Well, here we are in our third national lockdown. This time there is light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccination programme is rolling out at quite a steady pace. At least this can give us all hope, which is something that was desperately needed. It is hard to believe that we have been living under restrictions for close to a year.
I have written before about mental health in an earlier blog. I think this is an opportune time to revisit this topic.
A few years ago, I found myself in a difficult place after running my business from home for several years. I was so busy working and trying to make the business run successfully. I found that I ended up isolating myself from outside activities and regularly socialising. I didn't realise at the time that it would take such an impact on my mental health. I became unnecessarily lonely, as I did have a large support group I could have reached out to. I cut myself off because I was experiencing anxiety and did not feel up to seeing people. When you are not leaving the house, interacting with people and having new experiences, you can quickly lose your confidence. You can also find yourself in a malaise and no longer have the motivation to get out and about. It becomes a very vicious circle. It was a lesson I learned the hard way. I do fear it is something many people in the general population are possibly now experiencing. I was fortunate that I could address it and take action to turn things around, but under our current restrictions, this must feel impossible if this is something you are experiencing.
I have had my difficulties and small meltdowns over the past ten months. I have been able to bounce back fairly quickly each time thankfully because I had the tools to do so. One of these tools is being open about how I'm feeling. Just having a support network of several people you can trust to discuss your issues is invaluable. I went for a socially distanced seven-mile walk on the weekend with a friend who suffers from anxiety. Walking and talking comes so naturally. It is an easy and effective way to open up to someone. This particular friend and I are each other's support network when it comes to mental health issues. I have been feeling fine lately, but this friend was struggling. It was good to be able to provide some support. Just listening, that's enough. You don't have to give sage advice, people generally just want to be heard and not judged. If you find you are experiencing mental health issues, you don't have to suffer in silence. You will be surprised at how many people can relate to what you're feeling. I suggest being selective about who you turn to during these times, but do turn to someone. You can open by saying 'I'm struggling a bit today', many people will get where you're coming from.
The next tool for me is exercise. I am not a gym bunny, but I started using the gym as a tool several years ago, to manage my mental health. There are so many benefits, the positive endorphins, seeing people (even if you don't speak to them), a productive outlet for negative feelings. I, like many other people, have struggled when the gyms have been closed during lockdown. During the first lockdown, I became so paranoid about the virus that I stopped going out to take daily exercise. This time around, I am ensuring that I go for a walk at least every other day. My ultimate goal is to go every day, but sometimes it is just too miserable weather-wise. I am lucky to have several friends who live on their own that need human contact, and we go for socially distanced walks together from time to time. For the most part, I do the walking on my own or with my husband, although he is more of a runner. I enjoy taking photographs, so I take the opportunity to try and get a few snaps along the walk. Taking photos somehow gives it more purpose and joy. I'm not a runner or a cyclist but if that's your thing, then all the better! Of course, we can also exercise at home. I keep threatening to learn a dance routine on YouTube and at this stage into this third lockdown, I'm ready to explore that! Many of my friends are doing online yoga and finding that super beneficial. But try to get outside, because even if it is overcast, getting fresh air benefits both the mind and the body.
And the third tool is sleep. If you are not sleeping well, this is going to undermine everything going on in your life. Lack of sleep creates a negative outlook. It impacts on your eating habits, motivation to get that exercise, and your mood becomes erratic. I was suffering from insomnia for several years. Overcoming my insomnia problems was something I finally tackled and essentially solved right before the pandemic began. The most impactful solution for me was going to sleep without my phone in the bedroom. I'd heard about the blue light issues, but I finally decided to take it seriously about a year ago. At first, I made excuses to myself, 'I need the phone as I use it for an alarm'. Well, I still use it as an alarm but now place it in my home office. I can still hear it when it goes off, but I generally wake up before that anyway because I've had a restful night of sleep. When I'm winding down to go to sleep, I remove the phone from my bedroom and put it in the office, where it remains for the night. Sometimes if I have bouts of insomnia (I am unsure if there's anybody out there who hasn't during this pandemic!) I will allow myself to bring the phone back in to distract myself from ruminative thoughts. But generally speaking, it's not a great plan. Reading is probably a better idea. Whenever I suggest the phone solution to anybody who is suffering from insomnia, they always seem to baulk and make an excuse as to why they can't live without sleeping next to their 'appendage'. I get it, Smartphones can be super addictive. But this honestly was a game-changer for me.
The final tool is breathing. Anxiety can cause shortness of breath. Sometimes we are not even aware that it's occurring. If I had a magic wand, I would make shortness of breath disappear from my life forever. I have experienced this for over 35 years after my father died, and I didn't properly grieve. Way back then, mental health awareness was not what it is today, and consequently, I have suffered from this on and off throughout my life. It is a sign to myself all is not right. It generally manifests itself when I am in denial of something and simply not acknowledging a troublesome issue. I've noticed it's reared its head over the past few weeks, whilst I'm trying to remain positive, yet feeling quite concerned about this new variant of the virus, and the impact it's having on people's lives and the deaths that keep rising and rising. This is all scary stuff. I'm trying to filter it out to live a life with some normality, but then I find myself unable to catch my breath. The biggest problem I have is once I get into a shallow breathing cycle, it can hang around for weeks if I don't proactively deal with it and figure out what it is that I'm repressing. Practising mindfulness and deep breathing exercises help. I find the 3, 4, 5 breathing technique works best for me. Breath in for 3 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat. Do this until your breathing becomes less shallow. Sometimes I do this whilst walking, which I find extremely helpful. Please Google this if you are experiencing trouble in this arena because different people have different breathing exercises that work best for them.
Those are my top four tools. I also have been finding that I'm watching a lot more television than I have in years, it's a nice distraction. I'm hooked on watching old movies and reality shows like The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Showdown. I'm actually getting value out of my Netflix subscription for the first time in years. I'm currently enjoying Cobra Kai and The Good Place. I do find it hard to sit in silence these days. I listen to a lot of talk radio, usually when I'm in the kitchen or working on a puzzle. There's something about the live interactive element to talk radio shows that I find helpful because it feels like you're less alone. And I've really taken to cooking lately. Cooking was always more of a means to an end for me, but for the past four months I've been enjoying cooking a decent evening meal and I find it relaxes me. I've explored about 30 new recipes, instead of just sticking to my usual 15 or so that I rotate. That's been a positive of this pandemic. Here's to hoping that the next time I communicate on the blog, we're out of lockdown three and that life is looking a little bit brighter for all of us!