For many of us, one of the only things that made the lockdown manageable and bearable, was the blue skies and sunshine over the last few months – and as the lockdown measures started to lift we were able to enjoy, to an extent, dining with our friends and family members, picnics in the park, and even holidays abroad.
Now, the announcement of a second lockdown in England and the introduction of a tier system across Scotland through winter, how can we protect our mental health?
Many of us dread the winter months with the shorter days and colder weather, and that was before we were dealing with a global pandemic and the prospect of a lockdown.
However, we can take some lessons from countries like Norway, who go without direct sunlight from mid-November to mid-January every year and show no real change in mental wellbeing throughout the year.
It’s been concluded that the strongest factor impacting the resilience of the Norwegian people through the winter months was their mindset. Research has long suggested that how we view, or frame a stressful event, has strong implications for how we react to it.
For example, those who see a stressful event as a challenge and something that they can learn and grow from, are more likely to cope better and adapt quicker than those who see a stressful event as a threat. They found that those who saw stressful events as opportunities had lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, and recovered faster after the stressful event was over.
Furthermore, it was found that the most resilient participants had managed to recognise the potential benefits and opportunities in the pandemic, such as being able to learn something new, or having the opportunity to grow as a person.
However, simply “changing your mindset” is often easier said than done, and research has also shown that we also can’t deny the fact that these are difficult times and that people are facing real grief, mental health difficulties, and economic struggles.
So, how can you prioritise your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly through these winter months?
Here are some things that we can do to boost our resilience and protect our mental health:
Rely on experience.
One of the only benefits of these restrictions and second lockdown is that we now have more of an idea of what to expect. We can look back over the summer months and decide what worked for us and what didn’t. We can adjust our expectations to a more realistic level and head straight for the coping strategies that worked for us last time. Rather than setting ourselves the goal of writing the next best-selling book, we can reach for those small comforts and routines that tided us over in the last lockdown.
Punctuate your day.
Make sure you punctuate your day with something that connects you to the outside world and/or to a person outside of your household. It is important to ensure that your working-from-home day doesn’t just bleed into your evening chill-out time. Perhaps you go for a walk or a run, maybe a shared dog-walk with a neighbour (ticking both boxes), or a weekly video call with a group of friends.
Make the mundane special.
Create a routine with some excitement in it. Maybe you and your partner or housemates decide to have a fancy dinner once a week where you all dress up as if you were at an expensive restaurant. Maybe you organise a special date night once a week or a shared movie night.
Brave the weather.
As the Norwegians say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Although going for a walk on a cold or even rainy day might not seem as enticing as a sunny walk with blue skies, getting out in nature can have huge benefits in terms of cognitive function, attention, emotional wellbeing, and, of course, physical wellbeing.
Stay vigilant about your news intake.
It is easy to slip into the habit of checking the news every hour, to constantly check for updates on the lockdown status, on the mortality rates, and so on, but this can lead to a spike in anxiety and an increase in interrupted sleep (which can, in turn, impact mood).
Sometimes you can follow all the guidance, and yet you still find yourself feeling anxious or struggling in some way with the impacts of the pandemic. Seeking out support can help you to process your emotions and be able to deal with them in a healthier way.