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“How are you feeling today?” is something we are all being asked with more anticipation than usual. Taking it day by day with fear of the unknown is the new default. As we self-isolate to protect our physical health, our mental health is put to the test. Culture Trip calls on the wellness experts for coping strategies.
Psychologist and life coach Jivan Dempsey believes it is important to stick to a usual routine. “It’s easy to become a couch potato, and it’s equally tempting to sleep in as you don’t have the morning commute – but set the alarm at your usual time to get up,” says Jivan. “Set yourself a morning goal to replace the commute time, and if it’s helpful, dress up in your normal business wear. It’s also important to make sure you take regular breaks from the laptop during your workday and finish work at your usual time. With your colleagues on chat, enjoy the usual office banter virtually. When you are working from home try to create space around your workstation so there is ‘separation’ between your work and living areas, and make sure you set up your workstation so you aren’t creating problems for your body over this time.” Wellness expert Joie Risk adds that closing your email inbox is the key to sanity: “Set aside half-hour blocks for emails,” she suggests.
Jivan argues that it’s even more important to maintain a routine if on furlough to “avoid confusing your internal body clock”. She suggests thinking about the things you could do. “Maybe it’s time to consider learning new skills, like writing or preparing for a new career,” she says. “Setting personal goals, implementing them and sticking to daily exercise is important for your mental and physical wellbeing as it can provide you with a structure.”
Jivan also emphasises the importance of being a friend to your pals and colleagues who seem quiet or isolated. “Listen to what they’re saying and challenge any negative thinking or catastrophising. This will help them see things in perspective. They may need your help more than anybody. Be patient with those people who seem agitated or angry – it’s an expression of underlying fear and anxiety.” She adds that regular videoconferencing is a great way to stay connected with your friends – with a weekly party thrown in. “Be creative,” she says.
Sometimes rituals can be a sign of coping and managing anxiety, explains Jivan. “Know what causes you anxiety at this time and try to avoid it. For example, if the news is upsetting then limit how much you watch”. Her top tips include daily mindfulness for 10 minutes at a time, as “it gives you the personal space you need if you’re cooped up with your family all day long”. Positive affirmations and visualisations are also on her go-to list, as is journaling to “stay grounded and express your inner feelings.” Joie agrees: “I have found that my rituals and routines are the only things keeping me sane,” she says. “In the morning I am religious about journaling and doing 10 mins of transcendental meditation.”
Whether it be dealing with the unknown of the pandemic or learning to home-school children while simultaneously working, Joie believes it is resilience we will collectively build during this time. “I think this resilience will serve us all in difficult times that we may face in our individual futures,” she says. Shifting the focus to positives is also important for Jivan. “Think about the fact this pandemic has allowed us to spend time with family or on your hobbies,” she says. She accepts that it’s difficult, but she encourages people to “try not to worry about things that are out of your control.” As a product of Covid-19, she adds: “We have tapped into our own humanity and shown this with an outpouring of care for all members of society. We are talking to neighbours, clapping for the NHS and recognising the real heroes. This is a huge shift in how we value ourselves and the real positive I see in this pandemic.”