Here we are again people. In the last month areas across the UK have gone into local lockdown and now we're in a national lockdown. Wales are just about to come out of their two week lockdown and England is embarking on another month of restricted access to places and people to try and curb the rise in COVID-19 cases across the country. It's so important that we all do our part, follow the rules and look after one another. We also really need to look after ourselves, not just physically to stay healthy, but mentally.
The impact of lockdown on our mental health has been drastic. It's left people lonely and afraid. Rising anxieties and panic has left people feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. So, as we head into another lockdown I wanted to share some tips on how we can all make sure we're going easy on ourselves over the next few weeks and create habits that can improve our well-being in the short, medium and long term.
For me, I'm going into this lockdown feeling stressed and overwhelmed. The level of work, the pace of it and the feeling that everything is urgent has left me feeling exhausted and low in resilience. On one hand, being told to stay home and bunker down is comforting. I really like this time of year and being cosy, but I'm also really affected by the weather and the light, so the thought of it being dark and grey for the coming months is depressing. At least in March, for the first lockdown, it was warm and sunny. Not being able to see friends and family, a life line to me and others, is also worrying and upsetting and I can't help feeling anxious about loved ones at this time. All those feelings, plus the imminent house move that me and my family are in the middle of has made me feel like I'm constantly on edge. I am definitely in need of taking my foot off of the gas, taking stock and using the next four weeks to ground myself and be mindful.
Having worked with well-being practitioners over the last few years, I've picked up some tips. These tips I'm going practice over the next four weeks to ensure I'm looking after my well-being, and I thought I would share them here in case you want to do the same. These are proven techniques to help, so even doing one of them will make you see a difference in how you feel. As we now have more time on our hands and will be doing less socialising, we can invest some time into getting our heads (quite literally) around these.
There are 6 ways to look after your well-being. They are;
1) Reduce screen time
This one is super hard, isn't it!? I'm spending at least 9 hours a day at work from Monday - Friday, and for the whole time I'm staring at a screen. Whether I'm in zoom meetings, which are horrible and lack any form of body language and interaction, or staying connected to my team and our work. Even the delivery I do with other people is now all online, so I can't avoid a screen. But I can cut down on social media, and stop browsing Instagram in the evenings or first thing in the morning. I don't need to go on there, and when I do I'm going to limit the time I spend and generally just try and be mindful of how I'm using it. Then when it comes to work. I'm going to make sure I have breaks and lunch. In those times I'm going to move and take the dog for a quick walk or even have a lunchtime run. Meetings wise, I'm going to go old school and pick up the phone and call people that I can speak to quickly and when we don't need to put time aside for a meeting.
2) Exercise and be active
When I'm busy exercise is the first thing that I don't have time for, and it's rubbish. Also when I'm feeling exhausted I don't want to, nor have the energy, to go out for a run. I guess it doesn't need to be high cardio workouts though. I love walking at this time of year. In fact, there's nothing better than a good stomp with my wellies on through the woods before a roast dinner and a glass of wine, followed by a film on a Sunday. This lockdown will be harder because it's colder and darker, but the feeling of going out for a run in the rain and then having a warm shower afterwards - bliss! I'm going to make sure I have a lunchbreak and either walk or run. I'm going to do yoga once a week, and each day spend time outside walking, even if it's for half an hour. I'm lucky, as I have Buddy the dog, who's a great reason for getting outside and going for a walk. It really helped me the other week when I used an instagram post to share my exercise goals for the week. It made me be accountable to myself. By setting the goal and making time for the exercises I'd said I would do, it meant that I could actually do them. I made sure the exercises were achievable - 30 minute run, 40 minutes of yoga, weights I can do at home. I felt great! This week however, I've worked late three out of five nights and on the others I felt exhausted. I knew I needed to rest, which was fine, so I'm going to get outside and get active this weekend. I also made sure I walked each day and cycled to and from the office for the two days I was there. So even though I've not done my three runs this week, I have looked after myself and stayed active around my busy days, listening to my body and using what time I do have to do what I can. In the coming weeks, I will make time each day to do something active which will range between walking, running, yoga and strength sessions at home. I'm even tempted to do an online funk dance class and support a friend and colleague who's taking her business online during lockdown.
3) Connect with others
Well this one is a little hard at the moment as we can't see many people. But we can see one person at a time and there are other ways to stay connected. To link with being active, I'm going to see if a friend would like to join me on a walk each week. To ensure I'm not spending my nights looking at a screen and on zoom quizzes, chatting with friends or on video calls, I'm going to write letters. I love making cards, so I'm going to kill two birds with one stone and print cards to send to friends. I'm also doing to send video and voice messages to friends and family to stay connected that way. Also, we can connect with people that aren't necessarily friends or family. We can speak to our neighbours, spend time talking and being polite to people in shops and at the tills. We can generally connect with those in our community. I'm going to check in with neighbours and take more time to be mindful and speak to those who I come into contact with, whether it's when I walk past them with the dog, or when I'm buying something in the supermarket.
4) Give back
This one, I know makes me feel incredible and as though I'm making a difference. By putting food and toiletries into food bank stores, working for a charity and doing challenges each year to raise money for other charities close to my heart. But I could do more. I could give back to friends and family, which would help me feel connected. I could send care packages which could double up as Christmas gifts (which is just around the corner!), and I've wanted to volunteer for a charity now for years. I've found a charity that helps provide toiletries to those who can't afford them, The Hygiene Charity. They have bins in Boots, the chemist, where you can donate toiletries, which they then collect and give to those most in need. I've contacted them and am going to start volunteering my free time to help put packs together. There are so many charities out there that need our help. You could donate a one off fee, you could sign up to Amazon Smile so that every time you buy something from Amazon they donate to your chosen charity (I give to the charity I work for, Creative Youth Network) or you could buy presents for people for Christmas that give back (check out this blog for ideas - https://www.bestproducts.com/lifestyle/news/g1252/gifts-that-give-to-charity/ ). Something really easy to do at this time of year is to buy a hot drink to give to a homeless person. My sister and my boyfriend do this all the time. If they see a homeless person as they walk to the bakery or coffee shop they ask if they can get them a drink or a roll. It costs them a couple of quid and means they can help feed and keep someone warm. Something I have wanted to do for years now, is volunteer at Christmas time in a shelter. Obviously this year this may not be able to happen, but I'm going to get in contact with them and if I can't volunteer I'm going to put care packages together. If you don't know where your local shelter is, google it. Most shelters put a list on their website of things they would benefit from being donated. At this time of year, lots of people give to shelters and food banks, which is brilliant. Last year, I heard direct from a charity that the goods they receive are brilliant but the things they needed were bits and bobs that parents could give to their teenagers for Christmas. Check out what's needed and then whatever you donate you'll know it'll be used and be appreciated.
5) Learning something new
This keeps our brains active, helps us with motivation and inspires us. Is there something you've always wanted to learn? You could learn to cook a new dish, download an app to help you learn a new language, learn how to play an instrument, or take up a new hobby. During the first lockdown I did a free online course. I also completed my Nutrition Advisors course and gained a new diploma. Next week I'm doing a Mental Health First Aid course over two days and whilst I'm looking forward to learning more I also want to spend some time this winter making new things. My mum is an amazing knitter and over lockdown she's taught herself how to crochet. She's amazing at it! I've asked her if she will teach me how to knit a jumper. That means that when the evenings are dark and cold outside, I can stay inside and knit myself an brand new jumper. I love this idea - I'll learn something new, spend some time with my mum, and make something for myself meaning I won't buy new clothes but instead make them myself.
6) Be present
This one I really struggle with. I spend a lot of time in my head overthinking things, considering things, planning, reflecting, making decisions, wondering, worrying and the list goes on. One of the worst things I do, which makes me feel anxious rather than making me feel in control, is over thinking plans. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to do, how, when, over and over and over again. It makes me feel rushed, flustered and on high alert. I rarely feel relaxed and laid back and pretty much always feel tense and on edge. Recently I have really struggled with this. I've felt like I'm standing on a cliff edge and things keep pushing and pushing and pushing. It's so tiring and is probably one of the biggest causes for my feelings of being overwhelmed and lack of resilience. Grounding myself and being present really helps. I've recently learned a technique to use when feeling overwhelmed that helps bring me back to the present. It's the power of 5 - look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Next time you feel anxious or overwhelmed try it out. A practice which I dip in and out of but I would like to get much more disciplined at doing is, meditation. The Buddhist saying is 'you should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you're too busy, then you should sit for an hour.' I have an app on my phone that gives me ten minutes of meditation each day but I rarely make time for it or do it as I'm falling asleep and then miss half of it. It's a time to focus, quieten my mind and breath. I'm going to give myself ten minutes (that's totally do able!) at the start of each day to sit still and meditate. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this blog I am going to do just that!
And that's it! Those are the 6 tips you need to improve your well-being. Consider how you might do them for yourself and carve out some time during lockdown to invest in you and look after yourself. If we don't do it now we could be paying for it in the future. Invest in yourself and reap the rewards, not only for you, but your family and friends, your colleagues and your work. You will feel better and you will be more resilient. Why wouldn't you do it!?
I'm going to be recording the actions I've set myself in this blog on my instagram feed. Feel free to follow me, @emilybull.coach, and join me in sharing how you're working through these 6 tips with the hashtag #improvingmywellbeing
Looking after yourself and each other. Stay safe and make time for this within your busy lives. Give yourself a project and enjoy doing it during lockdown. It could be something you've always wanted to do and something you'll be thankful for having this time to focus on.
Go easy on yourself and take care,
Image by Charlie Mackesy, the author and illustrator of 'The Boy, the mole, the fox, the horse', which if you haven't read and you're struggling - read it!