I’ve seen a lot of advice on how to look after your mental health as we continue to live through this pesky pandemic, advice that more often than not leans heavily on the benefits of physical activity, exercise, movement, and spending time outdoors. What I have as yet failed to see acknowledged (quelle surprise) is that not everyone is able, or consistently able, to dispel their dark clouds through physical exertion, whether that be going for a daily walk, doing “couch to 5k”, or engaging in simple stretches on the living room floor.
So allow me to offer an alternative list of twelve non-physical mood-boosting ideas:
1. Escape the anxiety-inducing reality in which we all currently dwell by travelling to far-away, long-ago, imagined worlds through the medium of a good book. Or any book, it doesn’t even have to be that good; escapism can be found in the 99p bargain basement of Amazon Kindle as much as it can be found on the bestseller lists. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve left my flat this year, but I’ve also been to an underground library labyrinth sitting on the shores of The Starless Sea (I’ve linked it, but I wouldn’t bother making the trip if I were you), and 17th century Algiers on a slave-ship from Iceland, aboard which the Sealwoman returned to the ocean. I’ve collected fossils in Lyme Regis with two remarkable woman in the early 1800s, and sat in a car in the suburbs of Philadelphia, looking through the windows of The Dutch House. I’ve witnessed the 17th century persecution of women in various places across Europe, from a small Norwegian fishing village to the Lanarkshire countryside (yes, when in doubt I read a witch trials novel), and garnered a rather pained interest in King James The Witch Hunter (what would Mary have thought? I digress.) Read a book.
2. Find your flow. Entering the “flow state” is a powerful way to quiet relentless mind-chatter, and has been well documented as a means of managing stress and anxiety. For me, writing can induce the “flow state”, as I get so absorbed in crafting words that the hours melt away unnoticed. For others it might be reached through creative endeavours such as drawing, painting, or jewellery-making. I know my partner finds flow in his work, particularly in his ‘extracurricular’ interests. In order to achieve “flow” the mind needs to be actively and wholly engaged in a mentally stimulating activity, without external distraction, so doodling in front of the TV won’t do it.
3. Laugh out loud. Such a simple way of boosting your mood. From stand-up on Netflix, to mockumentaries, panel-shows, podcasts, and re-released sitcoms, there’s a plethora of ways to get giggling. Lately I’ve been watching Rob and Romesh Vs on Sky One, which I didn’t think would be my cuppa, but I’ve been having a right good laugh to myself of a weekday afternoon.
4. Pamper yourself, especially when “pamper” starts to mean “shower”. Putting on my “good leggings” after a bath currently feels like a spa day for me, and do you know what? If it’s that easy to get a buzz, I’m not mad about it.
5. I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly easy to get stuck in a social media loop, mindlessly watching my phone as my thumb facilitates the continual scroll through newsfeeds and updates, while I absorb the thoughts, opinions and experiences of anyone and everyone. I’m an advocate for the benefits of using social media, particularly in times like these when much of our interaction is happening virtually, but the world is a lot right now, and I’m wholly aware of the detrimental impact continual exposure can have on our mental wellbeing, for everyone, but particularly for disabled and chronically ill people living through a pandemic. Something relatively straightforward we can do to give our minds a break is to periodically delete social media apps from our phones for a few days. I’ve also started switching my phone off in the evenings.
6. These lockdown days often feel like great, gaping expanses of nothingness and so I find that keeping to some sort of, however vague, morning and evening routine is a grounding way to bookend each day. For me these ‘routines’ primarily revolve around drinking water and taking supplements every morning, having a consistent ‘getting up’ and ‘going to bed’ time, and maintaining a skincare regime every evening. I think that might be the most boring thing I’ve ever written, I bored myself writing it.
7. Look after a houseplant. Name it, care for it, water it, dust it, sing to it, tell it stories. Or you could just do what I do; occasionally remember to water them, notice that they’re on the brink of death, pop them in the bath with some plant food, feel rewarded as they graciously revive themselves, repeat. Either way, I think caring for some living greenery indoors is only ever a good thing for mental wellbeing.
8. Do some light cleaning. OK, this one is a bit more physical, but I’m not talking about scrubbing the bathroom. I find that slowly pottering about with a duster and polish is quite a relaxing way to while away a rainy afternoon, re-organising and re-connecting with forgotten possessions as I go. And it’s a good way to introduce some gentle movement to your body.
9. Practice radical acceptance of how you’re feeling. Allow yourself to feel down without immediately attempting to cover it up with “positive” activity or affirmation. Have a good cry, tears release stress hormones. Curl up under the duvet and binge-watch Netflix all day. Write down how you’re feeling without internal judgement. Snap at your partner because he’s breathing too loudly. (Just kidding, try not to do that). Work on finding that balance between knowing when to push yourself, and knowing when to allow yourself to rest. I’ve said this already, but the world is a lot right now, and no one, literally no one, cares about how productive you’re being. That was a big relieving lightbulb moment for me recently. So in the nicest possible way, tell your ego to get over itself and let your soul breathe. (Also a note to self).
10. Facetime friends and family. If you’re able to, buying something like this phone holder might make the whole experience much easier, it has for me. We all know the benefits that social interaction has, we’ve all felt that heaviness ease after a good ole’ chat. Need I say more?
11. Make plans for the years to come, and focus on the things that bring you joy. I enjoy using Pinterest to create mood boards for my ‘dream home’, for creative inspiration, or to simply collate images that evoke happiness. I mention Pinterest specifically because I think it’s quite a good visual tool providing a gateway into escapism, without the potential toxicity of other social media apps.
12. And finally, reach out if you’re struggling.
NHS mental health advice (including a list of numbers for multiple organisations)