As we continue into 2021 we find ourselves still in lock down here in the UK due to Covid restrictions. Over the last week I’ve heard a few different people talk about how to approach this time of increased isolation and address the issues around mental health that a prolonged time shut off from others can bring about and I’ll be sharing these suggestions here. This is longer than usual as I wanted to share as much as possible so you can choose from it what you find useful.
1. Focus on your key relationships – over this time of enforced isolation consider how you can give time to connecting with the people who matter most to you. I’ve been enjoying going old school and calling friends for a chat. Or if you live nearby and can meet for a walk then valuing this social time. When I lived in the monastery going for a walk and chat was our only form of socialising and there’s something about being with one other and really enjoying their company that I still enjoy more than meeting at a party, social event or bar. Consider who you most value in your life and see how you can build on a few of your key relationships over this time.
2. Spend time in nature – spending time in nature, whether exercising by walking with a friend or on your own is a vital part of maintaining your well being.
- Research from 2019 shows the benefits of spending time near trees and in nature, and this research was specifically on the impact of urban trees on our well being rather than going out into the countryside.
- Research from 2020 showed that seeing plants in your front garden will boost our sense of well being by reducing cortisol, the stress hormone, and lead to an improved mood. If your front garden is currently a slab of bare concrete you may like to buy some tubs and put in some plants. Participants in the research were given: 1 tree (juniper or snowy mespilus), 1 shrub (azalea), 1 climber (clematis), sub-shrubs (lavender, rosemary), bulbs (daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops) and bedding plants (petunia, viola) to fill 2 containers. At the start of the trial only 24% had healthy cortisol levels, as the trial wen ton this increased to 53%
- Research also shows that having a pot plant in your room to care for is beneficial to health and longevity. For more advice on what plants to get and how to have plants if you are new to it click here.
If you find your mood dropping over this the it may also be a result of lack of sunlight. Getting out when the sun is shining will help but you can also augment the sunlight you are getting by buying a SAD lamp. Research found that using these lights for 30 minutes in the morning every day improved the quality of sleep and alertness through out the day. As long as they are 10,000 lumen or above they will work to lift your mood and boost wellbeing by helping the body to regulate its circadian rhythm. When this rhythm is disrupted by lack of sunlight it becomes harder to sleep well.3. Routine – working from home when you have been used to going out to work, or not having work due to reductions in working hours, can lead to a lack of clear structure. The events of the day seem to merge together. Or we don’t start our day until later and it drifts by. Or we got to bed later and later and loose any regular sleep pattern. I use a day planner to map out my day and it really helps me to get an overview each day of what I want to achieve and to give structure to the day. It’s a bit like doing an essay plan – we know we will write a better essay by doing it but the temptation can be to just launch into writing without a clear plan. Just as these essays lacked structure and focus, in the same way launching into our day without a clear structure may lead to it lacking clarity and coherence.
It can also help at the end of the day to look back at your plan and reflect on what you have achieved, what you learnt and where you may have lost focus. You can also practice feeling gratitude for 1 thing from your day that you really enjoyed.
The monastery was one of the most structured places I have ever lived, with the same routine every day except for the rest day once a week. Morning bell at 4am, meditation at 5am and then the rest of the day following its ordered structure from there. But it all felt so spacious and free. See what it’s like to set a few points of structure in your day – going to bed and waking at the same time, having time to meditate or do your morning routine before it is time to work.In the monastery the day was structured by the ringing of a bell. As you work at home the unstructured nature of the day makes it easier to get lost in distractions. Setting a bell to ring at 1 hour intervals helps to create a sense of a deadline and focuses your attention by having these mini deadlines throughout the day. Also as the bell rings it’s a reminder to stop, move and stretch which is so important when we are working at a desk and not even needing to walk to work.
I’m using the videos below to help with correction the effects of sitting at a desk for long periods, so when the bell rings I chose one of these or simply stand and stretch and take a few deep breaths as I look out of the window and get away from the computer for a few minutes.