As someone who is pretty well-versed at social distancing (freelance work-from-home mum to an 18-month-old), I see a lot of people struggling right now. Like you, I’m missing people. I’m regretting the opportunities I had to see people that weren’t taken. I’m confused, too. I don’t want to be on social media; I’m finding it a toxic place right now, but I want to share love and hope and, if I can, show leadership. So, I’m going to write more. Personally, I feel my best when I’m taking positive control in a situation, so I’ve written this blog as my own top tips for how I’m staying sane at the moment. I know there are other ways – what are yours? Mental health is as important as physical. I hope this will encourage you to think about your own and look after yourself.
1. Do something kind for a stranger
I did this pointedly last week by helping out another mum who mentioned in passing that she couldn’t get hold of any nappies. It felt so damned good and was a positive, controlled action that gave me an emotional high. It meant more because I didn’t need thanking (I didn’t give her the chance) and there’s no follow-up. A stranger might be someone on your street you’ve never got to know, or it might be someone online who you come across who just needs to feel supported. Find a way to safely help them, even if it’s just kind words. They will appreciate it and you’ll feel the buzz.
2. Recognise you have choices
A lot of choices are getting taken away from us, so identify the ones you still have and make them consciously. You can’t choose where you eat, who you hang out with, where to go next weekend, but you can choose other things. By not going out you are making a choice. Only you can make that choice, and it’s a positive one. If you choose to watch Netflix all day, that’s fine! But make it a conscious choice and not something that just happens. Recognising what you can control (and what you shouldn’t try to) are necessary for mental well-being. Don’t get anxious about the choices others are making – be proud of the ones you are.
3. Create a project for yourself
You have probably been given more time in your life – shaved off your commute, not going out, whatever. Try to see it as a gift, not a burden. This won’t last forever. Is there a project you can do to keep yourself challenged? I went a bit nuts in the garden this weekend (blisters, ouch!) sowing a mini wildflower meadow. It won’t work, but I’ve been meaning to do it for a while. We need to create a playroom for baby girl. I’m going to build a bug hotel (been meaning to do that one for years!). Having a to-do list gives a sense of purpose and achievement when you complete it. Just don’t do it too fast!
4. Start a diary
Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a meaningful, structured way, might help you not to splurge on social media. It’s a good way to acknowledge your feelings and accept that it’s okay not to be okay. Being honest with yourself might also prompt you to ask for help if you need it. If you write down words like ‘lonely’, ‘scared’, ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘angry’, reach out to someone for support. Equally, acknowledge happy emotions and positive actions, and allow yourself to smile. When you look back on this time in a year or two, it’ll be fascinating to reflect on the journey you personally went through. I recently heard someone talk about their “Coronavirus story”. You can write yours. Writing down other things might help too – like a seasonal nature diary, noting the changes happening outside (trees blossoming, the first bumblebee, a dawn chorus).
5. Get a e-pen pal
This one is a bit retro – getting a pen pal. The idea is to talk to a complete stranger and get to know their story. They could live in a different country (wouldn’t it be fun to get to know someone from a different background, culture, religion?) or be someone local (maybe an older neighbour). You could write emails or messages, but write them out like letters, with structure and thought (not like texts). Ask questions. Take the opportunity to connect with someone completely new.
6. Get in touch with an old friend
This is one I’m definitely going to be doing. We lose touch with people all the time, because we all lead busy lives. Touching base with someone from your past might make their day – and yours. You’ll also have a whole load to catch up on, so you won’t just talk about Coronavirus! You’ll feel good for letting someone know you’re thinking about them; they’ll feel good for being thought about. Win-win!
7. Connect with nature
Nature is a great source of comfort and finding a way to get a daily dose of nature is crucial. If you’re lucky enough to live rurally, make the most of local countryside walks. If you have a garden, can you transform an area to be wildlife friendly, with a pond or bug hotel? If you live in a town or city, look for local greenspaces off the beaten track to avoid social crowding: local nature reserves, quiet woodlands, churchyards and so on. Start a bird list from your window. Watch nature documentaries if you can’t get outside. Read a nature book. Keep a nature diary.
8. Support a local business
Lots of people have had to cancel holidays or trips recently, and businesses are desperately worried about the loss of tourism. You might still be able to help them. Postpone trips rather than cancel and leave them a deposit. Buy vouchers to use when you do visit. Buy products online to connect with places – local produce, local trinkets, local artwork, local books. You can do this where you live, too. Rather than spending money at supermarkets and joining the crowds, try local farm shops, international stores and local businesses. They’re often better stocked and need your money more! Many are delivering now, too.
9. Learn something new
Take the chance to learn something new – from a book, online, from someone you know. It could be a language, a new skill, a new hobby. You could improve on something you already know. If I can get the ingredients, I’d like to learn more about cooking Asian food, so I’ll be asking some Instagram pals for advice, reading recipes and watching tutorials. I’m going to invest time in helping my daughter to learn, too, but as adults we need to keep discovering new things, too. Lots of universities and colleges are now offering free modules, so check those out if you’re stuck.
10. Build yourself a new routine
It’s going to be really tempting to let good habits slip away – lazy mornings, late nights watching television, scrolling through your phone until 2am, eating junk food, snacking rather than eating meals. It’ll be great for a couple of days, but chances are that this won’t be good for you, physically or mentally. Set an alarm and get up in the morning, and equally, maintain a bedtime. Have proper meals and build in time for exercise and relaxation. Many people working from home will actually be tempted to work far more, without social cues from colleagues to stop them. Having a routine will give you balance, structure and make the time go faster.
These are just ten tips I’ve thought of over the past day or two and they’re just things that work for me. You might disagree or have different ones, and that’s fine! What are yours? If all else fails, try and find something every day that makes you happy: an inspiring social media post, nature out the window, a good-news story, a message from a friend.
You got this.