Coronavirus poses a huge threat to people, the economy and everything we once considered normality.
These uncertain times are bound to take a toll on our mental health but, having faced my own battles with depression, anxiety and grief, I’m determined not to let the pandemic cause me to relapse. Here are my thoughts on what’s helping me through these days of isolation.
Pets and plants
Having lived on my own for almost two years, the sense of accomplishment in owning my first home has been overshadowed by the lack of my father’s yellow labrador, Ziggy, who has been a lifeline and perhaps the most important part of my recovery from depression.
As cliched as it sounds, Ziggy always knows how I’m feeling and always makes me smile. Before the lock-down, whenever I felt low I could visit him as often as I wanted and I always left in a much better mood.
Fortunately, a couple of weeks before the crisis struck I bought two baby guinea pigs, who I named Mel C and Mel B in homage to childhood memories and everyday inspiration of the girl power attitude propelled by the Spice Girls. I thank my lucky stars I did. Having them to focus on, making sure they are fed, cleaned and watered, is brilliant. They are there for cuddles and help to distract me from the world.
Of course not everyone can house a pet but I find growing plants can be similarly rewarding. I’ve attempted to grow herbs on my balcony, which also improves my cooking skills – something else I’m striving to do while stuck on my own.
Allow yourself to feel
All of us are living through a collective trauma as we try to keep up with the ever-changing, constantly shocking news. Like any other difficult event in our lives, such as bereavement, we must allow ourselves to feel so that we can move forward.
Frustrating as it may be, it’s understandable to feel waves of demotivation, anxiety and sadness. Over the years I’ve learned not to suppress my pain but rather turn it into my strength. You may not have had the best day but don’t let that turn into a bad week. Feel the emotions and remember tomorrow is another day and a chance to start afresh.
Before the pandemic, I’m not ashamed to say my DIY skills were second to none but, having been furloughed from work and finding myself with spare time on my hands, I’ve decided to learn new skills.
As a keen guitarist, I challenged myself to build my own guitar and
bought a kit online. I’ve been surprised how much I’ve learned (and how I haven’t managed to completely destroy the wood with a jigsaw).
Alongside the promise of a new instrument, the project has provided another benefit – a chance to escape my thoughts. Those who have suffered mental health issues will understand the importance of mindfulness, meditation and learning to separate yourself from your thoughts. The chance to dive into my own world while building my guitar has been fantastic.
As tempting as it is to stay in my pyjamas all day, I feel a million times better after a shower in the morning and putting on a clean pair of clothes. It’s easy to let mundane tasks slip while self-isolating but the benefits to mental health are obvious.
Routine helps to break up the days, which can seem like weeks without it. Eating lunch and dinner at a regular time, treating yourself to an alcoholic drink while watching the 5pm government update, going for an afternoon run. These are things to look forward to and they provide a structure to your day, which is something many who have suffered with mental health issues find hugely helpful.
Connect with others
Humans are social beings and the lock-down has ploughed through things we hold close to our heart – pubs, theatres, restaurants, sports clubs.
It’s important to connect with others, especially if, like me, you live alone. One of the key aspects of my depression was isolating myself – and I was terrified social distancing would trigger my depression.
We are blessed to live in a world where we can download apps at the click of a button to see the faces of our loved ones as we chat via our laptops and phones. I’ve made the most of this, interacting with friends and family, even hosting virtual pub evenings with fellow locals who miss their regular watering hole. The sense of community is rewarding and makes me feel less alone during this crisis.
Of course it may come to the point where you need to set boundaries and limit the amount you talk to others to distance yourself from what’s happening in the world. That’s fine, true friends will understand.
I have to agree with the well-known phrase “a tidy house equals a tidy mind”. I’m not sure how many times I’ve tidied and cleaned my house since the lock-down but it keeps me in a good headspace with the added bonus of helping to protect against the virus.
Tidying distracts me from my thoughts and leaves me with a comfortable and clean environment afterwards.
In the evening I light candles and turn on my fairy lights, which is comforting during an unsettling time and reminds me how grateful I am to live in my home. I’ve also found it beneficial to open the windows and balcony doors whenever possible. It’s important to blow the mental cobwebs away when you’re only allowed out once a day.