Work can be tough at the best of times. And it’s easy to see why we should be caring for our mental health during COVID-19, as our stress levels are bound to rise.
With so many of us now working at home, these troubles can follow us into the place that’s supposed to be our sanctuary from the outside world.
Many of us are juggling our regular duties while caring for kids, dealing with sudden unemployment or reduced hours, all done with the constant influx of developments seemingly beyond our control.
Our mental health during COVID-19 is sure to be tested. But here are a few things Carmen and I do regularly to help us get through the day. These processes help keep things balanced, tending our gardens so they don’t grow too wild.
Ways to care for our mental health during COVID-19:
Reduce news and social media consumption
Having worked as a journalist for many years, I know how hard reporters work to illuminate darkness and help us understand events as they happen.
But I also know a lot of news is speculation and opinion, and this type of coverage has come to dominate our news services since the outbreak of COVID-19.
The saying goes that news is a beast, and the beast must be fed. But this doesn’t mean you can’t skip a few of its meals.
While it’s important you stay informed, it’s crucial you’re not so overwhelmed with information that you can’t concentrate on work and find peace of mind in your daily life.
Try to limit the amount of news you are exposed to. And if you do engage, make sure you consume reputable news outlets.
As for social media, think of it as the news beast without a handler – best to give it a wide berth at times like these.
Clean your room
Like we said in last week’s blog post 7 tips for working from home, it’s crucial you keep to a routine and resist temptations.
For us, one of the strongest ways we keep ourselves feeling good mentally is to make sure that our workspaces and bedroom are neat and tidy before we start our day.
That means making the bed, doing the breakfast dishes and vacuuming the carpet underneath our desk. Having a clean and tidy home makes us feel secure, relaxed and focused.
By having a few easy wins first thing in the morning, we feel ready to tackle the bigger challenges ahead.
Get some exercise
Motion soothes emotion, and in these troubling times, it’s more important than ever to get your body moving.
Depending on your situation, you can go for a walk or a run outside or look up a number of different online workout videos. Check out The Body Coach, a British gym teacher who’s running daily free classes online.
Our favourite ‘do at home’ exercise is yoga, which needs only a small space and a mat to enjoy as part of a working day.
There are scores of teachers online, with my favourite channel Yoga With Adrienne on Youtube hosted by a delightful instructor from Texas. Her recurring theme is to ‘set your intention’ for the day.
These days my personal manta is ‘grace under pressure’, and though some days I do fall short, it’s great to have a goal after having done something physical.
Read a book
After a tough day at the home office, it’s easy to slump on the couch and binge on Netflix.
But reading books has been widely shown to strengthen the brain by increasing your vocabulary, developing empathy and reducing stress.
In fact, a 2009 study showed that reading for half an hour reduces your heart rate, blood pressure and stress as much as thirty minutes of yoga or watching something funny like a comedy show.
So if you need to unwind after a hard day working from home while juggling everything else life throws at you, grab a book to unwind.
Even though we might be practising social distancing, it’s important to keep in touch with loved ones. I’m calling my gran more frequently now since we’ve stopped going to visit her. I know these phone calls mean the world to her.
Stay in touch by getting creative and Facetime your friends while you have a coffee in your kitchen. Or set up a Zoom meeting with a small group of mates so you can have a ‘virtual dinner party’ in the evening. Why not each cook a dish and share the recipes with one another?
No doubt many of us are feeling anxious at this time. But by getting our fears out into the open we can help to collectively conquer them.
However, try to put a cap on the Coronavirus talk after half an hour or so, and focus on something positive. It’ll help you to unwind and remind you of the good things in life – like having friends to call on.
Allow yourself to grieve – but don’t wallow
When we lose something profound – like our freedoms which are being restricted at present – there is often grief. Acknowledge that you’re feeling sad or frustrated and accept that this will need to be your ‘new normal’ for now. It’s only through acceptance that we can shift our mindset on to a more positive outlook.
Remind yourself that even in times of uncertainty, there’s still a lot for you to be grateful for. Be thankful you have your health and that you are able to self-isolate with loved ones. For those who don’t have loved ones to self-isolate with, think about dropping some groceries on their doorstep of carrying out another random act of kindness.
Look to the light
Above and beyond everything, Carmen and I are taking this thing one day at a time. We are doing our best to care for our daughter and each other while keeping the bills paid.
We message our friends, call our relatives and try to stay positive. And there is goodness there for the finding.
My writing mentor Laurie Steed said it best in his latest newsletter:
“There’s no right or wrong in any of this. We’ve not done this before, right? With that in mind, I think it’s OK to be scared, or emotional, or uncertain.
I’ll admit, I’m a bit unsettled when I gaze out into the unknown. I’m also incredibly hopeful about humanity on a one-to-one level, though. I’ve seen and known too many brave souls, and met more than a few earthbound angels to give up on us that easily.”
With that in mind, take a deep breath and embrace the day – no matter the challenges it might decide to throw at us.