No walks. No alcohol. No cigarettes. No way! The South African prescription for quarantine, while necessary in our socio-economic context, comes with a potentially dangerous side effect – a mental health crisis.
You may think you’re immune, but when last were you tested on this level and for 21 days before? Exactly. We are living in unprecedented times. And even if you have no problems staying sober or exercising at home, you need to take into account the mental stress that comes with being confined to one place with other people, loved ones or not. And then there’s the added pressure of battling people and technology just to keep on top of your daily work, let alone being productive. Are you seeing the potential yet?
This is an enormous amount of pressure to deal with. You need to take it and your mental health seriously. So, let’s start with some simple, practical tips and tools to help you up your mental fitness game.
Our 10 TOP TIPS to keeping mentally fit during lockdown
Move every day: Use a skipping rope, do stretches in your bedroom, or simply dance around the room with your kids. Whatever you do, make sure you move your body every day. Consistent physical activity lowers stress, improves your mood and strengthens the immune system. All are key to your mental health.
Breathe: Here’s a simple and quick breathing exercise you can work into your day: close your eyes and take slow, even breaths in through the nose for a count of four, feeling the belly rise and chest expand. Exhale slowly out the mouth for a count of eight. Pause briefly before starting the next inhale. Repeat for 1-3 minutes. Practice this daily or whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out.
Make healthy choices: It’s tempting to reach for the quick fixes like sugar, caffeine and processed foods. But, while these may feel good for a moment, they will ultimately have a negative impact on your mood. Make sure you choose healthy food options, like vegetables and fruits, and avoid highly processed foods and refined sugars. Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes, which can aggravate stress and anxiety. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing but at least replace every second cup of caffeinated tea or coffee with a rooibos or herbal tea.
Make sleep a priority: Your body, mind and nervous system are under extra pressure. Now more than ever, it is essential that you get the rest you need (7-9 hours) and stick to a consistent sleep schedule, whenever possible. That includes creating a technology-free wind down routine at least 30 minutes (but preferably 60 minutes) before bedtime.
Practice gratitude: Sound too “new agey” for you? Well we are living in a whole new age, one where the information we are bombarded with every day is usually negative and makes us dwell on everything that is wrong with the world. And yes, factual as these stats may be, it doesn’t help your mental state or even the state of the nation obsessing over every negative fact and stat. If you can’t change your circumstance, change your attitude towards it. Choose five things every day you are grateful for. Maybe it’s the fact that you still have your health, or work, or the fact that you are spending more time with your family. When you compare your lives to others far worse off, you will easily find five things to be grateful for. Start taking note of these things and encourage your household to do the same. Gratitude as a daily practice is one of the most effective and simple ways to keep your mental health strong.
Practice digital downtime: Yes, you need to unplug. Being constantly connected to technology and screens will take a toll on your nervous system, especially now that so much of your work and home life now takes place online. It’s essential to establish tech-free times and zones in your household to make sure your natural systems rest and recharge.
Enjoy the transformative power of storytime: Not everyone likes to read books, but everyone loves a good story. Why? Because a story well told, whether in the form of a book, audio book or podcast, knows how to access the transformative power of human imagination. It doesn’t matter whether you need to laugh, cry or just simply escape into a parallel universe, stories have the power to change your mind and mood. Get those old books off the shelf or close your eyes and listen to a good audio book. It will make the world of difference.
Create playlists for every mood: Music is a powerful tool that has a direct impact on our moods and emotions. One song can make us want to dance, while another can make us feel relaxed or content. The power is in your hands. Create playlists that you can turn to when you need to boost your mood or get you “out of your head”. And while you’re at it, create one that will make you shake your body and booty for at least five minutes every day. You could make it part your morning routine to make sure you start your day off in a good mood and with great energy.
Connect with others: Communication is not the same thing as connection. But real, personal, human connection is a vital part of mental health. Make sure that if you can’t hang out with the ones you love, that you take the time to connect with your loved ones (via technology) every day.
Put your passions into practice: Got some spare time? Sounds like the perfect time to put a passion into practice. Maybe you always wanted to learn the guitar, take up yoga, write poetry or learn how to play poker. You could even learn a new language with apps like Duolingo. There are so many fun tutorials and courses online and many of them are free. Who knows, post quarantine, you might come out with a new skill, hobby or even business idea. Anything is possible when passion is part of your daily practice.
BONUS: Here are a few meditation and mindfulness apps and websites that are kindly offering free access during the COVID-19 crisis:
Offers simple, practical fitness apps for Yoga, HIIT, Barre and Pilates. Access is free until 1 May or 1 July for healthcare professionals and teachers.
Get free meditation live streams every day at 12pm (UK time) through its Instagram channel.
Daily FREE workouts for everyone, live-streamed at 08:00 and 15:00 every day on Facebook and available to view afterwards too Workouts are fun, high energy and the entire family can join.
One of the leaders in the mindfulness space, they offer meditations, sleep and movement exercises. During COVID-19, they have made their collection “Weathering The Storm” free to access and enjoy.
Remember, mental health is not only an important part of our health, it impacts the people around you too. If you break down, so does the rest of our household. It’s important to take care of yourself to ensure your household stays positive and healthy too.