Pic - Primulas in our garden (Jane Jennison)
I have seen several posts and articles recently exhorting us to use the time while we are on lock-down to learn a new skill. I have written recently, here, about why we are finding this too challenging. To follow on from this, I would like to suggest several ideas that will help you focus on science-based activities to increase well-being. These will help build secure attachments in your relationships – the bedrock on which all human functions sit – and then you will be able to identify and meet higher needs for safety, shelter and sustenance. Once these needs are met, you will be able to look at aquiring new skills, but let’s get the building blocks in place first. The Covid -19 crisis has been compared to a marathon, not a sprint, and here we are in the early stages of this.
We are all impacted by Covid-19, but we are not all impacted in the same way. Our experience of lock-down will be different depending on how our work has changed, whether we have care responsibilities for children or vulnerable adults, our family relationships, and how physically distant we are from our loved ones.
So, it's important to remember:
We are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat Rev. Joel Jay Villarreal
This is the challenge each of us is facing, so here are my suggestions to help increase well-being while physically isolated.
Here are seven ways to increase well-being while physically isolated:
1) Be in the moment:
In THIS moment you are OK. You are safe. Take one day at a time. One hour or even one breath at a time if you need to. This tip is about being super-present, not thinking ahead or remembering the past, but practicing BEING. This is a PRACTICE - meaning you will have to do it over and over again - bringing yourself back to the NOW. Over time it gets easier, and it's a great skill to have to take back to "normal" life.
When you notice you're worrying, feeling twitchy and want to pick up your device and find out what the "latest" is about the COVID situation, say to yourself, "It's OK. In this moment, I am safe. In this moment I am OK." You can also add or say, "In this moment, my children/husband/family are safe."
This is a form of mindfulness meditation. Meditation is a practice that has been proven scientifically to calm us, help us be more creative and be happier (for starters). It's extremely beneficial. If you are anxious or feeling very low, guided meditation may be a good place to start. This link has videos and articles. Guided mindfulness meditations from Jon Kabat-Zin, one of the founders of mindfulness, are available on YouTube
Laughter releases helpful chemicals in our bloodstream - Endorphins (our natural "happy" drug) and Dopamine (part of our bodily "reward" system).
- What are your favourite comedy shows?
- Is there a comedian you like?
- Netflix and similar have so many watching options, so find something that makes you laugh!
Humour is affected by our social setting – we laugh more when we are with other people. If you are in a shared household, watching a comedy together, or sharing funny stories or jokes, will release more endorphins for everyone. If you are on your own, or self-isolating, using video links is a good way to share humour with loved ones.
3) Start a Journal
If you've always wanted to journal, now is a good time to start. A journal can help you explore and sift through your feelings and experiences and learn from them. It's a great way to get to know you.
Journaling gives you time and space to safely explore what you are worried about, and close that worry down, rather than not giving time for it, and it continuing to nag at you from the side-lines.
Journaling is a great way to notice and reflect on what’s good, what’s going well, and what you are grateful for – a joy journal or a gratitude journal. Noticing what you are grateful for will also increase your well-being. Simply thinking about what you are grateful for helps your well-being, even if you don’t manage to identify anything.
If you are struggling with identifying positive things to write about, we have designed these positive journalling cards, available online here. These are designed to help you focus on positive experiences, recall them and explore them in your journal. They are grouped into three categories: reflection, activity and musing. Reflections help you look at a specific experience in your post, activities are planning an action to carry out, and musings are periods of reflections.
If you would prefer a more structured approach, we also have designed these two journals, one focussing on building well-being in the home environment, and the other in the work-place. Happier at home is available here, and here is the link to Happier at work
"A journal is expressive by nature and it contains feelings, emotions, problems, ponderings and it is more reflective on the meaning of life being lived." Lynda Monk
4) Be Kind
Kindness and compassion are one of the most powerful tools any of us have in our toolbox right now. Many of us are largely housebound, never mind the fear that you or a loved on might actually catch the COVID virus! So, of course we're going to feel unpleasant and weird.
- Use kindness to comfort yourself when afraid or feeling anxious or fidgety. Be gentle. Imagine you're soothing a friend, small child or animal who is afraid - what would you say to them? Then say that to yourself!
- Use kindness to give yourself - and others - the benefit or the doubt. Instead of getting upset when you see other people behaving badly, remember that we all do silly things when we're scared.
- Imagine you have a kind, wise self. A part of you that is unflappable, intelligent and unconditionally loves ALL of you. Now, when you need it, imagine that kind, wise self is with you, supporting you, maybe giving you a hug - and saying exactly what you need to hear (not just the sugary stuff, but also the tough love and common sense).
5) Help Others
Helping others is empowering and makes us feel better. Here are a few ways you could help others.
- Check in on a neighbour or friend and see if they need anything. You can do this by phone, or in person, remembering to maintain a 6 feet distance.
- Offer to get someone groceries if you're going.
- Help someone less technically savvy learn how to use Zoom or WhatsApp or whatever they need to get online.
- Host a virtual get-together with your regular friends.
- Reconnect more deeply with friends or relatives who have moved away.
I am definitely a ‘helper’ and found the first week or so of lock-down very challenging, as my usual ‘helping’ activities had been curtailed. I now do a weekly shop for several local friends and neighbours, host a Zoom chat for our usual weekly meet-up of church friends, and have a weekly ‘i-chat’ with several friends.
I am also a fan of ‘Random Acts of Kindness’, whereby we help – or are kind to – people we don’t know. For this, I used my social media accounts and offered seeds to people in gardening groups. As plant nurseries and garden centres are currently closed, this was a useful way of me getting rid of spare seeds, but also gifting them to people who needed them.
6) Grow Something - Or Get an Indoor Flowering Plant!
There is nothing quite like growing something - whether it's flowers, fruits or vegetables that makes us feel good. If you live in an apartment and you could grow fresh herbs on your windowsill or balcony to cook with. Gardening also gets us in touch with the wider world, nature, sky-scapes and a sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves. It allows us the nurture, and gives us a future-focus as the plants grow, we can look forward to their flowering or harvest. It gives us the opportunity to share, too, if we have extra plants, can cut a posy for a neighbour, or share our crops once lock-down has lifted.
7) Send "Real" Snail Mail Letters or Cards
Letter-writing has become a lost art for some of us; lock-down is a great opportunity to re-kindle letter-writing. If a letter seems too much, a beautiful card or a photo printed out and sent are also great ways to connect and bring a smile.
If you are wondering what to write, our journaling prompt cards can also be used to help find a positive focus for a card or letter. The positive journalling cards are available online here.
Wondering what to say? Write from the heart.
For many of us, writing is a work-activity, so it can be hard to think about what to say. Imagine the recipient of the letter is sitting with you, what would you say to them? What do you miss about spending time with them? Can you share a favourite memory of time together? Do you have any words of encouragement that have helped you, that you could share with them?
Lock-down and physical distancing will affect all of us in different ways, and the ways we can support our mental health will also be different for each of us. It will depend on our circumstances, our support network and how we can access it, and also what self-care looks like for each of us. The Covid-19 crisis has radically changed our lives. This crisis is a powerful reminder of how much we need human connection. These suggestions can help build connection, savour our friendships and look forward to a time when we can all be together again.