As someone who’s worked from home for the past few years and encountered many mental health bumps along the way, I’ve felt surprisingly well-equipped to deal with everything 2020 has thrown at us. Clearly, none of us could ever be equipped for this heartbreaking, worldwide pandemic but being as a freelancer I’ve built up a pretty solid set of tools to look after my mental wellbeing over the years. If 2020 has shown me anything, it’s that this was the time to really put them into practice.
I shared some of these ideas on Instagram during the original lockdown, and again recently at the start of the new restrictions. When my friend Fanny (the babe behind this blog) suggested how helpful they could be for a wider audience, I thought I’d share them down here as well.
For me – like most of you, I’m sure – navigating how to balance my mental health during lockdown is a work in progress, and I’m constantly learning and adapting to what works for me. So, here are six of my tips for looking after your mental wellbeing now, and always.
Yep, I do mean your phone! Before you even begin to argue – do you need that last scroll of your four social channels? Will you actually miss out on anything vital at 10:45pm? Is this really how you want to start and end your day?
This is especially true at the moment given *gestures into the abyss* everything that is going on. I’ve not had my phone in my room/bed for about three years (bar the occasional weekend morning treat) and it’s a revelation.
I feel so hugely passionate about this change and for me, it’s peak self-care. I honestly cannot believe it’s something I used to do – staring into a box of light at these really precious points of my day. Sleep is such a vital tool for resting and repairing our body and we need to treat it with as much respect as possible.
I now only have an Alexa in my room which I use for an alarm and to play soothing sleep sounds at night if I feel like it. Before Alexa, I had an old-fashioned alarm clock. Yes, it was a horrible noise to wake up to, but better than the noise of politics, death tolls and Twitter trolling. These times are about self-preservation, which is why this is #1 on my list.
And honestly, there are so many more fun things you can be doing in bed…
Light up your life
The Danish have got this right. I’ve been trying to ‘hygge’ the hell out of this autumn and so far it’s working wonders. Hygge is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of cosiness and comfort with feelings of wellness and contentment.
So this means tealights, candles and plenty of warm mood lighting. I’d highly recommend adding in blankets, casseroles and hot herbal teas (my personal fave is Twinings Camomile, Honey and Vanilla tea). Whatever makes you feel good inside.
This one might feel a bit indulgent and excessive (especially if you’re British, like me), but it isn’t. It’s exactly what you should be doing. Your mental wellbeing is extremely precious.
We’re currently at the start of four weeks of tough restrictions, where we can’t see friends and family, live a normal existence and when the light is rapidly diminishing, so it’s time to throw everything at it you can. And if you carry this on throughout winter even better!
We’re lucky that this lockdown there isn’t huge restrictions on the time we can be outside. Only now (seven months after the start of the pandemic) have I started taking a full hour away from my desk and flat at lunchtimes and it’s a game-changer.
Being in the open-air walking, hiking, ambling has always been a real soother of my mental health. Enjoying nature is proven to be healing and relaxing, so it’s honestly one of the greatest (and cheapest!) self-care tools we have at our disposal.
Breathe, walk, run, lift
Yep, sorry this one is exercise. However, the key here is to do what works for you, when it works for you. It’s not about being the biggest, fastest, best right now. It’s just about looking after yourself.
Choose some form of exercise or a mental wellbeing activity that you’ll get the most from. It’s just about releasing some of those endorphins – we do love those little guys.
Take an online class. There are so many options, usually for a nominal or pay-as-you-feel fee. Try doing weights in the park, even just using your bodyweight. Or you can walk to your nearest green space and just kick some leaves around.
I’ve personally found meditation and breathwork very helpful activities to keep my mental health in check, but then again gym workouts and running have also been another saviour of my brain.
Eat well! And colourfully. I know that sounds silly but I swear the more colour on my plate, the better my mood is. Try to avoid stodgy white carbs – bread, pasta, pizza, and so on – or aim to have them just as a treat on a Friday night. After all, you do deserve it.
I know this one can be extremely hard as food habits and tastes are so deeply ingrained in our psyche but the benefits you feel really can be enormous. Don’t get me wrong, I am at my happiest with a sweaty pizza or a bag of Twirl bites, but it’s worth it if you can just cut down on some of this stuff.
Friendship never ends
Rely on your people! Scream, cry, talk… and if you have to… Zoom. Like many of these ideas, having brilliant and wise friends and family is a true, priceless gift. You don’t have to be feeling in a bad place, or really low to do it.
It’s worth remembering mental health and wellbeing can cover a multitude of things, not just the big labels we’re aware of – worrying about work in bed at night so much that we can’t sleep, finding the bright lights and noises of the supermarket overwhelming, feeling sick at the thought of walking into a room full of people.
As a society, I think we’re slowly, slowly moving towards a place where talking about our mental health isn’t a big, scary, taboo. If it were physical health, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to share our horror stories. I hope talking and sharing our experiences of mental health with each other will help level up this imbalance one day.
So, please do reach out to someone if you’re finding things hard, I promise you there is light after the dark.
About the author
Craig is a London-based director and filmmaker who specialises in telling real-life people stories, giving a voice to the marginalised and LGBTQ+ topics. You can keep in touch with him via his Twitter and Instagram and craigheathcote.com.