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How to be kind to your mind during lockdown

Being stuck at home needn’t lead to a spiral of negativity. There are plenty of ways you can take a new, positive approach to your mental health

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17 February 2021
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nder the current circumstances, it’s totally understandable that your mood might’ve taken a bit of a dip/deep sea dive. During lockdown, those four walls of yours could feel like they’re closing in – whether you’re bouncing off them with your partner, children and pets, or it’s just you and them and a whole load of hours stretching out ahead.

While staying home wherever possible remains one of the most important things we can all do right now to fight Covid-19, it’s also important to acknowledge how your mental health may be impacted – and how to give it some TLC. Try this starter for 10...

1. Make time to worry

Sounds counterintuitive? Hear us out – it’s normal to have worries. But for some, this might tip into anxiety which impacts day-to-day life. If you feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts, it may help to schedule a specific time to go through your worries – and if they rear up at other times, you bank them for later. 

During your allotted “worry time”, write down each concern and ask yourself whether you can do something about it. If yes, write an action plan. If no, try to accept that and let the worry go. That’s not to say it won’t bubble back up, but you can remind yourself that it’s out of your control.

2. Reduce your news intake

Obviously we’re not talking about disengaging completely, but between your newspaper, TV, radio and social media, it’s easy to be consuming news endlessly. And let’s be honest – it’s not especially rosy right now. Instead, set yourself a specific time when you’ll engage, turning off alerts in between.

When you do check the news, remember to always use trusted sources, and fact-check what you read on social media on gov.uk or nhs.uk.

Stop doomscrolling through news on your phone and escape into a book instead – your mind will thank you for it

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3. Keep connected

Scheduling regular virtual check-ins with friends and family can help keep loneliness at bay. Perhaps your morning coffee becomes a WhatsApp session. Or Thursday night is when you and your friends Zoom together. Enthusiasm for quizzes long gone? Instead, you could sign up to the same online yoga/cookery/craft class. 

Volunteering is another way to connect – for example, Age UK is looking to buddy people up with older folk who’d benefit from regular calls.  

4. Count sheep

Shut-eye is vital for our mental health and ability to function. But you know that, right? That’s why when you can’t drop off, panic can set in. But here’s the thing: if you’ve been trying to nod off for 20+ minutes and Mr Sandman is still AWOL, it can help to get up. Do something chilled like having a drink (no, not that kind – alcohol can disrupt sleep) or reading (sans screen) and wait till  sleepiness creeps in before crawling back to bed. It might just break that sleepless cycle.

5. Pick a project

In lockdown 1.0, it was all about the banana bread and jigsaws. But when we’re feeling low or anxious, our hobbies can slide off the radar. However, that’s exactly when we should embrace them. Learning something new can improve self-esteem and give you a sense of purpose. And it doesn’t have to be as full-on as learning a new language or writing a novel. It could be simple – reading a book or fixing a bike/jumper/vase. Frame it as a project and write a step-by-step plan – it might get your motivation mojo working.

5 apps for a holistic approach to your mental wellbeing

From practical calming exercises to upping your physical activity, it’s useful to look at a range of different health and lifestyle factors to help effectively improve your wellbeing. These five NHS-approved apps – all available to download from Apple’s App Store and Google Play – could help…

FEELING GOOD

Help combat feelings of stress with the Feeling Good app, which features relaxation audio tracks with coaching and soothing music designed to help with mood, self-confidence and self-esteem. 

STRESS & ANXIETY COMPANION

Discover a range of useful tools, from breathing exercises and calming games to proven cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to help cope with difficult feelings. 

ACTIVE 10 

If you need motivation to help you get moving, this step tracker – which monitors goals and achievements – provides a great helping hand.

MY POSSIBLE SELF: THE MENTAL HEALTH APP

With free wellbeing tools created specifically to use during the coronavirus pandemic, this mood-tracking app can help users to deal with a variety of problems. 

DRINK FREE DAYS 

Cutting down on your alcohol consumption can improve your physical health, but it may also improve your mood – and this app can help you achieve your goal. 

When you’re feeling low or anxious, hobbies can be a valuable pick-me-up

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6. ‘Be’ more

With all of this time on your hands (if you just squint so you can’t see the kids/work/washing up) you should be achieving loads, surely? Actually, no. Time to just “be” (aka “relax”) is important for your mental health – and it could even take the form of a hot bath or a cheeky nap. Find it hard? Block out chunks in your diary for “time to relax”. Warning: this could be addictive.  

7. Befriend your body

Think of your physical and mental health as best buds – and if one suffers, the other does too. It’s important to try to eat well, drink plenty of water and exercise, and there are loads of free online workouts. To spur you on, why not make it a competition with friends or family? There is no end to the prize-giving opportunities. Who can get the longest number of workouts in a row? Who’s got the most on-trend gym kit?

8. Express yourself

Feeling scared/anxious/frustrated/bored/lonely? Sharing with a trusted friend can genuinely help. But if you’re trying to have a heart-to-heart while they’re trying to get the kids out the door, it might fall flat. So, message and ask if they’d have time to have a proper chat over a (virtual) cuppa because you’re feeling a bit meh. Or see if they’d be up for scheduling a regular check-in. You might find they were craving just this too.

We may not be able to meet up in person yet, but a virtual heart-to-heart with a trusted friend could be the next best thing

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9. Get practical 

There’s nothing like a string of “what ifs” to keep you awake in the wee hours – so write them out and answer them. Ask family/friends/neighbours if they’d pick up shopping if you were housebound or research delivery. If you take medication, speak to your pharmacist about whether they deliver. And if you have caring responsibilities, make a contingency plan – and let your local authority know if it’s someone you don’t live with, so they can step in if needed.  

10. Work it out

If you’re lucky enough to have a job, it’s probably feeling pretty precious right now. So perhaps you’re worried about what work will do if you’re self-isolating? Or panicking about being self-employed and off sick? Facing it might mean you can stop fearing it. If you’re employed, chat with your boss/HR about your rights. And head to gov.uk/coronavirus to find out what support there is for the self-employed.  

An expert view: anxiety

Dr Oscar Duke

West London-based doctor, GP and broadcaster Dr Oscar Duke, pictured, answers key questions about anxiety and how those suffering can deal with the issue

What are the signs that someone is suffering from anxiety?

Some anxiety is a normal feature and is a natural response to certain stressful situations. However, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed very regularly, or your anxiety is out of proportion to the situation you’re facing, you may need to take action to protect your mental health. As well as affecting how you feel emotionally, anxiety can also cause physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, shortness of breath or the feeling of your heart racing.  

What advice would you give to someone who is feeling anxious?

It’s not always easy to identify the trigger of anxiety. Often it’s caused by different underlying factors. An important first step is trying to acknowledge that you’re feeling anxious and that this may be disproportionate to the stress you’re facing. Listing worries and tackling each individually can be helpful. Focus on those that can be solved most easily first. Find time each day for breathing exercises to take your focus away from your overwhelming thoughts.  

When should somebody feeling anxious contact their GP?

When your symptoms aren’t improving with practical self-help techniques, professional support can be extremely useful. It can take a discussion with somebody experienced in managing mental health to help patients realise they’re struggling with anxiety. Talking therapy can be arranged through your GP or by contacting your local IAPT [Improving Access to Psychological Therapies] service.

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression and haven’t yet sought help, NHS talking therapies are a free, effective and confidential way to treat common mental health issues. You can speak to your GP for a referral to NHS talking therapies, or you can self-refer via nhs.uk/talk

Urgent mental health support is available  24/7 to all adults and children.  You can find your local NHS helpline by searching for your postcode or home town in a new service finder at nhs.uk/urgentmentalhealth  

Visit everymindmatters.co.uk for tips and advice on how to look after your mental health

For more information on what rules and guidance apply in your area, visit gov.uk/coronavirus