How to Manage your Mental Health during Lockdown

It’s likely that the current COVID-crisis is stirring up feelings of anxiety, frustration and depression in almost everyone,so it is perhaps more important than ever to take care of our wellbeing. 

The best thing we can do is try to inject some positivity into our days and remind ourselves that these feelings, like the situation, are temporary. Allow yourself to feel these negative feelings, but try not to get too fixated on them – let them come and go because, although it may be hard to believe right now, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And if you can’t quite bring yourself to do anything ‘positive’, then that’s okay. This is a global pandemic. If you come out of this alive, you’ve won. You don’t have to be saving the world or inventing the next revolutionary product; it is okay to just breathe. It is okay to just survive.  

Here are a few tips to help manage your mental health during lockdown.

Routine is Key

It can be easy to lose all sense of routine at the moment, especially when we’re in the same environment all day every day. But routine encourages a sense of control and stability which in turn improves our mood and productivity. This doesn’t have to be a regimented structure, but implementing some small milestones in your day can help put you back in the driver’s seat. 

Top tips: 

  • Set an alarm for each morning and try to get up when it goes off. Make your bed and try not to return to it until the evening. 
  • Shower, brush your teeth, get dressed (well sort of – lounge/comfy wear is likely everyone’s go-to these days – but at least change out of your pyjamas). 
  • Plan your week in advance. On Sunday, I (attempt) to write a list of achievable goals for the coming week. These goals don’t need to be life changing; some of mine are simple, such as ‘do the weekly food shop’ or ‘paint my nails’. 
  • Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep gives our body – and our mind – essential recovery time. If you can, try to be in bed at roughly the same time each night to encourage a natural sleep pattern. Applying some lavender oil to your temples and pillow can help if you’re struggling to sleep. 
  • Go outside once a day, whether that’s sitting in the garden for 10 minutes, or taking a walk. 
  • Schedule some guilt-free ‘unproductive’ time. This means, every day, allow yourself to do something you enjoy; whether it’s listening to a podcast, reading a book, or catching up on your favourite Netflix show – this is your time to switch off and relax. 

Bake Away Your Stress 

Okay, so not everyone is good in the kitchen, but it’s not necessarily about the final product when it comes to baking. The methodical process gives you something to focus on, occupying your whole mind and body so you become present in the moment, which, in turn, helps improve your mood. Baking brings sensory pleasure, too, with beautiful designs and, of course, the wonderful, mouth-watering aromas of fresh baked goods. There can also be a sense of satisfaction and achievement as you see the broken down ingredients come together in a final product – (or a great laugh if it doesn’t quite go to plan). 

Some easy bakes to get you started with (aside from the current Instagram-favourite Banana Bread) include:

  • Brownies: A heap of ingredients put together in one tray, decorated with whatever you fancy. Jane’s Patisserie has some amazing brownie recipes you can try (as well as load of other yummy creations!) 
  • Apple Crumble: Surprisingly, not that difficult. The Hairy Bikers have the perfect recipe for this – easy and delicious. 
  • Cupcakes: You can start with simple chocolate or vanilla ones before you experiment with a wider range of ingredients! Live Well Bake Often has some great cupcake recipes, from easy vanilla to more exciting flavour combinations! 
  • Cookies: Simple, yet effective. My personal favourite recipe for cookies comes from the baking queen herself, Mary Berry in her Baking Bible. (Recipe can be found here!)

Worry Time

This is something I learnt to do in 2017 to manage my anxiety. When I first heard about this tool I honestly thought it sounded ridiculous. However, as I was in a place where I’d try anything to feel better, I gave it a go – and it truly changed my thought process for the better, which, in turn, significantly reduced my anxiety. I still use it now if I ever feel overwhelmed or stressed, and have encouraged friends and family to do the same. 

Here’s a rundown of how to do it: 

  • Pick a time of day that you can be alone for a maximum of 20 minutes – I found the evening to be the best time, so I could assess the worries from the day, but if you’re doing it first thing in the morning, you could look at the worries from the day before.  
  • Every time you have a worry or a negative thought during the day, acknowledge it, accept it and tell yourself you will deal with this worry later (during worry time). Then turn your focus to something different. You can note worries in your phone/on paper throughout the day if this helps remember them for later on – but once it’s written down, stop thinking about it. 
  • When it’s time for ‘worry time’ set a timer for a maximum of 20 minutes and write all your worries from the day down. Assess them, and ask: why am I worried about this? What proof do I have that this will happen? Can I do anything to change it? If yes, do it. If no, accept it’s out of your control and attempt to let it go. Once the 20 minutes are up, you must stop thinking about all your worries. Save any unresolved worries for tomorrow. 
  • Do this daily. At the beginning, you probably won’t notice much change. But give it two weeks, and you will likely start feeling a bit better. 
  • If you come to ‘worry time’ and have experienced few or no worries on a particular day, write down and assess the few worries you have and stop the clock earlier. If there’s nothing to worry about, still sit down at the said time and acknowledge that there were no worries for that day – it’s very satisfying when you experience one of these days!

Healthy Life, Healthy Mind 

While it is certainly tempting to eat your body weight in chocolate and not move from in front of the TV, staying active and eating healthy meals can have fantastic impacts on your mental health. 

When we exercise, our brain releases endorphins and serotonin which can greatly improve our mood. Research has proven, that regular exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, and help with the recovery of some mental health disorders. Although your home probably isn’t equipped with a full gym, there are still a load of things you can do at home with no equipment at all, and what better time to start getting active at home when you literally can’t do much else?

Pairing exercise with a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables will likewise have a positive impact on your mood and, subsequently, your overall mental health. This doesn’t mean that you can’t eat some treat foods too (after all, chocolate is said to elevate your mood!) but try to enjoy things in moderation. Small, simple changes, like having an apple to snack on as opposed to crisps or switching chips with dinner to homemade sweet potato fries (Jamie Oliver does a killer – and super easy – recipe!) can have major impacts.   

Be kind to yourself 

This is perhaps the most important thing to do. As stated at the beginning, you don’t need to come out of lockdown with an abundance of new skills. Staying alive is just as big an achievement as creating a multi-million-pound business. If you don’t shower today, it’s okay. If you didn’t wash the dishes, it’s okay. If you don’t do anything, it’s okay. Don’t be hard on yourself. Do stuff that will make you feel good, whether it’s doing your hair and make-up (this always makes me feel really good!), or eating a tub of ice cream once in a while, who cares! If you can do something from what’s been suggested then that’s great, but if not, it’s okay. Whilst we’re in a crisis, don’t put too much pressure on yourself by creating unrealistic expectations. 

Soon this will all be over, so let’s dig deep and work on looking after ourselves and coming out the other side safe and well. 

Our Contributors

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Josie Penfold

Josie Penfold

Josie is a contributor for Leeds Living, covering a wide variety of subjects, from health and fitness and the arts and culture, to music, food and drink.

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