For many, lockdown was an incredibly difficult and isolating period; a period of uncertainty, panic, overthinking and overwhelming loss. For others, it allowed us to take control of our lives, to slow down, to figure out how best we fit into the world around us and to find calm within our chaos.
I’ve learned to find my own sense of self over the past two years, and to discover how best I fit into the world around me in an enjoyable and productive fashion; how I can get the very best out of myself without jeopardising my mental health and without putting too much pressure on my shoulders. Here’s how I managed it…
Exercise will put a spring in your step
Sport and physical exercise have always provided a fantastic coping mechanism for me to deal with the stresses of day-to-day life by working towards a physical goal. Without exercise, I often feel incredibly lost, agitated and on edge. Exercise allows me to channel my frustrations and to turn feelings of loneliness or anger into a bigger, more beneficial purpose.
I know many people who after a stressful long working day, will go straight to the pub or the sofa to comfort their feelings of anxiety and stress with a bottle of wine or a few pints. It’s not the way to deal with difficult days, and I guarantee you that substituting those coping mechanisms for a beneficial change will leave you with a spring in your step.
When you work out, break a sweat and challenge yourself, you feel a release; your endorphins fly from your brain through your body, and when you’re not feeling good, working out will allow you to push through your pain to find purpose and a sense of relief. I feel a weight off my shoulders by making voluntary obligations to train my body; when you voluntarily put yourself in stressful situations, you’ll find you are far more able to deal with the stressful situations that life might throw your way.
Learn how and when to say 'no'
Prior to lockdown, I was incapable of going down my own road; I found it incredibly difficult to say no to my friends, and felt I had to be where everyone else was. Including and especially on occasions where I didn’t want to attend nights out or parties, I would still go ‘in case I missed out on anything’ or because people were expecting me to be there. You’re not letting anyone down by putting yourself first; it’s important to be selfish, and to know what allows you to feel best in your own skin, regardless of what other people may be thinking.
Truly, the greatest realisation lockdown gave me, was that the party is wherever you are. You don’t need to be where everyone else is and you certainly don’t need to keep up appearances or fit in with the lives of others Say yes to the things you want, say no to those that don’t fit in with your agenda – regardless of who you fear may think differently for it – and you’ll have a greater sense of calm and enjoyment. For that, you’ll have a more peaceful mind.
Prioritise the relationship between your gut and mental health
There is incredible research that explores the relationship between gut health and mental health, and how intertwined the two components are. The famous saying you are what you eat has often been misinterpreted, but I often feel that the food I put in my body accurately reflects how I feel. If I fill my body with clean, varied and nutritious foods that aren’t heavy, processed or high in sugars, I feel energetic and ready to take on whatever challenges the day may have in store for me.
After drinking alcohol, overeating, consuming starchy or greasy foods, or heavy meals, I feel slow, bloated and unable to perform. My head feels foggy and as if it’s taking time to digest the food in my stomach, instead of on the road in front of me. Try putting diesel in a petrol car and asking it to function at its normal capacity. A clean, healthy, functioning gut will bring you a high performing mind.
Try to limit your screen time
The higher my screen time, the worse I feel. It’s as simple as that. There is a big, beautiful, colourful world right before us, that’s craving exploration and your attention. We were born as cavemen that gathered and hunted, collected our own food and lived for our needs. As beneficial as the world of technology has become for us, we were not made to sit in front of silver screens with a never ending spiral of information infiltrating our minds.
There is information on our social media apps with algorithms designed to keep us there for as long as possible. News outlets sell and get online traffic promoting news that is often negative and leaves readers feeling anxious and on-edge. Turn your phone off on dog walks, on silent when with friends so you can enjoy quality time and real conversation and go on aeroplane mode in the gym. Set yourself some boundaries.
As someone who is self-employed and feels as if they can or should work every hour of the day, I’ve learned the importance of setting limits; whether that’s time limits on phone applications or a time in the day where work must stop. Just like overeating food, overconsuming information can be just as difficult for our minds to handle. No phone in the hour that I wake up and the hour before I go to sleep, has allowed me to feel peace of mind and a break from the never ending noise of the outside world. Our diet isn’t just the foods we eat but the information we take in; curate an environment on your devices that benefits you, not belittles you.
Establish a healthy, consistent sleep routine
A consistent sleep routine is the key to feeling your best. The world has a weird way of telling us that we always need to be ready and able, that rest and recovery isn’t a priority and that we should be able to function at all hours of the day.
It’s incredibly unhealthy to even believe for a minute or suggest that sleep isn’t important; it’s the key ingredient for us to be able to serve up optimum performance in our work, and high energy levels to enjoy the world around us. It’s not about sleeping for hours on end – oversleeping can be just as damaging. It’s about being consistent with our sleeping pattern. Doing our best to get to bed and to wake up at the same time as many days of the week as we possibly can.
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see are post it notes above my head. “Today will be a great day”, “I deserve every good thing that comes my way”, “I can do anything I put my mind to”. By reading positive affirmations as soon as I wake up from a quality sleep, I feel energised and set for the day ahead. I realise not many of us are lucky enough to sleep with a shelf above our head, but I’m sure we can all improvise in our way.
Maintain quality relationships with friends and family
We are social creatures; it’s a fact. As independent or introverted as we may often be, we need companionship and friendship, people we can communicate with or lift a little weight off our shoulders with. I could have all the success, money, fame and fortune or material things in the world, but with no one to share that with, it means nothing.
The lockdown period taught me many lessons, one of which was this: keep whoever is important to me and adds real value to my life, and get rid of anyone who burdens that. We are a product of the people we spend our time with; spend time with negative people, who create excuses, blame others and overwhelm you with a damaging outlook, and it will seep into you, making you feel agitated, on edge and unhappy.
Spend time with positive, optimistic, ambitious and caring people, and you’ll find yourself feeling that way more often. Spend time investing in your friendships and the company you keep. The world can be a very lonely road; treasure those who want to walk it with you.