10 tips for keeping good mental health in the face of further lockdowns

By Geoff Harris

Tomorrow is World Mental Health day and it falls during a very challenging time.

In the UK, and in many other parts of the world, Covid 19-related lockdowns are coming back in force. At least back in February and March we had the spring to look forward to – and in the UK it was a particularly beautiful one. Now, however, we are coming into winter and things seem bleaker, particularly as most of us thought we’d be over the lockdowns by now and there might even be a vaccine.

To help you get through further lockdowns as autumn and winter unfold, here are ten practical tips:

1) Make the most of World Mental Health day resources

If you are finding yourself struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions during this difficult period, why not use tomorrow to educate yourself more about the conditions and some possible solutions. Mind, the UK mental health charity, has put together some great resources, and suggestions on how you can also raise awareness of common ailments.

2) Try a more ‘Stoic’ mindset

A big part of the stress of lockdowns, and this virus generally, is the sense that we have no control over our lives – that we are drowning in uncertainty. But when you think about it, we live with a lot of uncertainty, virus or not. Can you say for sure you won’t get killed, or kill someone else, driving to the supermarket today?

It’s worth checking out some of the great resources around neo-Stoicism. This ancient philosophy strongly emphasizes that the only things we can ultimately control are our thoughts, reactions and emotions, rather than external things. It encourages fortitude, resilience and making the most of the day rather than catastrophising about the future. Check out the Daily Stoic channel on YouTube.

3) Use the difficulty

This is another great expression. If you are stuck indoors a lot due to further lockdowns, rather than focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you CAN. How’s about starting that meditation practice you have been putting off for ages, or learning a new skill? It could be something fun and distracting in a positive way, such as a new language, or a skill that could help you get a new job if your work has been affected by this year’s crisis.

4) Let’s get physical

The gym may end up closing again, but there is nothing stopping you from ordering weights online and keeping up your training, or subscribing to an online fitness or yoga class. Exercise has been proven to boost the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, and it’s even more important that you do this if you also tend to get down in the autumn and winter. There is nothing stopping you from going for a run or brisk walk, too.

5) Eat better

Maybe the lockdowns have this year have made you realise that your cooking skills could do with an upgrade, or your diet isn’t great. So why not use further lockdowns and reduced opportunities for socialising to do some online cookery courses? The River Cottage Cooking Diploma, which provides first-class culinary training in the comfort of your own home, is a great place to start.

6) Get creative

Another way to turn lots of unstructured time into a positive is to use it to develop a creative skill. Writing and journaling are great, as is photography. You don’t need a fancy camera any more to get decent shots, often your smartphone is more than enough. Why not set yourself a weekly photographic project – and remember, photography is as much about recording how you ‘feel’ as it is about recording external reality. There are lots of great smartphone tips online and if you fancy trying out a ‘proper’ camera, check out our blog here. Just getting out into nature and taking photos in a mindful way can be hugely therapeutic.

7) Dig for victory

OK, so you need to interact with nature and have time on your hands – sounds like a great opportunity to get into gardening. Now is the perfect opportunity to maybe redesign part of your garden, research how to grow vegetables or dig a pond. Even if you live in a high rise, chances are there is a community garden nearby that might take volunteers if social distancing can be safely observed. Check out this huge range of online gardening courses if you fancy having your design plans overlooked by some of the world's top garden designers, from the comfort of your home.

8) Limit your news exposure

If you are anything like me, you tend to compulsively check the news for hopeful signs that the virus might be easing – particularly when it comes to finding a vaccine. While there are reasons to be optimistic, and it’s important to stay informed, a lot of news websites will prioritise sensational and more alarming news as it gets more clicks (which helps them make more money). “If it bleeds, it leads,” goes the old newspaper saying. So try to limit your daily news exposure to protect your mental health, and stick to trusted, objective news sources.

9) Limit your social media time

Limiting your social media time can help too: it’s easy to assume that everyone is having a better time than you on Facebook, or leads happier and more fulfilled lives, as people only tend to upload ‘positive’ posts about themselves.

10) Bolster your spirit with useful slogans

There are a few sayings that I find really helpful in stressful times – hopefully you will do. For example, “this too shall pass.” In other words, nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. “Keep it in the day.” Yesterday is gone, tomorrow hasn’t happened yet. The here and now is all we really have, right? Finally – “do the next right thing.” If even living a day at time seems stressful and anxiety-inducing, try focusing on simply the NEXT thing you can do right now to make yourself feel better or use the time productively. And so on and so on…

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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