1. Make your bed first thing
Every morning, make your bed to your own satisfaction, the duvet nice and straight and the pillows plumped. The act of achieving and controlling something as soon as you wake up puts you in the right mood to continue a sense of control throughout your day. You have the power to affect your own thoughts and feelings. Start as you mean to continue — make a promise to yourself to look after your mental health all day long by being as calm as you can first thing in the morning.
2. Use breathing exercises, the simplest being to block one nostril
When we are anxious, our breathing becomes fast and shallow. When we breathe more slowly this forces our racing minds to slow down as well. It can help to close one nostril with a finger — this means we breathe at half the rate than normal. You can only breathe in the present, so it’s the best way to be calm and centered. When we are anxious, we worry about the future and regret the past. Breathing keeps us in the present.
3. Look after your physical health by exercising, getting a good night’s sleep and eating a balanced diet, with plenty of ‘happy foods’:
Our mental health is closely linked to our physical health. So, get outside, go for a walk if you can — respecting the need to stay a few metres from others; go to bed at a sensible time each night; and nourish your body, with these top three mood-boosting foods: oily fish (like salmon, anchovies and tuna); dark green leafy vegetables like kale, cabbage, and spinach; and dark chocolate.
4. Connect with others by being kind, even if it is remotely:
Connecting with others by being kind and grateful has a very real effect on our happiness. We become kinder to ourselves and also become more accepting of others. Clearly, it is impossible to do this easily in person at the moment, but it is still possible
Here are some ideas of what you might do to be kind:
Smile at someone if you pass them in the street, if out for a walk, or in a shop
Pay attention to a family member or friend when they talk to you — even if this is on the phone
Spend more time listening to others and less time talking at them. (There’s a reason we have two ears and only one mouth.)
Offer to help someone locally by dropping off food or medical supplies if you are able to
Send a supportive text
Start a WhatsApp group with friends to share any positive news such as steps to find a vaccine
5. Be in the present by doing an everyday activity in a mindful way:
Mindfulness is a way of focusing attention on what we are experiencing in the moment. The trick is to remember to be mindful! Make a few everyday activities mindful ones. You could start with washing your hands in a mindful way, as this is something we should all be doing right now, or you could also choose from:
Brushing your teeth
Doing the washing up
Tidying your room
In a mindful way.
As you do your activity, pay attention to all the sensations you are feeling. If your activity was washing your hands, feel the coldness of the water, hear the sound of the tap, smell the soap. Use these mindful moments to slow down and enjoy what is happening in the present.
6. Change your negative thoughts by remembering to ‘Catch it, check it, change it!’
Our thoughts, feelings and behaviour affect each other. Watch out for your negative thoughts. First, recognise them. Let’s say you are catastrophising about the virus. Your negative thought is that everyone you know and love will be affected. Step two is to check that thought — is it really true? And then third, change the thought. So maybe say to yourself, I am prepared, I am taking precautions, most people recover well. It isn’t always possible to do this, but the important thing is to remember you can challenge your thoughts and be flexible.
7. Do something new by learning this poem
Setting a new goal or learning a new skill can be a great way to feel a sense of achievement. So, try learning a poem! This one is a great choice, as its message is that we appreciate good times more by having experienced the bad. In fact, we would not appreciate sunnier times without living through the rainy ones.
The Rainbow, by Charles Mackay.
Oh you tears, I’m thankful that you run, Though you trickle in the darkness, You shall glitter in the sun The rainbow could not shine if the rain refused to fall, And the eyes that cannot weep are the saddest eyes of all.
8. Keep a gratitude notebook:
Focus on what you are thankful for. Find a notebook, and then every evening write down in as much detail as you can three things you are grateful for. They could include:
A yummy meal
A beautiful day
Making a cake
Being more conscious of our fellow human beings
9. Imagine a Happy Place:
We can create or experience visual pictures in the mind even if at the moment we cannot go there. Close your eyes and remember somewhere you last felt really happy.
What did it look like?
What did it smell like?
What were the colours and scents?
Where you with anyone else?
Write down here what your own happy place looks like. Mine is by a stream in the Lake District. Then bring to mind your happy place whenever you feel stressed.
If one good thing comes out of this terrible time, it will be a new focus on our mental health. We will all need to prioritise our psychological wellbeing in the months ahead, as we gradually adjust to a new post-COVID reality. We will have to rebuild our lives and businesses, perhaps find new jobs, and adjust to the loss of loved ones. All will take mental resilience and strength. I hope my tips will help you, whatever your future journey.
Rachel Kelly is a speaker, author and mental health campaigner, and a regular writer on InSPIre the Mind — you can read her other fantastic blogs for InSPIre the Mind here. Rachel speaks publicly about her experience of depression and recovery to help educate and break stigma. She is an official ambassador for SANE, Rethink Mental Illness and The Counselling Foundation. Rachel has written four books: Black Rainbow: How words healed me: my journey through depression, Walking on Sunshine: 52 small steps to happiness, The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food — Joyful recipes to keep you calm, boost your energy and help you sleep… and Singing in the Rain: 52 practical steps to happiness. Follow Rachel on Twitter.
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