Sunday, 12 April 2020

Tips for Keeping Our Mental Health in Balance During the Coronavirus Lockdown

- This post contains affiliate links and contributions from companies - full disclaimer at the end -

Hey guys! Right now the world is facing a global pandemic due to coronavirus (Covid-19). On top of the worry that many people are already facing from this, a lot of us have been put into lockdown. This is understandably going to effect all of us in different ways, including our mental health. Humans are a social species and we’re not built to be cooped up indoors for extended periods of time. Therefore, it’s okay to not be feeling okay right now.

Photo Credit: Miguel A. Padrinan

Today I wanted to acknowledge the effects that the coronavirus pandemic is having on peoples mental health and focus on some tips for keeping yourself in balance. I’ve been in touch with some fantastic people and companies to create a collaborative post that covers a whole range of mental health boosting tips and tricks. From meditation techniques to exercise, new hobbies and recommendations, together we’ve tried to cover everything. I've split the post into two halves which cover looking after ourselves physically and also mentally. So sit back and have a flick through the advice that we have compiled and, most importantly, stay healthy and safe!

UPDATE: Post was updated on 15/04/20 to add extra tips!

Before we dive into the tips and recommendations, I wanted to start by saying that if you are really struggling right now then please do not be put off from reaching out for help. I have included contact information for relevant helplines and websites at the end of the post for anyone who may be in need of them. 


Physically Looking After Our Mental Health



To kick start, we're going to look at the links between physical health and mental health. Some of you may withdraw inwards a little bit about dealing with physical health in relation to mental health (I've been there too!), but the tips included here really are beneficial - especially now that we are stuck indoors with far less access to our regular outdoor activities. 

In this post we're going to be discussing two ways that we can look after our physical health - exercise and diet. We'll begin by talking about exercise. 

Exercise


Photo Credit: Kokil Sharma
To help with this area, I got in touch with Sam Colver whose zumba classes I usually attend when not in lockdown. Here's what she had to say:

"In these crazy uncertain days of lockdown it's easy to lose enthusiasm for anything. Cabin fever can kick in and this can make you feel very anxious. One way to alleviate these feelings is to get moving! 
Pick the same time slot every day to give you a bit of routine and structure to your day [something we're going to discuss further along in the post ]. Do some exercise that you know already or go online to find something new. Right now the internet is full of exercise tips and fitness classes that are suitable to do at home. Mix it up and try different things to keep yourself interested. 
Exercise produces endorphin's in your body that can give you an uplifting feeling and can improve a low mood. I'm currently teaching my fitness classes for free online every day. If you would like to join me and my work buddy Mike Shaw for 30 minute classes of everything from zumba to box fit then get yourself on Facebook and send a friend request to Freestyle Fitness Hub and we'll add you to the group!
Stay safe!"
- Sam Colver

If you don't have the workout accessories, get creative!
Victoria suggests filling up milk bottles with sand or water
Photo Credit: Victoria Knight
I've been attending Sam's online classes in the group and it's been fantastic. Not only are you able to try out some new classes outside of what you may normally do, but it really helps to prevent you from feeling sluggish and lethargic whilst boosting and regulating your moods. Less irritability, more laughing! If you have kids as well, getting them involved and doing it as a family can be great fun. My daughter has been enjoying yoga and loves video calling her Nana after every session to show off all the new moves she learned.

It's not just us saying this though, this thought has been echoed by some of my friends also. My darling friend, Dr Victoria Knight (who we have a lot of insightful info coming up from further on in the post),  added: "exercise has obvious physical benefits that are often visible but there are so many hidden benefits." Some psychological benefits include, "a feeling of accomplishment, achieving small things, being brave and focusing on one thing. I call it a de-frag - it helps you to empty your brain and become focused." 

Even though we are in lockdown right now and we cannot physically see one another, getting together online for a specific purpose in an online fitness class can be a great way to socialise yet also find some identity within ourselves too. Victoria continued to list some more of the benefits this can have: "connecting with other people, belonging to a community ... also being inspired by other people and seeing others achieve. It's such a buzz!" In regards to identity, she said "it's part of me - I can't imagine life without it. In times of trauma - and I have had mine - my exercise has helped me belong and to know who I am."


You can buy some resistance bands ready for your workout
or alternatively, use Sam Colver's idea to make some from
an old pair of tights like I did here!

If you want to splash out on something a bit more,
take some inspiration from Victoria's spin bike!
Photo Credit: Victoria Knight
Another key point I feel important to add at this time is that when I do attend zumba classes, there are always a wide range of ages and people of different fitness levels who attend. It's so universal and welcoming, and the same goes for all of Sam's classes I've attended online so far too. So no matter your age or fitness level, get moving! If you're struggling to motivate yourself, one way that I find helpful is to put my gym clothes on as soon as I wake up. As soon as you're in the outfit, the mindset usually follows.


Diet


Photo Credit: Ella Olssen
Moving onto the diet side of things and discussing how your diet can affect your moods, I'm going to quote Mind, a mental health charity based in the UK:

"Think about your diet. Your appetite might change if your routine changes, or if you're less active than you usually are. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can help your mood and energy levels." © Mind. This information is published in full at mind.org.uk

The Mind website has an entire section about food and moods which is incredibly helpful, so I do highly recommend checking it out. I'll post a couple of tidbits below, but for the full picture then the page does contain so much fantastic info about the relationship between food and mood.

" If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady." 

" If you don’t drink enough fluid, you may find it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. You might also start to feel constipated (which puts no one in a good mood)." © Mind. This information is published in full at mind.org.uk

Staying hydrated is a very important one. Remember to drink regularly, especially if you're starting with new exercise routines too.

Photo Credit: Element5 Digital
If you're not sure where to start with any of this, some of my friends have kindly provided some great tips and healthy recipes to get you started! 

Victoria suggests that we "get creative and be inspired by colour and natural products." She continues, "my golden rule is to avoid processed foods where possible!"


For breakfast, she says, "don't just think toast and cereal! Try other milks like coconut and almond for oat based breakfasts or smoothies. Add fresh mint and ginger to your smoothies. Go for berries and pears. Add fresh spinach or kale and if you want to fill up add nuts or oats! Experiment! ... Eggs with a homemade salsa for breakfast are brilliant! I sometimes do an egg fried rice for breakfast."

Something I can confirm that Victoria is fantastic at making is soups, and for this she recommends again that we experiment. She also recommended her favourite website and her current favourite soup to make; "Naturally Ella website is amazing. My fave at the moment is Broccoli Soup with Ginger and Lemon. It's fresh and zingy - you could even serve it on rice to fill up more."

Photo Credit: Lisa Photios
If you're looking for an immune booster, my friend Anita adds "turmeric and honey is a good boost when you're ill, turmeric is known as an antibiotic. Apple cider vinegar, honey and hot water first thing in the morning is good too."

Tea fans out there can get creative also! My close friend Mandeep Kaur (who we are going to hear lots more from later in the post) always has an amazing cup of homemade tea ready for me whenever I go to her house and she is happy to share her simple recipe with you all - "fennel seeds and ajwaan - you can keep adding much else to this!"

Another important dietary need is vitamins and minerals. We can get most of these from eating the right foods, but there are many vitamin and mineral supplements available also. Physical health wise, vitamin D is a good one to take right now as an immune booster, also because we can't get our daily dose as easily from the sun right now. Mood wise though, I reached out to Wicked Gummy Co - a gummy vitamin brand - to see what advice they had in regards to helping to keep our moods elevated. Here's what they had to say:

"It’s a difficult time for many, with people living by themselves suffering loneliness, families having to look after children with limited resources and those suffering job losses. The brilliant individuals that are still working are doing so under unusually stressful conditions. And there are many more groups. Sleepless nights are rife with sleep deprivation only enhancing these anxieties.


I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that any supplementation can counter these very real problems, but incorporated within a good sleep routine, our
Peaceful Zzzzz Gummy can be very effective. The Peaceful Zzzzz contains natural ingredients including valerian root extract (sometimes called nature’s valium!), passiflora and 5-HTP, which helps the body increase its natural serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that sends signals between your nerve cells telling your body it’s time to sleep."
Wicked Gummy Co

Wicked Gummy Co Peacefull Zzzzz
WickedGummyCo Peaceful Zzzzz Gummies

I gave the Peaceful Zzzzz gummies a whirl during the summer last year and I found them to be brilliant at helping with not only getting to sleep, but stresses and anxiety too. As stated above, they're not your counter, but within a good routine such as your physical exercise, eating well and some of the mental tips yet to come in the post they are a fab inclusion for keeping our moods in check.


Mental Exercises for Boosting Mental Health



Now we're going to move onto the mental side of things. These tips are moving away from how physical activity can effect our mental state and more onto other things we can do to balance out our moods.


I'm going to start off with a big one - meditation.


Meditation



To explain what meditation is, I love this definition from Headspace:

" Meditation is both a skill and an experience — a formal exercise to cultivate awareness and compassion. By sitting with the mind, we’re training it to be more open and at ease, and we consequently discover greater calm, clarity, contentment, and compassion. In doing so, we increasingly learn to have a direct experience of the present moment."

I reached out to my dear friend Mandeep Kaur, who is a Psychic Medium Healer, and she listed off some of the benefits that meditation can have on your mental health.

Photo Credit: Mandeep Kaur

Meditation can "bring you into the present moment, release negative thought patterns, tap into certain parts of the brain that you otherwise wouldn't and release self judgement, criticism and anger." It can provide us with "clarity and focus" and allow us to "control the power of our breath, discipline the mind, be gentle on ourselves and feel empowered, calm and relaxed."

Another big thing that we can gain from meditation is the state of being mindful. I'll turn to Headspace again to define mindfulness and how it works with meditation:

" Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them."

" If meditation is the training ground where we familiarize ourselves with the here and now for a limited period of time, mindfulness is the quality of being present that we carry throughout the day, available to us — when we remember to be aware — as life unfolds, fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment, free from distraction or judgment."
- Headspace

I use an incredible app at nighttime called Pzizz and they also have a brilliant description that is mentioned in some of their sessions. They discuss our awareness as being us. We are not our thoughts, but we are the awareness of our thoughts. That part of you that's assessing which thoughts are good or bad? That's your awareness. That's you. Being mindful uses that awareness.

" We train in this moment-to-moment awareness through meditation, allowing us to build the skill of mindfulness so that we can then apply it to everyday life. In teaching the mind to be present, we are teaching ourselves to be live more mindfully — in the present, taking a breath, not beholden to reactive thoughts and feelings — which is particularly helpful when faced with challenging circumstances or difficult situations." - Headspace

Photo Credit: Mandeep Kaur
So how do we get started with meditation? The best way to get yourself into it would probably be via guided meditations. My friend Deepti suggests that for this we can utilise "technology for mindfulness - there's so much on YouTube which is free." Mandeep also has some meditation's available on her YouTube channel. A body scan may be a great one to start with.

One of my personal favourite meditations is the Kirtan Kriya (Kirtan meaning "song" in Sanskrit and Kriya meaning a set of movements) meditation. In her book, The Universe Has Your Back, Gabrielle Bernstein describes the Kirtan Kriya meditation as having "the capacity to redirect your focus off fear and doubt so that you can feel strongly connected to love."

It's a fantastic meditation to try right now within the current circumstances and Mandeep has been/still is streaming a live group session of the Kirtan Kriya on her Facebook page at 11:11am daily for 10 days during the lockdown and then again on Instagram live straight afterwards. At the time of writing they are still in progress, but if you're reading this way after then you should still be able to find them and follow along in your own time at her Facebook page. If you want to do a longer version of the meditation, both the short and long version of the meditation can be found on Spotify too.



Mandeep also provided us with some tips to get started with meditation. "Put no pressure on yourself and practice practice practice! Observe without judgement, focus on your breath and 3rd Eye area [the part between your eyebrows], listen to soothing music and be in familiar surroundings."

She also shared some extra advice regarding how to keep our mental health in balance during the current lockdown. She recommends that we try to stay away from watching or listening to the news too much due to the panic and negativity that it can spread within us. Mandeep also encourages us to retain "healthy boundaries, whether it is family or friends."

"Have what you want within your own limits - know and understand your own limits. 
To be happy is easy... to remain happy constantly is the answer. It is difficult but not impossible. We learn and grow through our difficult times. This is the place we learn fully about ourselves and all of our relationships. Pay attention. Hold no grudges with anyone - see them as patterns of growth, lessons to learn." - Mandeep Kaur


Structure


Photo Credit: Moose Photos
We're now going to jump back to something that was touched upon earlier in the post by Sam; daily structure. I've turned back to Victoria for help with this one as this is her speciality (her full job title being Dr Victoria Knight, Senior Research Fellow at DeMontfort University - yes, shes a very impressive and inspirational woman!). She discussed an important study with me which resonates in certain ways with the lockdown scenario that we are now in.

"Cohen and Taylor's Psychological Survival is a famous sociological study of men's long term imprisonment. Whilst our current situation cannot be entirely compared to that of prisoners there are noteworthy strategies that prisoners adopt during confinement.

Our enforced lockdown has made us notional prisoners - deprived of many goods, services, people and routines that we choose to have access to. Prisoners who cope well adapt and accept quickly; they understand the rules and find ways to manage their daily lives. In my own work on prisoners, a prisoner told me that "boredom is poisonous - it is mental poison." For me, this is powerful. Like prisoners our days become blended into one - monotonous.

Many prisoners avoid thinking about tomorrow or even the future. They manage time in peculiar ways. Time can be your enemy, so strategies to avoid this are wonderful for coping." - Victoria Knight

Like Sam mentioned at the start of the post, structuring your day can make a big difference. A lot of the ideas that we have compiled in this post can be added into a day to day routine and this structure can help with our mental health and wellbeing. Victoria continues, "for us our incarceration is an opportunity to appreciate our homes and take pleasure in simple things. Our collective imprisonment is purposeful. Avoiding stress and managing our emotional states is something we are required to do. Many prisoners get a lot from prison and emerge transformed and grateful for time behind their doors." So don't let time be your downfall - keep busy, structured and focus on yourself. 


Outside Time


Whilst you're structuring your day, there's one very important thing that you need to try your hardest to schedule in: time outside.

Photo Credit: Asad Nazir

Yes, we're under lockdown and we need to minimise our time spent outdoors, but our gardens are still allowed to be used. We also (at least at the time of writing) still have an allowance of outdoor time as long as it fits under the guidelines 

"Nature is extremely grounding and puts perspective on what's important in life" says Mandeep. "It makes you feel very grateful." Our friend Suki agrees with this also, adding that it "definitely relaxes your mood."

You could get outside to do your meditation or follow along with your fitness class, have a walk around the garden for exercise or maybe try to bring nature indoors to you. Mind has a list of ways that you can bring nature indoors, including some indoor gardening, photos of green spaces or even doing something as simple as sitting by an open window. 

There are many ways that we can utilise our gardens or bring the outside indoors and by doing so we can improve our mental and physical wellbeing.

Say hello to Birdie

I asked my friends what they've been getting up to in their gardens to help to inspire you and they've sent over some photos. Mandeep says that it "feels so great laying on freshly cut grass." Suki says that she has been "in the garden weeding and chatting to Birdie [say hello to Birdie above!]," whilst Deepti has been "soaking up the sun, chilling and having champagne" whilst the boys do a BBQ!

 


Treat Yourself


BlissBox
BlissBox

Whilst we're talking about all of these practices and exercises that we can do, we need to remember that it is also okay for us to treat ourselves. To discuss this further, I spoke to BlissBox, a self-care subscription box based in the UK. Here is what Shareen, the founder of BlissBox had to say about self care:

"Self care is about pampering yourself, treating yourself and adding a little indulgence to your life. It is also about habits, behaviours and life choices used to preserve your mental and physical well being and about giving yourself what you need when you need it. This is the core and foundation of self care. 
With mental health and well being becoming more socially acceptable and the stigma around the subject is disappearing, people are more open and are better able to voice their health problems. With talking you realise that you need to heal and with healing comes self care. Mental health has been labelled as the twentieth century's health epidemic and self care is just the medicine for the every day mental health problem. Some say self care is just a trend but for the reason given above, I think it's here to stay. 
Being isolated from other humans during Covid-19 is essentially unnatural and goes against natural human nature. Humans are social creatures so to be isolated will impact mental health and will cause some harm. Loneliness is already a massive problem around the world and this will unfortunately make matters worse. This is why self care, more than ever, is critical. To connect, protect and care for the self during this time will help to ease any impact on your mental health and to build a closer relationship to yourself when you cannot connect with others." - Shareen, BlissBox founder

BlissBox
BlissBox

To help with this, BlissBox offers a monthly subscription box that contains a selection of self care items. "Each BlissBox follows a theme of the month and includes 5 individual gifts alongside a well researched wellness tip and a positive quotation" explains Shareen.

"We source items from small, passionate UK businesses who provide unique, good quality products which promote wellness and help you to self-care. As well as researching the best advice and tips around for our BlissBoxers, each BlissBox will look to include:
  • An activity to help you to be present and in the moment
  • An item you can use, which you can actually implement into your every day life
  • An item which promotes self care and well being, to help and support you to self-care
  • A pretty treat, because every woman deserves something pretty
  • A product which stimulates a sense, to bring a little indulgence to the mix
Each BlissBox will be packaged with love, tissue paper, dried petals, twine and a fresh flower for you or a loved one to enjoy." - Shareen, BlissBox founder

BlissBox
BlissBox

If you want to check out BlissBox, subscribe or purchase an individual BlissBox, you can find them at the BlissBox website. You can also find them on Facebook, and Instagram.


To round off before jumping into the final list of things you can try at home, I wanted to share a piece of advice that I love from Grabrielle Bernstein's The Universe Has Your Back. In one of her chapters she discusses the idea of leaning towards joy; "lean toward joy, and you will be led."

This idea talks about finding joy in even difficult situations and understanding the power that it can have on not only you, but those around you. In her book, Gabrielle uses the example of being stuck in traffic. Instead of being angry about it, try to find joy by finding ways to make it fun. You can finally listen to that new audiobook, call a friend to catch up, etc. This is a really important thing for us all to be doing right now.

The Universe Has Your Back cards - Gabrielle Bernstein
Gabrielle Bernstein The Universe Has Your Back Cards

If you're struggling to work out how you can find joy within lockdown, try writing down a brainstorm or list of all the things that make you happy and then see what you are able to do from home - or come up with new ways to enjoy them from home!



Other Things We Can Do


Alongside all of these things though, there are lots of other, smaller things we can do. For example:

Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio
  • Listening to music - anything that makes you happy, whether it be cheesy songs from your childhood or belting our your favourite Disney classics. Whatever makes you smile - put it on!
  • Avoid social media - This can be hard for some, especially when we're stuck at home with not much else to do. Make the most of this time to put your energy into something else and steer yourself away from social media as much as possible. The feeling of succeeding with something new will give you a much better boost than a like on your new selfie. Step back - your mental health will thank you for it.
  • Clean your house - a clean house makes for clearer thoughts. This one you can combine with the music tip and it also helps you with the above tip. Music on, clean up, avoid social media.
  • Pamper yourself - run a bath, relax, do a face mask - whatever makes you feel pampered and feeling good about yourself!
  • Writing and journaling - having a notebook as a space to just write down any thoughts or feelings can be an incredibly therapeutic process. It can be anything that's on your mind, poems or maybe you can doodle instead.
The Universe Has Your Back Journal - Gabrielle Bernstein
The Universe Has Your Back Journal by Gabrielle Bernstein
  • Keep your mind working - puzzle books are great at keeping our minds sharp. Reading is also very good, especially if you choose something that is thought provoking. Now is a great time for thinking deeply. Deepti had a fantastic point regarding reading. As well as the free meditation and mindfulness tools on YouTube, Amazon do a lot of free Kindle books that are available for download - no Kindle needed. You can download the Kindle app to your phone, tablet or PC and get going. She added "it's my bit of escapism, it relaxes me and I forget any worries or anything that's bothering me."
  • Get crafty - Deepti is also fantastic at crocheting so also mentioned this tip to share. In her words, "crafting in any shape or form - there's so much you can do". It can also be another fantastic way to express yourself alongside writing.
  • Try an online spiritual course - Hay House, a book and oracle card publisher, have a range of online courses that you can take to work on different parts of yourself. They also have podcasts available.
  • Aromatherapy - a lot of people find fragrance to be soothing. Mandeep suggests that on a spiritual basis, "sandalwood is the best incense stick."

Thank you to everyone who has contributed and a huge reminder to everyone - stay safe and healthy, stay home, save lives.

Here are a collection of links for services you may need and the companies and people who have kindly gotten involved with this post.

Helpful charities and advice


Mind - Mental health charity based in the UK
Samaritans - For whenever you need to talk, the Samaritans are open 24 hours a day. Alternatively, call for free on 116 123
UK Government - For the latest coronavirus advice and also for help with claiming benefits
NHS - NHS advice on coronavirus
Women's Aid - A charity based on helping women and children who are victims of domestic abuse
Supportline - A confidential helpline for emotional support with any issue, in particular anyone who is socially isolated, vulnerable, at risk or a victim of any kind of abuse
Citizens Advice - For general advice, also covers lots of areas from housing to debt
Crisis - Help for anyone facing homelessness
Shelter - For help with poor housing conditions or homelessness

People who contributed to this post


Sam Colver Fitness - To be added to the Freestyle Fitness Hub group, use the Facebook search option to search for Freestyle Fitness Hub and request to join the group
Mandeep Kaur Psychic Medium Healer Facebook / Instagram / YouTube
Wicked Gummy Co 

Apps you may find useful


Pzizz
Headspace
Curable (focused on physical pains, but also contains some meditations)


Zoe.
Twitter:@Beautifinous
Instagram: @Beautifinous


Disclaimer:


I did not receive any free products or payment in return for mentioning any brands or products within this post, but some of the products that were mentioned I have received for other reviews in the past. I did receive a thank you gift from one source mentioned but this was after I reached out and was not a payment for being featured. 

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