Dr Tanya Carpenter, Lecturer in Counselling Psychology, within the School of Psychology, is a British Psychology Society Chartered Counselling Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the BPS. During the global pandemic, which put restrictions on our activities, work and social life, she offered her thoughts on maintaining mental wellbeing in the difficult circumstances.
Are you starting to feel like an extra in the movie ‘Groundhog Day?' Missing friends and family? Juggling childcare and working-from-home responsibilities?
It seems we all have our own battles to contend with during this time, but there are some universal self-care tips which we can all try a bit of to get by and even try to appreciate this time of quiet.
So, what can we do?
1. Get Dressed
Whatever you wear during the day, make sure it isn’t what you wore to bed the night before (and the night before that).
There’s a bigger message here really though about self-care. It’s well known that one of the symptoms of depression is reducing self-care and hygiene routines and that one of the routes to recovery is to start to maintain those all-important routines again. The take home message is, however your day is going; shower, dress, rinse, repeat. You’ll feel better for it.
2. Get out of the house
Even at the height of the lockdown, we were one of the few countries on lockdown allowed to take daily exercise outside of the house without getting prior permission.
Stay careful, wear a face mask, keep your two-metre distance, but it is surprising what a short walk around the block can do for your mental state. Many people who routinely work from home choose to take a walk around the block before the start of their day which they call their ‘commute’.
3. Set up a workspace
In some countries, homes are set up with two front doors which people use to make one door an ‘office’ door and the other their ‘home’ door. However you do it, set up an office space, make it yours, consider a plant or flowers or a picture on the desk or table you are using. Try not to work in your bedroom if possible. When that’s not possible, try not to work on your actual bed, rather, find a space that can be designated your special ‘isolation’ workspace.
It is interesting to consider how people will relate to that special space when all this is over and they can use the spaces outside of the house that they used before.
4. No pressure
Obviously we know that lots of people are baking sourdough, doing DIY, learning languages, making films and music and generally catching up on lots of activities they weren’t able to do when the busyness of day to day life was always in the way. If taking up a hobby suits you, go for it, don’t let yourself be held back. Be curious, experiment with different hobbies.
But also no pressure. Don’t let people’s social media feeds pressure you into feeling that you have to do something amazing at this time. There is an ever-expanding body of research that consistently and continually shows us the detrimental effects social media is having on our self-esteem.
We are a social species and social comparison is in-built into our evolution. Seeing people’s perfect sourdoughs, reports of daily meditation and exercise is not a real picture of someone’s day. We all know this and yet we still seem to be seduced by it. If you go on social media, make a point of noticing to yourself when you start to feel inadequate in some way (I wish I had more money, I wish I’d travelled a bit more, I wish I were famous too, I wish I were that slim/attractive/talented etc etc). At that point, notice to yourself that this is what social media does and remember that everyone is battling with something. You may even choose to close that app and reflect.
What can I learn?
Finally, every moment in our lives offers us a chance to learn something. Many of us are noticing a slower pace of life, or at least a different ‘day to day’. Make this an opportunity to ask yourself some big questions: what can I learn about myself from this time? What can I learn about other people from this time? What do I want to get out of life? What practices or routines do I want to keep after this difficult period is over? You’re sure to find some interesting ideas if you let these questions brew for a while.
Most of all it’s so important at this time to look after yourself and not in a cliched way, but by thinking about the most personalised way to look after yourself. What do YOU need now that is good for you and contributes towards your mental wellbeing? I hope the answers to that will help guide you through these strange, sometimes unnerving, but certainly interesting times.
Dr Tanya Carpenter, is a lecturer in Counselling Psychology who has previously been in clinical practice within the NHS, private practice and university counselling services.
This post was published on 5th June 2020 Any references to self-isolation, travel or meeting others was accurate at the time of writing but the guidance may have changed since. Please always refer to the latest Government advice.