As I write this article, the world is essentially in lockdown; and for now, anyway, the Coronavirus has changed our lives. We’ve been sent home from work (or possibly even lost our jobs), restricted from all our usual social and recreational activities, put on high alert and effectively told to STAY HOME and KEEP TO YOURSELF.
Now, these are very important messages; and although I probably don’t need to say it, please follow these recommendations. As frustrating as it might seem right now, staying home, and limiting social interaction, will literally save lives.
But even though physical distancing and home isolation is the most important thing to do for our physical health, it brings with it some potentially serious and significant risks for our mental health (especially for those of us who’re in a high-risk category for mental ill-health anyway).
Happiness and good mental health are, more often than not, built on factors such as meaningful pursuits and achievement, physical health and wellbeing, optimism and hope, good quality relationships, and fun. In the situation most of us currently find ourselves in we’ve had most, if not all of these, taken from us; even if just temporarily. Even if we’re lucky enough to still have our jobs, the structure of the working day and week has at least partly gone. We can’t go to gyms, or to pubs, sporting events or even to the houses of family and friends. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the news is almost completely filled with doom and gloom.
But this is all only part of the story. For every one of the problems I’ve noted above, there’s either a solution or another way to look at what’s going on. So, here are my top tips for staying psychologically healthy, and even happy, during the current Corona Crisis.
- To begin with, I don’t want to downplay or minimise the reality or significance of the problems many of you are facing and will face for some time to come. It’s totally normal and appropriate to be concerned about your health and wellbeing, the health of your loved ones, your child’s education, your job security, financial issues or more. So, the first step is to accept that it’s OK not to be OK. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re struggling or if you don’t have all the answers right now.
- At the same time, however, try to keep things in perspective and if nothing else, try to reassure yourself that this won’t last forever. None of us knows how long things will last but at some time in the future, we’ll return to some sort of (new) normal.
- In the meantime, all we can do is the best we can, with what we have, from where we are. So…
- Create a new structure in your life. It need not be exactly the same as what you’re old working day or week looked like; but it will be important (for your mental health and your sleep) to try to get up at the same time each day, go to bed at the same time each day, and even to schedule regular times for coffee/tea breaks, lunch and even for “clocking off”.
- Set and work towards meaningful goals. If you’re still working, then you can talk to your manager or colleagues if things have changed significantly from the norm. If you’re not working, then make an effort to find something meaningful and satisfying to complete each and every day or week. Most of us, at some stage in our lives, have wanted to do something if only we had more time. Well, now you can do that thing!
- Take care of your physical health and wellbeing. As mentioned, gyms are now off limits. But you can still go for walks or runs, and there are literally thousands of home workout or yoga / Pilates programs you can access (mostly) for free
- Hold on to hope by limiting news consumption and by actively searching for positive news. As bad as things might seem at times, there are lots of inspirational stories of good people doing good things; stories of kindness and compassion, courage and generosity. Search for and focus on and share these examples of humanity as much as you can.
- Stay connected. As many others have said, we need to stay “physically distant” but not necessarily “socially distant”. So, although you can’t visit family and friends, or spend time in the same room/house/venue as family or friends, you can still keep in touch via phone calls, text messages, social media apps and even video conferencing tools. In fact, I’d argue this is one of the most important things we all need to do to stay psychologically healthy over the next few months.
- And finally, don’t forget to have fun. It might seem trivial or frivolous at the moment, but the benefits of playfulness are, too often, underestimated. Laughing and playing are powerful creators of positive emotions, such as happiness; and happiness is good for our physical and psychological wellbeing.
In summary, I want to acknowledge once again that times are tough and many of us will struggle. That’s OK. But that being said, we can all take steps to do what we can to look after ourselves and each other. And therein probably lies the key … we’ll get through this much easier and much better if we go through it together.