I first wrote this post in March 2020 and this week have revisited it as we have re-entered lockdown. Last night’s news from the US has just added to my feelings of anxiety and fear for what is happening in the world and with every passing hour I feel my motivation being sapped. I can almost feel the correlation between “next slide please” showing another all time high, the news that we haven’t reached the peak caused by Christmas yet, and my desire to want to go and sit on the corner sofa with a book and the cat. .
In all the news stories and updates I have watched over the past few weeks (and trust me I have watched hours) I haven’t seen much about how to keep our mental health and well being in check, just how we need to keep a safe distance from the person next to us in the queue, cough into our elbows and sanitise our hands. Nobody is talking about the growing wave of anxiety that is beginning to spread through all of us. The feelings of isolation, panic, general anxiety increasing, worry about finances, our loved ones, and how on earth we are going to get through the next few weeks and months when our world is increasingly becoming the four walls of our home have ramped up a level. A year since words like lockdown, furlough and social distancing became part of our every day vocabulary and I feel that things are actually only getting worse with our mental health.
How many of us spend that period between Christmas and New Year planning the following year? Writing in new diaries, making plans. Watching adverts on the TV for luxury holidays we will never be able to afford but we can watch and dream. This year there was none of that. And more than that friends are losing their jobs, juggling home educating with trying to do their jobs from home whilst also hearing that over 1000 people are dying on a daily basis.
Which is why I have put together the following list of things I think might help over the coming weeks to help if you feel your anxiety increasing. I am no expert, I can’t help on how to how to entertain and educate your children I am afraid. Despite having had three of my own I am no expert on such matters and to be brutally honest I am not worrying about those things, because that brings me to my first point about how to keep your mental health in check:
Don’t take on other people’s worries
It was Monday morning this week when I had to have a serious talk to myself about just what I was worrying about. The fact I was worrying about other people and how they would juggle work, caring for elderly relatives, schooling their children etc. I think this makes me an empath and I really had to tell myself to stop. We can’t take on everybody else’s worry, we can only worry about our own and, trust me, once you make that realisation it makes a huge difference. I have had to tell myself that I dont have to worry about redundancies as I dont have a job, I am my own person. I am not in a high risk group (though my daughter is since she is pregnant). We have space for three of us to now be working from home and we have food in the fridge. Most importantly of all we have a stack of loo rolls because we have always bought them in packs of 48 from Bookers (buy 24 get 24 free, for a tenner is our kind of bargain and we have done it for years). So there is no need for me to share photos of shelves devoid of loo roll in supermarkets, because as much as I empathise with those struggling to get them, it isn’t MY issue (and yes I have offered some of our stash to those struggling).
Turn off news alerts
I have news alerts turned on as push notifications on my phone. Great when things are relatively quiet but earlier this week it was pinging incessantly with news of more people dying and events being cancelled. I dont need that information immediately. I probably don’t need that information at all. I don’t really care about the Euros or the Premier League so to have my quiet afternoon walk interrupted makes no sense and ultimately is just detrimental to my mental health. Turn them off. Control when you get you news, do you really need BBC News pop ups that tells you something has just happened when you are on your phone playing a game or watching a TV programme?.
Control your news
Right now we are all soaking up all this information and as we absorb it we are all sponges. The time will come, very soon, were we can’t absorb anymore and we are going to break. If other people are controlling the news they intake, don’t keep dumping news on them. I found myself in getting those news alerts turning to Mr B and saying “another 35 people have died in Italy”. He doesn’t need to know that. I don’t need to know that. Your friends and family probably dont need to know that if you are sharing it on social media. Be mindful of what you are sharing in case your loved ones are feeling anxious.
Please also make sure that what you are sharing is factual. There is SO much information out there we need to make sure what we are sharing is from trusted sources. I am only taking medical information from the NHS website, and news from the BBC
Limit your intake of the news too if you can. It really makes a big difference if you stick to just watching the news once a day.
Have some structure to your day
This is one of the major ones for me and really helps me enormously. I like to know in the morning what we are having for dinner so when I make the first cup of tea I check the fridge for all the stuff we need (I meal plan weekly and shop once). Then the morning is spent at my desk working or doing the things that need to be done (life admin type stuff), before I knock off around 3pm. Its then time to prepare dinner and watch the 5pm update if there is one before we eat dinner after it. None of it is absolutely set in stone but having a framework definitely helps.
I must admit that I dont do this enough. Getting outside for fresh air and a walk is something we could probably all do more of, you don’t need me to tell you that. But right now we just all need to do it more.
Write things down
I have found this week that writing things down has really helped. Making a list of things to do (mostly consists of cancelling hotels and getting refunds on tickets) has really helped me with the overwhelm this week and to feel I am getting some control back. I have also found this quite therapeutic too. If you like to write, do it. Not for anybody to see, but to get it out of your head. Come back to it, burn it, it doesnt matter, but get it out of your head
Keep in touch with your friends
Check in with them regularly. DM the people on instagram who you have never talked to before but whose content you really love. Comment on the post that makes you laugh. Spreading the love and positive stuff is crucial at the moment. I have checked in with friends regularly and even arranged for a few surprises to be posted to them as a bit of a virtual hug. I think our feelings of being isolated can only get worse as this continues so talk to friends, even if it is only sending a silly gif via WhatsApp, you will make the recipient smile and feel they’re not alone.
Call them up, even though it will turn out to be the worst time and you feel guilty for calling. Because you shouldn’t feel guilty and your friend will giggle about it after.
Mr B once called a friend in New Zealand as they hadn’t spoken for a while and it was time for a catch up. He thought he’d got it right, timing his call for 8am. He’d got it wrong. It was shortly before 6 and Pete thought someone had died.
After a couple of seconds, it was like they’d never been apart and the call descended into farce and name-calling – a sure sign of a close friend.
That’s what we need right now – good friends being friends to each other.