Boosting your mental wellbeing

These self-help tips are all about boosting mental wellbeing to cope with isolation. They look at how to feel better in your mood and emotions and connect with others in ways that feel right for you.

Isolation simply means ‘separation from others’; it can lead to depression, anxiety and poor sleep. It’s natural to miss face to face contact, social connection is a basic need. It doesn’t matter how introvert or used to living alone you were before the pandemic the chances are you saw and talked to people as part of your daily life. We now realise things we took for granted made us feel better. It could have been as simple as just saying ‘hi’ in a shop, or a quick chat with a work colleague, mixing at the school gate, or arranging times to be with friends and family. Now, we’ve become familiar with the reality of social distancing and lockdown, and lots of us are feeling isolated.

It’s good to know if you experienced a sense of loneliness and social isolation before lockdown, these self-help tips are just as relevant.

Reduce Anxiety

The Coronavirus pandemic is an anxiety-provoking time not just because of the news, but because when we lose social connectedness that can increase anxiety levels. So, it’s important to calm the mind from stressful, fearful thoughts.  These tips can help:

 Acknowledge what you’re feeling each day. It’s okay to be honest with yourself and say ‘I feel anxious about this situation’, ‘I’m nervous about the future’, or ‘I feel lonely’, then turn those acknowledged feelings into ‘this is anxiety’, ‘this is nervousness’, ‘this is loneliness’. Spend up to 5 minutes doing this, notice and accept your emotions without making judgment. You’ll find, with practice, the emotion your body was signalling you were experiencing (like tightness in the chest, shallow breathing, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy), but your mind was trying to push away, will ease when you stay with it for a short while.  Emotions come and go, so tolerating the negative ones will show you that that they can subside by themselves in a little while. After trying this tip, you might feel more able to choose to think about and start doing something you enjoy. You might even start to problem-solve to reduce the cause of the worry. A mindfulness technique to acknowledge your feelings is a good place to start https://www.gottman.com/blog/6stepstomindfullydealwithdifficultemotions/ .

Young woman blowing dandelion


Breathing techniques are the go-to self-help resource to reduce anxiety when you notice your breathing is shallow and rapid, you begin to feel overwhelmed by unhelpful emotions and you find it hard to think straight. Regulating your breathing helps calm you so you feel more in control of the situation, less emotional and able to rationalise.  Breathing techniques come in many shapes and sizes. We think these are two of the best: 7/11 breathing for people who can hold their breath for up to 11 seconds (https://www.re-root.com/helpful-things/wellbeing-tips/beat-panic.html)and box breathing for people who find it hard to hold their breath for so long (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321805 ).

Avoid checking the news more than once a day

Womans finger about to power off mobile phone


Avoid checking the news more than once a day during the pandemic. Frequent updates often lead to ‘what if’ thoughts, which can spiral into catastrophising and worry http://www.steveseay.com/worry-what-if-questions/  . If you chose to access a news report each day, try to do this in the morning rather than the evening or before sleep.  This gives you time to contact a friend or family member to talk things through and work out some ‘if then’ thinking. ‘If then’ thinking is much more focused and closes down anxiety-fuelled unhelpful thoughts like ‘what if I go out for a walk and I catch Coronavirus because someone comes too close?’ and ‘what if I catch Coronavirus and I’m too ill to contact anyone?’. Together you might go through rationalising risk levels, appropriate ways to protect yourself and talking through what to do if you need help with shopping or accessing healthcare.

Reduce time checking social media and engage in a more absorbing activity instead, reading or cooking. It’s a temptation to spend a lot of the day reading the posts of people coping with the lockdown in inventive, super-positive ways, or watching funny clips of animals, or Gogglebox. This might make us smile in the moment but gauge your mood after you put down your phone, see if the smile lasts. It might not and it’s because the contact doesn’t involve you, it only gives a transient feeling of enjoyment, distraction and connectedness. Try to think instead of what you really enjoy, pastimes you’ve dropped and whether it’s possible to start again during lockdown.

Boost social connectedness

Asian woman making video call on mobile phone

 

It’s an important factor in mental wellbeing as researcher Professor Joanne Holt-Lunstad says ‘being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival’. 

These tips can help you feel better through social distancing and afterwards.

Keep connected with family and friends.  This is essential for mental wellbeing, losing touch with people is a risk during this time if you’re feeling down. Even if you don’t feel like it, it’s worth making the effort. It doesn’t have to be a phone call or video call straight away it can be as simple as texting or even emailing ‘How are you? Want to catch up?’. Try to set a goal of contacting one person a day in this way. Remember depression lies, it can lead to thoughts like ‘they can’t be bothered to talk to me’, ‘they don’t care about me’, ‘they could contact me first’. The facts might be quite different: they’re busy with work from home, they might not feel well, they’re not feeling great in mood themselves. Connection with others can lift mood, make you smile or laugh, interest you, give you other things to think about, and it creates positive memories of interaction to draw on if you feel low: it’s the opposite of social isolation. Once you’ve started, what about suggesting contacting each other more regularly to check on each other and talk things through. 

When the people in your life aren’t good for you, or you’ve already lost friends that used to be in touch, that can make the lockdown feelings of isolation worse. Maybe you’re bored or frustrated with the people in your life. Take a moment to think if all your friends and family are like this. Maybe there’s someone who’s a positive influence. You could reconnect with old friends: ‘I was thinking about you, how are you?’ 

Join a group How many times have you heard people say, ‘join a group’? It’s an old idea, but it’s got new currency. Never has joining been more relevant. It’s can make it easier to do when you realise lots of people are doing this during Covid-19 restrictions. It means you’ll be with other newbies and joining online takes the edge off nerves if social anxiety or any worries about being judged have stopped you before.

Young man learning guitar online

 

What to join? You need to think about whether you want to join a group for fun and connectedness or to achieve a goal through a sense of group participation. Check for options online in the local community so that when the pandemic is over you could then have the option of meeting face to face. Think about your interests, there are lots of new ways to connect online from pub quizzes, local choirs, book clubs  to films clubs – some are offering free screenings to watch and comment online afterwards (contact a local cinema club or film society to see what they’re offering or you could contact Cinema For All http://cinemaforall.org.uk/ for possibilities among their member clubs)). If you’re up for a challenge you could join a local language class online as a group activity, or maybe start a free online course or MOOC and join the ‘café forum’ there (http://www.open.ac.uk/about/open-educational-resources/openlearn/free-learning).

Volunteer

Wooden figure on table with coffee cup and laptop

 

Volunteer Why volunteer? Volunteering can make you happier. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-does-you-good/health-benefits-altruism

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm

It’s a win-win situation where as well as people benefiting from your actions, your own awareness of your acts of kindness bring a sense of optimism and self-esteem.  It also enables you to feel part of your community and reduces loneliness. Check out ways to volunteer during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond. Connections made now could last well after social distancing lifts, bringing new people and sense of community into your life. 

Food basket left on doorstep