In this blog, I want to address an important topic that is near and dear to my heart: mental health and wellness self-care during this COVID-19 pandemic.
For a gregarious, outgoing woman, being told that I need to practice social distancing has been far more challenging than I had anticipated. Of course, I want to stay home to protect the vulnerable in my community and in my family. But, I must admit, as I enter Day 15 of remote working, I’m getting really sick and tired of the walls in my condo, and the enforced distancing from my family and friends. My routine has been interrupted. I’m not able to go to my karate classes, or visit with my parents, or go to lunch with my colleagues and friends. My “eternal optimist” mode is taking a serious hit, and I know for a fact that I’m not the only person in this boat!
My company has done a great job addressing the social aspect – after all, we use Microsoft Teams to stay in touch, and we host a daily social chat every day after work for people to drop by, go on video, and see each other face to face. But what about mental health and wellness for those who aren’t using Teams? Who aren’t able to connect to their colleagues, their friends, and their family via video? How can we address self-care for those who are struggling with isolation?
That’s what this blog is about. In it, I want to share five mental health & wellness self-care tips that you can try at home to alleviate some of the symptoms that you might be feeling.
5 Tips for Improved Mental Health & Wellness Self-Care
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to make drastic shifts on an almost hourly basis, and news outlets are constantly updating us on what the governments are doing to try and flatten the curve and reduce the spread of this horrific virus. But, in addition to this, many organizations are now having to also deal with the mental health & wellness of several of their employees facing isolation and anxiety. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to know that not being in tip-top mental shape leads to a decrease in productivity and a decrease in employee wellness.
So, here are 5 self-care tips that you can use to address mental health and wellness while we hunker down in place.
Mental Health & Wellness Self-Care Tip #1: Create a Daily Routine and Stick to It! 📝
One of the reasons that I find myself struggling is that my daily routine has been drastically altered.
- I’m no longer driving into work (which provided a chance for me to belt out my favourite tunes, get a quick update on the world at large, and mentally prepare myself for the tasks of the day).
- My usual 10am break to make myself some breakfast and have a quick chat with my colleagues is no longer happening.
- My lunch breaks aren’t the same - I’m definitely not catching up with my work friends as I sample cuisine from around the world (side note: I really miss Manousha flatbreads, Daal Roti butter chicken, and of course, pho – all staples of my pre-COVID-19 diet!).
- Afternoons drag on, with no break to make tea and chit-chat.
- After work, I’m not heading to my karate dojo, going shopping, or arranging to see friends.
Routines are a way to not only make us more productive and efficient, but also helps us to find balance and calm in our lives, which leads to a decrease in stress, less anxiety, and a feeling of wellbeing. Therefore, getting into a new routine, especially in trying times (like the ones we find ourselves in now), is very important to mental health & wellness.
Here’s a snapshot of my new routine:
Mental Health & Wellness Self-Care Tip #2: Limit Your Exposure to the News & to Social Media!⏳📰📱
During times of crisis, especially those that force us to isolate, stay indoors, the news and social media become a lifeline to the outside world. Unfortunately, good news rarely sells, and while feel-good stories get a lot of likes, it’s nothing compared to the engagement that sharing misinformation and/or bad news gets. So, news outlets and social media channels are filled with the bad news out there today.
But, for better mental health & wellbeing, it’s very important to limit just how much bad news you’re consuming in a day. Don’t have the news on in the background while you go about your (new) daily routine. Don’t browse social media or turn on the news right before bed. Also, be aware of how much time you’re on social media in the day, and when you do check social media, consider limiting how much negativity you’re looking at through the use of filters or by muting various words.
As mentioned in tip number 1, it is important to come up with a new routine, so, set aside a specific half hour (or hour) to tune in to your local or national news so you can grab the highlights and any important information you need to know about states of emergency, new restrictions, or new developments, then, once you’ve got the vital information you need, turn off the news and go do something productive.
Mental Health & Wellness Self-Care Tip #3: Exercise Regularly! 🏃🏻♂️🏋🏽♀️
Yes, it may be difficult, what with all the gyms closed right now, but regular exercise (at least 30 minutes of cardio-related activities) at regular intervals (at least 3-4 times a week) is a great way to take care of mental health & wellbeing. When you exercise, you release endorphins – the body’s powerful feel-good ‘drug’. You instantly feel happier and more optimistic, you’re able to sleep better (which also leads to a boost in mood), and you can focus better when you’re not feeling so agitated or anxious.
One thing that my psychiatrist always told me through my 24-year battle with Depression was that I needed to take up jogging. I have to admit, I hated hearing that. Jogging is, after all, something that I want to completely avoid. But, with my dojo closed, and with the gym in my building not accessible to me, I realized I needed to bite the bullet. So, last night, I went for my first jog, followed by an online karate class. And I felt so much better! My mood improved, I slept better last night, and I woke up this morning feeling much more positive.
Mental Health & Wellness Self-Care Tip #4: Escape from Reality for At Least An Hour A Day 🧠
COVID-19 has thrown the world into turmoil, and there is so much uncertainty with all that is going on. You’re isolated from those support networks that you’ve built, there’s a break in your “normal” routines, and, on top of all that, you’ve been told to isolate yourself at home and avoid going out at all costs. If you’re not used to being holed up 24/7 with a spouse or family, this can lead to a whole lot of other challenges.
So, in the interest of helping your mental health & wellbeing, it’s important to escape from reality every once and a while. Grab a fantasy novel, play a video game you love, lock yourself in a room and paint or write or sing or play an instrument. Give yourself permission to take an hour a day and engage in whatever activity that you enjoy doing that will all but force you to disengage from the world around you. By setting aside this time to “escape from reality”, you’re helping yourself to feel less stressed out about the things you can’t control.
Mental Health & Wellness Self-Care Tip #5: Keep Up With Your Interests! 💙
The last tip that I want to share with you is to keep up with your interests. It is very important in times of unrest to continue to nurture those things that make you happy and boost your mood. For me, my karate dojo has started to offer online classes and sessions, so I can continue to train from my home, and I’ve heard reports that several other gyms and clubs are doing similar.
The good news is, these classes – from yoga, to cardio, to karate – are often free for those with the links (or Google knowledge) to find them! And it’s not the only thing that’s been made available to “self-isolators” out there – many academic classes, like Coursera, are providing continuing education classes for those who might be looking for something to do. I’ve availed myself of this free service and am now taking a communications course through the University of Toronto Continuing Education using Coursera’s platform.
Make Mental Health & Wellness Self-Care a Priority
Taking care of your mental health & wellness is so important, especially when you find yourself in such trying, troublesome times. As someone who spent the majority of my life struggling with diagnosed Depression, and suffers from the occasional attack of anxiety, believe me, I know what I’m talking about when I say that taking care of your mental health & wellness is so important! Want to chat? I’m no doctor, but I’m always open for a conversation – feel free to reach out and let’s talk!
Or, if you’d like to learn more about this topic, check out ProServeIT’s Remote Work 105: Using Bots to Address Employee Wellness during COVID-19 & After webinar, where my colleague, Alfero Chingono and I will address some of the biggest concerns around employee mental health & wellness, and how bots could be a viable solutions for many organizations to implement as a way to check in with their employees’ mental health.