routine is to attend a class 4 or 5 times a week, have one online personal training session every 2 weeks (I started this when the gyms were closed and I love it so much I decided to continue even though I am back in the gym), do my own weight training session at home once or twice a week and go for a gentle walk on the days I need to recover or to take it easy. You got it, the idea is to exercise every day.
Obviously I am not telling you to start exercising every day in a really intense way if you do not exercise at all at the moment. If this is your case, I would suggest you start with a gentle 20 to 30 minutes walk 3 or 4 times a week. You will quickly feel like you can do more and you can start increasing intensity or quantity.
But I urge you to remember that we do not know what is to come over the next few months and that therefore we should enjoy being outdoors and being able to meet people in a responsible way as much as possible while we can. Just remember lockdown.
You have to stay indoors
If you have to stay inside your house, this is my recommendation: work out at home.
Since the start of the pandemic social media have been buzzing with free online workouts. You could have tried something different every day for a good 2 months period! I saw dance classes, yoga classes, HIT classes, body combat etc… You name it.
And let’s not forget all the exercise videos that are available on YouTube. Before I started with my personal trainer, I used to follow along to her YouTube videos on K’s Perfect Fitness TV using the weights I have at home and built up a one hour full body workout that way that I would do 4 or 5 times a week.
If you want to use weights, invest in a set. There are loads of affordable ones on Amazon.
If you are allowed to go a walk for an hour a day, I strongly recommend you take that opportunity.
Make it fun! Drag someone along – either from your household or through video. I know people who are now exercising with their kids – HanBan Yoga does yoga classes for parents and children together.
And if you find it difficult to motivate yourself, agree with a friend that you are both going to work out at the same time and report to each other afterwards.
I still have loads of tips for you but this article is turning into a book! So I will leave it here for now and we will continue to explore how to stay sane throughout a global pandemic next week.