If you’re anything like me, lock-down is your greatest fear. No matter how much time I spend trying to convince myself otherwise, I can’t deny the fact that I absolutely hate my own company; and I’m getting an awful lot of that at the moment.
The novelty of having no school, no exams, and excess time to do however I please, began to wear off after a couple of weeks. My mental health wasn’t exactly in a good place before lock-down, and like a lot of people, it has significantly deteriorated since.
This means I’ve had to come up with innovative ways to distract myself, put up with my own company, and survive the increasingly low moods. I know there are many people dealing with similar problems, so I thought I’d share nine of these tips and tricks with you. I hope they help, and if you’re not having similar problems you can adapt them to your needs.
- Go for a walk
You’ll have to forgive me for this one (and maybe the next two), because I’m sure you’re sick of the same self-help BS that I am; as though going for a walk is going to solve all of your problems.
However, I’ve found that going for a walk has significantly improved my state of mind since I’ve figured out how to make it work for me and my mental health. I’m planning to write a post on this, so stay tuned.
In short, I’ve played around with the following things:
- the time of day
- the route
- listening to music or no music
- the kind of music I listen to
- passive or active walking
- walking meditation
Walking was something I did passively or used as a chance to wallow in my negative thoughts and feelings. It was a tool to burn calories, and I came home feeling more anxious than when I left.
Recently I’ve changed my walks so they’re a time for me to breathe and let my destructive thoughts fade into the background.
2. Listen to *mentally healthy* music
I doubt listening to music is something I need to recommend; I’m sure Spotify’s usage has shot through the roof during isolation. However, I think it’s useful to consider your music habits and reflect on their role in your mental health.
It’s not uncommon for me to use music to put myself in a bad place; to deliberately trigger myself. I’m feeling low already so I play a particular song or playlist that drags me down even further. If you’re being honest, are you using music as a way to emotionally self-harm? To wallow in negative thoughts and feelings? If yes, then I recommend the following tips to keep your music, and your mood, up-beat:
- Wake up to your happy music: if you have an alarm, set it to play your favourite I’m-gonna-have-an-awesome-day song; or just get into the habit of playing this music the moment you wake up.
- If you mostly listen to playlists, save all of your triggering songs to one playlist, and then make lots filled with non-triggering music. When you go to play something you’ll be faced with twenty good choices and one bad, which should make it easier to make a good choice.
- Get dressed! Wearing pyjamas all day encourages me to give into my self-destructive, wallowing behaviour. It’s a lot harder to lay on your bed in a foetal position, listening to M83, when you feel fabulous. Put on something that makes you feel good and there’s a higher chance you’ll be dancing around your room, not retiring to your bed at 2pm.
This is something I’ve only started doing recently, so I’m not exactly an expert. And if I’m being honest, I usually end up falling asleep after about 15 minutes. However, when I’ve finished (i.e. when I’ve woken up…oops) I always feel a lot better. I’m still working out whether it’s the meditation, or the post-meditation nap, but either way it helps to clear my head.
I normally use a guided meditation video on Youtube, but you can do it by yourself or use apps like Headspace, which I know work really well for some people. I know it’s one of those things that everyone keeps droning on about, but I recommend giving it a try. I’m still working on it myself.
4. Try a new physical perspective
One of my favourite films is Dead Poets Society. In one of the scenes, Robin Williams tells the students to climb on top of his desk and look around the classroom. He does this to encourage and remind them to “constantly look at things in a different way”. In the context of the film, he’s specifically referring to literature and the students questioning their original interpretations, but I find the technique works well in relation to almost anything.
When I’m within the grips of a particularly intense emotion, I look at everything through the lens of that emotion. When I’m sad, I’m in agony; life is agony. Through this lens things look physically different. I see life as pointless, and things that once brought me enjoyment or hope, now bring me despair. I am in my agony bubble; I have no perspective. I can’t see myself, the people around me, or the world clearly, or how it really is.
But when I stand on my bed (I know it sounds weird, but don’t judge until you’ve tried it!) I’m forcing myself to see things differently, at least from a physical perspective. I’m seeing the view of my bed, my wardrobe, my pictures, and my plants, in a way I don’t usually. It gives me a sense of rising out of my emotions, almost like I’m looking down on them, plastered into the grooves of my quilt. It reminds me to “constantly look at things in a different way”, and that the emotion and this lens is temporary. Things will look different; I will feel different.
5. Watch the news/listen to the radio
Following on from the feelings I’ve described, I am constantly in the search for any method that will offer some perspective. I find watching the news and listening to the radio (particularly LBC- this has been a life saver!) a very good tool for this. It reminds me of the life that’s going on outside of my head and emotions; of the world I want to be a part of (or at least want to help improve!).
This might not be a good idea for those of you who find watching the news, particularly at the moment, triggering. Make sure you check in with how you’re feeling, and that your anxiety doesn’t increase by keeping up to date with the current situation.
6. Move your room around
This is one of my favourite things to do when I’m having a bad day. There are multiple reasons for this:
- If I’m doing it by myself, it’s a whole day job. I use it as an opportunity to declutter, polish, hoover, paint…I drag it out for as long as possible. One more day of lock-down complete!
- The process of decluttering makes my mind feel decluttered, at least temporarily.
- It makes me feel productive and like I’ve done something worthwhile.
- It’s a great healthy distractor. The number of intrusive thoughts I get significantly decreases when I’m busy, especially if I play loud music to drown them out.
- The most important reason: it offers a new physical perspective. Though I’m on the same plane, my room looks different to how it looked before. I often associate my room with negative feelings and behaviours, which is quite triggering if I have to spend lots of time in it. By changing the room around, I’m wiping clean that association and starting a fresh relationship with my room
7. Use the thinking method
Similar to watching the news and listening to the radio, the ‘thinking method’ is a fancy way of reiterating the same point: getting perspective and connecting with the outside world.
When I’m all-consumed by one emotion, I try to think of things that pull me out of my inner world. For me, this is thinking of my grandparents and their house in Portsmouth, of the characters in my favourite books, of films I watched when I was little, of holidays abroad and day trips to London. It’s anything that pulls me out of my emotions, reminding me that there is a life beyond them.
8. Watch nostalgic movies
Nostalgia is one of the most freeing feelings, at least for me. It’s a method I often use for perspective. Watching a nostalgic movie is a great way to achieve this. For me, this is watching my favourite childhood movies, such as Ratatouille, The Aristocats, and Parent Trap. You can’t beat them!
Although there are many parts of my childhood that I don’t want to remember, I associate these films with the good parts: Saturday evenings with my mum eating ice cream and drinking hot chocolate; primary school sleepovers dressing up and playing truth or dare. As well as bad times, there were moments of good throughout; just as there are now. I might be feeling low in this moment, but there are still good moments to be had. And if there aren’t, there will be soon. This is something I always need to remind myself of.
9. Plan…but not too much
This is something I’ve definitely struggled with and am still finding the balance between now.
I always have the urge to meticulously plan everything down to the last detail. But it never helps because I’m unable to stick to the plans I’ve made. How can I plan if I don’t know what emotion is going to hit next and what I’m going to be capable of doing? I don’t know how I’m going to feel in 30 seconds, never mind tomorrow or a week from now.
But I want to make use of the time I have off, and plan what I want to have achieved by the end of lock-down.
So instead I plan…but not too much.
I make a list of all the things I want to do, ranging from washing up and brushing my hair, to writing a book and self-helping my OCD. I categorise the list into groups, based on how little effort they require. Each day I visit the list and decide, in the moment, what I feel I’m capable of doing. If it changes after a few minutes, I’ll start a new task which fits this. If some days it’s just brushing my teeth and watching a film, then I’ve still got something done.
Although I wrote these tips and tricks with lock-down and self-isolation in mind, I use them whenever I’m going through a difficult time, so they can really be applied to any context.
It’s also important to mention that these methods work for me and my problems; if you’re struggling with mental health issues that are quite different to mine, they may not be of use. However, I hope they can be adapted to your needs, and if you are experiencing similar problems, that they can be applied directly and help to make lock-down (or life in general) a healthier mental space.