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  • Writer's pictureDr Victor Thompson

Maximise your psychological wellbeing during these testing Coronavirus COVID-19 times

I have been thinking a lot recently about the stress that Coronavirus COVID-19 is having on all of us. The virus is dangerous and is posing a real challenge to the survival for some people. Our freedoms and usual activities are being curbed – for understandable reasons. To offer some help, I thought that I would create some suggestions on what we can all do to maximise our physical and mental wellbeing.

Here are 12 tips for successfully managing these testing times:

  1. Move it - physical exercise is really important. While you may not usually engage in formal exercise, in the time prior to this Coronavirus lock-down, you may have routinely racked-up a lot of steps and units of activity by simply walking to and from buses, trains, the office, your lunch place etc during your usual working day. If you are now stuck at home, it is likely that your activity will plummet – even if you aren’t fully self-isolating – without a bit of planning. If you were a regular exerciser, now many of your go-to exercise options are no longer possible. Now is time to consider what you can do. For instance, you can still go for a local walk (in green open spaces if possible), move more within your home (including taking the stairs more often), or dig-out one of your old exercise or yoga DVDs, or search for some more modern offerings via YouTube or the exercise apps. To help with your motivation and activation, consider 1) why exercise is important to your physical and mental health, 2) what options you have, and 3) when you will dothese.

  2. Connect – when going to work or doing your usual thing, you probably had a fair amount of social interactions with people, even fleeting exchanges. Those are important for the brain, as we have evolved in groups, so seeing and speaking to people is ‘normal.’ Being isolated and not seeing someone for hours (or longer) will feel weird to us. Therefore, look for opportunities to maintain your connections with people – work people, neighbours, friends and family. There are different levels of connection – such as SMS, phone, or in-person. If you can, always aim to engage in a higher level of connection. That is, rather than nothing, send a text or email, better is a phone call, even better a video call (Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, or visit (if safe and sensible). I learned a couple of days ago of someone who replaced his usual phone call to an older relative, with a ‘visit phone call.’ This person knew that his elderly relative was not going out, so he visited this relative and standing outside his relative’s kitchen window, had their phone call so they could see each other. Now, that’s an improvement on a video call, while minimising risks of illness transmission. I know that isn’t possible for many of us, but a great idea for those that are nearby. Now is a great time to set relatives up on a video calling app, so they can connect with us a little better, by seeing us during our phone calls. This is a good time to check in on neighbours to see if they are doing okay – with enough supplies, or in need of any other kinds of assistance. Through the simple act of checking in with them, your neighbour will be given a boost, even if they are okay and don’t need anything. Research shows that the person who volunteers help gets a boost too. You both benefit emotionally and mentally from offering to help. Go ahead, reach out to those living near you.

  3. Use and grow your brain – don’t let the mental rot set in. Start exercising your grey matter. Now could be a great time – or the best time ever – to learn something new. Maybe it is time to (finally) learn some more of that language you have been thinking about learning for years. Perhaps you can learn to cook something different (if you can still source the ingredients!). Spend some time thinking about what you would like to learn over the next few weeks (or months).

  4. Tick-off some to-dos – gain an increased sense of achievement by getting some of those to-dos done. If you are at home more, you have more time to address these. Make a list, crack on, gain satisfaction by ticking-off some of those outstanding projects.

  5. Relax – now this could be a challenge, but you are up to it! With our normally busy and stressful lives, we usually do not have much time to slow down and relax. This could be your best time in ages, to slow down and find time for some relaxation. Plus, with the Coronavirus situation, we are likely to be more stressed-out and more in need of some quality relaxation. Think about what might work for you. Perhaps it’s time to have some long soaks in the bath. Maybe it’s time to dust-off some of those books to get lost in a good story. Time to slow things down a little by focusing on taking slow, deep, calming breaths. My Stress Management audio programme (here) teaches you relaxed breathing, two others of physical relaxation techniques and much more. Or, time to see if mindfulness-based meditation works for you (e.g. 2 good options are Calm and Headspace).

  6. Limit exposure to news – the news is available 24/7 and it’s all rather scary. It is good to be informed. However, by listening to and reading about the Coronavirus situation throughout much of our day, we expose ourselves to a lot of stressful material, activating the threat centres in our brain. A good plan would be to think about how much news exposure is informative and helpful. Consider where you will go to to get this news. For instance, 2 x 30 minutes a day could well be plenty.

  7. Maintain your religious practice. If you are spiritual or religious, think about how to maintain your practice. Maybe you will need to plan your own activities more than usual. Perhaps you can connect with other worshipers to plan your practice, sharing experiences over the telephone or video calls. Consider other ways that you can connect with your religious community.

  8. Get off to a great start – get up and follow a good morning routine. Ideally this won’t be far-off your pre-Coronavirus morning routine. This will make it easier to follow. So, get up, washed, dressed and eat your usual breakfast etc in a way that is similar to what you would usually do. This will act as a cue for your brain that today is a workday, not the weekend, day off etc.

  9. Develop your ‘on,’ ‘off’ and transition routines – if you are working from home, it is important to corral your work and non-work activities and time. This can be fed into your timetable planning. Establish your times to be working, when you will break for lunch, and finish your work at the end of the day. If you can, create your working area and territory, that is protected solely for work. This isn’t the time to work from your bed or your sofa, as it will become more difficult to relax there after it becomes associated with work. Next, create transitions, actions or signifiers that go between your non-work to work and then back again from work to non-work. Ideas include doing something such as going for a walk around the block – what I like to call a ‘commute walk’ – before you start working. Then at the end of your working day, when you log-off and park your work stuff (computer, computer programmes, papers, work phone etc), go for another commute walk. Consider what transition activity would suit you.

  10. Go old school – with some bonus time, why not unplug and go old school with your entertainment options? Maybe it’s time to dust-off some of your board games, card games, a jigsaw etc. to have some old school fun.

  11. Get dirty – this could be a great time to get out into your garden. Escape the confines of your home and exercise your green fingers. There are many health benefits to be gained from gardening. For instance, you will be getting fresher air, you are involved in a project, you are making a difference, having an impact, there are many health-boosting microbes in the soil and given out from plants, you will be less stressed by removing yourself from new sources, you will be in a more natural environment which feels more normal to your brain than these manmade homes that we live in, to name a few benefits.

  12. Timetable – schedule things or they won’t happen! This is really key. If you don’t work out what you want to do, then you won’t do it. If you don’t timetable these ideas, then they will likely remain as a ‘I might do it soon.’ Or, if we are being really honest with ourselves, it is likely to be ‘I probably won’t do it ever.’ Left to our natural way, we will usually choose the easier path, which means lots of milling around, butterflying from one thing to another, without doing what takes a bit of effort and will benefit us a lot more. So, get a pen and piece of paper out and get planning. Then place this plan where you will see it – or you will ‘forget’ it! Perhaps the fridge door would be a good place.

There are 12 suggestions to consider and take action to experiment with. You will likely have your own ideas too. What matters is that you work-out what to do during these times and take control. Or, the situation, the stress, and more challenge will come of it, which didn’t have to. I’m sorry, to end on that gloomy note.

Use the information here to act as a steer to get planning and start better today.

What are you waiting for?

Keep well, Victor

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