From Surviving to Thriving

Last week we launched our Lockdown Support Series & it was great to see some familiar faces from our online community taking up the offer to reconnect, and benefit from a free wellbeing check-in with me.

This week’s blog is focused on some of the practical tips and strategies we can all implement while on lockdown, to help us to feel a bit more in control of this extraordinary situation and to begin to move from a place of just ‘surviving’ into a space of ‘thriving’.

So here are 5 of my top tips, based on what has proven useful for me over the last month:

1. Routine

For almost all of us, our sense of normal has been completely uprooted right now, with usual routines out the window. Most of us don’t consciously consider our daily routine – we just run these standard templates for the day on autopilot by virtue of their repetitive nature – but they are really so important in helping us to find our bearings through the hours, days and weeks, creating a sense of progression and achievement as time passes.

For those lucky enough to still be working from home, it may be that our work dictates a certain level of routine through the day – perhaps you need to be online by a certain time each morning, or have standing video-calls with colleagues; for people in this group it’s likely to be evenings and weekends where we feel a bit at a loss – perhaps not being able to see friends, get to the gym or take part of other events as normal. However, for lots of people who are currently out of work or have been placed on furlough, the prospect of a completely blank schedule can feel quite daunting and overwhelming.

It’s essential to try and build yourself some sort of structure and routine as early as you’re able to, in order to help keep our minds focused. The risk is that without this we can get into bad habits pretty quickly, for instance: super-late nights watching trashy re-runs – consequently sleeping in ’til lunchtime – and then waking feeling guilty that you’ve already wasted part of the day – so why bother getting dressed at this point, it’ll soon be evening anyway, right! Sound familiar? The voice of experience tells us that this is a slippery slope to feeling low, depressed and more anxious.

So how can you build yourself some structure and routine?

  • Start the day right: set yourself a sensible wake-up time, and be disciplined in holding yourself accountable to this. If you’re working remotely, this will seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re currently not working, this will be key in action to help you put your best foot forward for the day. The key here is that we want to maintain something that resembles our ‘normal’ routine before the lockdown – it’s familiar, safe and our bodies are already used to that rhythm.
  • Get showered, get dressed. Pre-lockdown, working from home was an opportunity to work in a more comfortable and relaxed environment (and perhaps that was the case while the schools were open!) meaning you could sit in your PJs all day, with no pressure to make yourself business-presentable and nobody need know. Now that working from home is the new-norm however, that ‘treat’ mentality isn’t going to serve us in the long run. Having a freshen-up, getting properly dressed, doing your hair etc. first thing is one of those underlying cues we can give ourselves that ‘its time to get to work now’, and helps us to differentiate the different shifts through the day. Honestly it’s one of the best habits I have found for helping establish my focus and mindset while I have been home working; I can certainly tell the difference on days when I might have skipped this!
  • Focus on meal times. This once packs a double-benefit. Firstly, maintaining our usual meal-times is important for consistent energy levels within our bodies; our bodies have developed many of their hormone production processes around the rhythm of our mealtimes i.e. when we are feeding those hormone production processes. Hormone production is, of course, important for a number of factors, including regulating weight, maintaining sleep patterns and balancing mood! The bonus benefit here is that if we are being mindful of mealtimes, then we are less likely to aimlessly snack throughout the day when we get bored or want to get up and stretch/move around (lots of people are telling us the fridge is the first place they wander off to!).
  • Aim to get 7 hours of sleep. Alongside good nutrition, sleep is the second biggest factor which will influence our mood and wellbeing. Aiming to hit 7 hours sleep through the week will help our bodies to fully restore, our minds to rest and process & help us to wake feeling more energised the next day.There are lots of things we can do to help get ready for a good nights sleep. A regular bedtime wind-down routine signals to your body that its time to begin switching off. You might start this routine a couple of hours before bed, by turning off your notifications on your phone and enabling do-not-disturb settings – these notifications can move us from states of relaxation to alertness, stimulating our mind at a time when we want it to be slowing down. Many find that a hot bath or shower just before bed can help too; the heat is a great way to soothe any tension in your muscles helping your body to physically relax, while studies have also shown that a warm bath stimulates the body’s thermoregulatory systems, causing a cooling of core body temperature. This helps to stimulate melatonin production which in-turn chemically signals sleep to the body.

2. Stay Connected

As humans, we are innately social beings, and so it should go without saying that an enforced social-lockdown is going to be felt hard by many of us. We also regularly tout the benefits of supportive social networks as a key protective factors for mental health and resilience, and so the current situation means we are having to find innovative ways to stay connected and get all those good benefits, while still respecting the rules in place.

  • Who can you interact with safely? We’ve seen great examples of neighbours sharing memorable moments on their doorsteps during the Clap for Heros evenings – could you have a socially-distanced catch-up with your neighbours over the fence, or form your respective doorsteps (maintaining the 2-metre space).
  • Utilise technology to stay connected, from Facetime calls with family, to Zoom quizzes with friends, there is a wealth of free technology available to us which can reduce the social isolation.
  • Can you support those who are vulnerable? Whether via the official volunteering schemes established by NHS, or just by supporting those in your neighbourhood unable to get out for essential supplies, this sort of connecting can also help us to feel a sense of purpose and value, enhancing your wellbeing.

3. Take Tech Breaks

We owe a lot of the wonders of technology in enabling may of us to keep working and stay connected with loved ones through this crisis, but I have found that now more than ever, I notice that everything I do revolves around a screen – from team meetings by video call, catching up on correspondence by email, Zoom calls for the weekly quiz night and group chats on mobile to keep connected to friends. The constant screen time is leading to unwanted aches, pains and migraines in some cases & let me tell you – the ‘notification fatigue’ is real!

Whether it is building in so-called ‘micro-breaks’ through your working day to get up and move away from your screen, stretch out your back and shoulders, or utilising the Night Mode / Do Not Disturb settings on your mobile devices as you move into the evening, these small tech breaks will help to reduce the impact of tech-overload. Why not check out the screen time function on your smartphone to see where you’re at currently at with an aim of reducing this by next week?

4. Don’t Wallow in the News

At the start of the lockdown, I was watching the news all day long, captivated by the unfolding situation, acutely aware that we are currently living through something that will go down in history. After about a week though I noticed that the constant loop of ‘headline-grabbing’ news pieces was only serving to increase my anxiety, and I was soon noticing the effect on my sleep routines.

If this resonates with you, try going on a news diet! Checking in for the daily updates once a day for 30 minutes or so is enough to get the gist of the day’s events, but any more could start to play on your mind more than necessary.

5. Keep Active

So gyms are shut, we aren’t to gather in groups for outdoor boot camps, and we are being advised not to travel farther than a ‘walkable distance’ from the home if we are undertaking our daily exercise. While it can feel like the situation is conspiring against our best intentions to keep active, there is still plenty we can do which will have a beneficial impact on our mental wellbeing.

When we are being encouraged to stay home, the opportunity to get out of the house for an hour to undertake some exercise, get some sun on our skin and take in some fresh air feels like a welcome treat, the fact that this boost our mental health too is a bonus!

If you’re used to regularly working out pre-lockdown, then you have likely already found some alternative ways of getting your daily workout-buzz: perhaps you’re taking a short jogs near to home, getting some extra steps in with gentle walks, or making use of some of the on-demand workouts many gyms are uploading for their members with some equipment you have at home.

If you’re a little lost for how to start working out at home however or don’t have access to equipment, South Wales based Personal Trainer Connor Joy has created a free 6-week home-workout programme, with the specific intention of giving people an opportunity to boost their mental wellbeing in these challenging times. You can access his 6-week training plan for free here – all you need is a smartphone to download the app.


There’s still time to submit a Note of Hope

We believe in the power of lessons learned from lived-experience, and so we have reached out to our community to ask them for some sage words of wisdom and insight that would have brought them comfort when they weren’t feeling 100%.

We originally ran this campaign over on our Facebook channel a few months ago, but there is still time to contribute an anonymous contribution here. Contributions will be collated and anonymously shared as part of next week’s blog and e-shot, sharing notes of hope back with others who might need to hear some comforting words right now.