These challenging and difficult times of lock-down and social distancing have helped to focus minds on the importance of maintaining our well-being. Many wise words have been written and spoken about this important topic, and many hours of videos have been streamed. Here I just want to outline a few key points that might be helpful at this time.
Our daily lives tend to have a pattern and rhythm that is personal to us. There are activities and commitments that shape our days and weeks, mixing the boring and mundane with periods of joy and pleasure. People talk of the work-life balance. Now, it is anything but balanced. People who are directly affected by the virus face challenges that I cannot begin to imagine. They are dealing with loss, grief, fear and uncertainty. The rest of us (thankfully for now) may be outside the waves and currents that have disturbed the smooth waters of many people’s lives, but we are still feeling the ripples. We share the shattering of illusions that we live in a safe and predictable world, and experience all the fear that this can unleash. We know that things will never be the same again – some of the changes will be to the good for humankind, but many will not. We may find ourselves examining our lives and re-assessing our priorities. We are restricted from engaging in the activities we previously took for granted.
Technology has been amazing in allowing us to communicate with distant friends and family (and in these times, “distant” might mean just down the road!). However, we are essentially social beings who need to be in close proximity to others – to touch, to smell, to share. To be in the same emotional space I believe we need to be in the same physical space. We have to accept that we can’t be perfect in the digital world – we will all fall short of our expectations and those of others when it comes to offering empathy, support and understanding.
So, to Dr Derek’s key points…
The things that worked before will work now.
Try to build up a picture of what was important before the current crisis. The elements of well-being remain the same, it is just that they will need to be met in different ways. Therein lies the challenge. The patterns and rhythms have changed, so we need to make them work for us. The days are no longer or shorter than before. Our daily activities should be a good mix of the mundane and the pleasurable. It is good to set a couple of goals for each day, however small they might be. We need to have a good reason to get up. It is all too easy to have more random or chaotic wake-sleep cycles. We also need to try to make the weekends different from the rest of the week – they have a different pattern and rhythm.
If you are working from home it is important to have boundaries around your time and physical space to ensure there is a strong distinction between work and play. It is helpful to “get into role” – for example, wearing your work clothes (this does not need to include high-vis jackets or hard hats, unless you particularly want to!) and attending to personal grooming, such as putting on your usual make-up. By doing this, you are establishing a routine, emphasising you are in work mode, and you can change your clothes later to step out of role, thus making those boundaries sharper.
If you are doing a lot of screen-based work, then taking regular breaks is important – to change your posture, to move around, to focus your eyes on something distant. And likewise for your mind.
Whether or not you are working from home, attending to your personal appearance can help to lift your mood, and at a deeper level you are sending yourself a message that you are important.
Try to avoid slipping into jellyfish days – those without substantial shape or structure.
Fresh air and exercise.
These elements are so important for our well-being. Taking exercise outside – even a short walk – contributes to our physical and mental health. Whether you are in a city or a village, try to notice the nature around you – trees, grass, the sky, flowers, the sound of birds. All within the social distancing guidelines of course – and if you see a tiger, then maintain an even greater distance. Fresh air and exercise will also contribute to better sleep…
Here we are talking about sleep hygiene – having a “wind-down” routine that avoids action movies, high caffeine intake and over-doing social media and other on-screen activities too close to bedtime. Slow down and relax. It is not unusual to find that sleep might be more difficult at these times due to all the stress and uncertainty. Remember, if you try too hard to sleep it can make sleep more elusive. Focus on closing your eyes, relaxing your body, and directing your mind towards your breathing. Eazzzzzzzzzzzzy.
Ha ha, this is a good one! How many of us have gone off-piste with our eating of late? This may partly be due to shopping restrictions, but I think the loss of structure to our days has an important part to play. We may be eating at irregular times and for those working from home it is likely that the fridge and snack drawer offer opportunities and temptations too good to resist! Keep the sweet tin away from the keyboard. And the gin (see below)!
The answer? Back to basics – consider the structure of your days. Have some sensible “rules” that are flexible so you don’t end up harshly berating yourself if you step off the path. If that happens often, make the path a little wider for a while – we need to be realistic.
Keeping hydrated is obviously important. However, here I had in mind the consumption of alcohol. Again, this can easily become a bit excessive. It is about opportunity and availability. The loss of daily structure plays a role, as does trying to cope with anxiety, loneliness and isolation. The normal constraints on our drinking may no longer apply – we don’t have to keep appointments or meet our commitments.
The answer? As above really. Simple rules, drawing boundaries around drinking days, times and amounts.
It is not unusual to experience more fluctuations in your mood during these difficult times. You may find yourself becoming sad or tearful for no obvious reason. You may be troubled by worrying thoughts and anxiety more so than in the past. These reactions are completely normal. As Victor Frankl observed…
“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”
I hope that some of the above suggestions will help you to manage any mood difficulties. You might also want to look at mindfulness and my cognitive behavioral presentations.