These are stressful times that we live in. The isolation, lack of meaningful work, and restlessness that many of us are experiencing, are enough to make anyone Covid-crazy!
When tensions are high and there is so much to worry about, it’s really important to pay attention to our mental health.
First, I want to point out that while I do have a Master’s degree in Exercise and Wellness, I am by no means a mental health expert. In fact, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life and am working very hard to be proactive about it.
I, like many Americans, am used to go-go-going, all of the time. As the Director of Operations for two different adventure tourism companies, it’s not unusual for me to work long hours, most of which are spent outdoors – just how I like it.
But now, with the tourism industry in the US completely shut down due to Covid-19, I have been Temporarily laid off. My two usual coping mechanisms for stress – staying busy doing work I love, and spending time in nature – are now much harder to do.
Whether you’re like me and have a history of depression, or you’re just going Covid-crazy with the stay-at-home orders, I thought I’d share a few of the things that I’ve been doing during lock down to be proactive about my mental health.
I think these things will be most useful for people who are not working, or are only working part time from home, but I hope that you might find something in this list that is helpful to you.
#1 – Try to Stick To a Relatively Normal Sleep Schedule
Try to wake up and go to bed at a relatively regular time each day. This doesn’t mean that you can’t sleep in, or even that you need to set an alarm clock every day, but try not to sleep your whole day away.
For example, I used to wake up between 5:30 and 6:00 AM for work each day. Now, I try to get up no later than 7:30. I used to struggle to stay awake until 9:00 PM, but now I tend to fall asleep closer to 11:00 PM.
I know for me, if I’m left to my own devices, I stay up later and later, and sleep in later and later. I was unemployed for a short time after grad school and ended up sleeping all day, and staying up all night. This didn’t feel good at all, and can be a sign of depression.
Your sleep schedule doesn’t need to be super strict, just reasonable.
#2 – Get Outside and Experience Nature However You Can
It’s a well known fact that time in nature and sunlight are great for your health! This is especially important for those of us that love to adventure, and use nature to unwind normally.
I know it can be hard to get out into nature or the wilderness right now with so many State and National Parks closed due to Covid-19, but just getting outside, even in your yard or neighborhood, still produces positive health effects.
Ideas to get your Vitamin-D and Nature Fix During Covid-19
- Put a chair or a hammock in your backyard or even have a little camp out!
- When the weather is nice, eat on the patio or balcony or better yet, make a backyard picnic!
- Take yourself, or your dog for a walk around the neighborhood.
- Plant a patio herb garden or butterfly garden.
#3 Try to See the Positive
There’s a lot of negative things happening right now, but it isn’t healthy to fixate on it. At a time like this, I think it’s even more important than usual to count our blessings.
I have recently started keeping a gratitude journal which is new for me. Each morning when I sit down with my coffee, I write down three things that I’m grateful for. It doesn’t matter how big or small those things are, as long as you are truly grateful for them.
For example, one day I wrote, “I am grateful for the healthy birth of my new niece during this crisis.”, and another day I wrote, “I’m grateful for good coffee”.
Some days I find more to be grateful for than other days, but so far I’m finding it to be a really helpful exercise to put things into perspective.
#4 – Move a Little Each Day
Prolonged sitting can be really rough on the body and the mind. Exercise is a natural stress reducer, and releases a feel good chemical called endorphins.
If you’re feeling a little sluggish or blah – try a little workout. It doesn’t have to be a ton of exercise It could be a walk, a few body weight exercises in your living room, one of the many free online classes being offered during Covid-19, or a YouTube Yoga video.
I strongly believe that exercise is medicine.
#5 – Rock Out to Some Good Music
When I’m feeling blah or unmotivated, the right playlist can perk me right up! I usually listen to music most when I drive, but since I’ve been doing a lot less of that lately, I’ve been trying to work it into my life during other times. For example while exercising (of course!), but also while doing chores or cooking.
#6 – Keep in Touch With Friends and Family
People who are feeling depressed have a tendency to self-isolate, but this can be harmful to a person’s overall well-being. Covid-19 is something everyone can relate to, so reach out, and talk to the people you love.
I’ll be the first one to admit, when I get busy, I’m not the best at keeping in touch. It’s especially hard with the time difference of me living in Hawaii, and my friends and family living all over the mainland US. But since most of us aren’t working now, it’s the perfect time to reconnect.
Send a text, make a call, or better yet – video chat! But don’t forget to check on your low maintenance friends too!
#7 – Limit Your News Intake
When Covid-19 first really started hitting the US, I spent the first week or so, constantly looking at my phone and reading the news. All. Day. Long. I quickly learned that this was really stressing me out and that I needed to unplug a bit.
For the last month or so, I have committed to looking at the news only once per day. I like to get it out of the way first thing in the morning so for the rest of the day I can focus on other things.
So far this has been working out really well for me. I feel informed, but I’m not constantly stressing out over things I can’t control. I am trying hard to focus on the things I can control, and to stop worrying about the things I can’t.
#8 – Learn Something New
Pick one thing that you’ve been wanting to learn more about, and spend a little time on it each day. Learning something new is like exercise for your brain, and if you’re anything like me, it can be really rewarding!
What you learn is really up to you. It can be purely for pleasure, like wanting to level up your photography skills, speak a new language, or play a new instrument.
Or it could be something more career oriented, so long as it’s something that you find interesting or feel passionate about.
For example, I’ve always been interested in digital marketing. This is a skill that would make me more valuable at my current job when I go back, but it will also be helpful for my long-term goal of opening my own business one day.
One of the cool things about living in the age of the internet, is that we have access to all kinds of information. If you are interested in more career type skills, check out the free MOOCs (massive open online courses) offered by sites like EdX or Coursera.
If you are looking for something more for pleasure, check out YouTube or Udemy which is a site that offers pretty cheap online classes.
#9 – Enjoy Leisure Activities Without Guilt
During lockdown, why not dedicate some time to things you enjoy but maybe don’t always have time for? For example, reading for pleasure, binge-watching something on netflix, doing a puzzle, or playing video games. You shouldn’t feel guilty about these activities, especially now.
Not feeling guilty about these sorts of activities can be particularly hard for me. I feel like I constantly have to be doing something productive or else I feel restless, but I keep reminding myself, it is healthy to relax and unwind!
#10 – Allow Yourself Some Indulgences
Don’t be too hard on yourself during these tough times. Allow yourself some indulgences in moderation. It is important to avoid falling into negative coping mechanisms like excessive drinking and full-on stress or boredom-eating, but little indulgences aren’t the end of the world.
For example, I usually try to eat pretty healthy by limiting sweets and processed foods. But since these stay-at-home orders came through, I have started eating a few things that I haven’t eaten in a long time. Like those delicious Costco muffins and Kraft macaroni and cheese. Not for every meal of course, but there really is something to be said for comfort food.
Also, naps. I usually try really hard not to nap during the week. Mostly because I’m typically a pretty bad sleeper and I want to be tired when bedtime comes around so that I can be a functional human being at work the next day.
But lately I have been allowing myself to nap a little bit here and there throughout the week, so long as it doesn’t throw off my sleep schedule too much.
These are stressful times for everyone. Be proactive about your mental health.
- Focus on what you can control.
- Reach out to others if you are struggling.
- Remember, everyone is different, and everyone deals with things differently. What works for some, may not work for others. So don’t be afraid to try out a few different techniques to see what works best for you.
Have you tried any of these techniques? How did they work for you?
Are there any on this list that you would like to try out?
Did I miss any important techniques? Let me know!
If you’re interested about learning more about taking care of your mental health during Covid-19, check out these great articles!
- Advice from astronaut Scott Kelly on how to take care of your mental health during isolation.
- A new perspective on how to eat and exercise during Covid-19 that takes your mental health into account.