How to self-care in lockdown

Nobody is finding anything easy at the moment – the world feels very strange, unknown and uncertain.

Our routines have been thrown into disarray again, we’re once more having to stay at home and avoid social events or groups of people and all while vigilantly protecting the health of ourselves and our families. It all feels quite overwhelming.

Mental health issues can be very tricky to manage in isolation. We may rely on the support of friends, therapists and medical staff that we can’t meet for a while or have a strict routine around food and exercise that will now be compromised.

It’s certainly a distressing time for many of us but we’re not alone as thousands across the country can relate to our struggle.

It’s more important than ever to practice self-care in order to remain as calm and level-headed as possible at the moment, and here are a few practical tips on how to do it…

Maintain routines where possible

Even if your work or study pattern has changed, try and stick to your usual daily routine as best you can. By that, I mean waking up and going to bed at the same time, working, eating and drinking when you usually would and scheduling down time to relax or engage in safe distraction activities. You may be at home more than you’re used to, but it doesn’t mean you have to adapt to a completely new daily routine. If elements of your schedule change, adapt and build that into a new pattern that you can stick to whilst isolating.

Regulate media exposure

There are some scary stories out there again and the more time we spend reading them the more fearful we become. It’s key to remember that not everything you read is true, and media outlets are paid to shock and hook people in with dramatic headlines.

Whilst it’s important to be as informed as possible, exposing yourself to negative press is going to be detrimental to your mental health so set aside time to read news from a trusted source and then switch it off.

Meditate or be mindful

It’s not always easy to find the time, but whilst we’re cutting back on social activities and staying at home more – it can be really therapeutic to do a guided meditation or mindfulness session to calm your busy mind. Apps like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer do some really good ones that range from two minutes to an hour so fit nicely into your day.

Go outdoors (if safe)

I don’t know about you, but staying indoors all day makes me feel claustrophobic so just going out in my garden or around the park for a short while helps me to get a change of scenery. Yesterday I was struggling with my anxiety so went out for a walk in the winter sunshine and it reset my mind wonderfully. Just feeling the fresh air on my face and counting the trees along the way helped distract me long enough to carry on with my day.

Engage with people

I’m feeling really cut off from people at the moment so I’m making lots of effort to contact them digitally instead. That might be via message, email, FaceTime or a good old-fashioned phone call. I should have been meeting a friend this weekend but now that it’s not safe we had a good long phone chat instead and it brightened us both up a great deal. Humans are social beings and communication helps our wellbeing so it’s important to maintain contact wherever possible.

Re-frame your thinking

How many times have you found yourself saying you’re ‘stuck’ in the house? Why not try rephrasing that to being ‘safe’ in the house. When you substitute one word for another, your whole outlook can alter too.

When lockdown started last year I couldn’t see anything very positive, I believed we were all living in a state of fear and panic and my thoughts became quite negative. However, I then tried to change that and see it as a period of self-improvement, reflection and recharge instead.

I don’t mean we should all be doing online yoga or re-decorating the house in order to improve, I see this time as an opportunity to evaluate what and who is important in our lives and work to ensure we take this with us when things get back to normal.

Self-care

This alters from person to person in line with how you like to unwind, relax and focus on whatever it is that makes you feel good. Now more than ever, it’s vital to set aside time each day to look after yourself and engage in something that boosts your mood and positivity.

For me this has included watching my favourite TV shows and films, listening to music, walking, writing, colouring, speaking with friends and painting my nails. It’s also good to do the little things that make you feel better – the other day I was just about to forgo washing my hair for the second time (after all, who’s going to see it?!) but I forced myself to do it and I’m so glad I did. Feeling as good about ourselves as possible is really important when you feel anxious or out of control.

Be grateful

I appreciate it’s really tough to still find positivity in such uncertainty but even in the trickiest times, there is still a great deal to be grateful for and focusing on the good is really key.

Whether it’s a small achievement that day, a caring message from a friend or even just relaxing your mind for a short time, it’s helpful to recognise the good in life.

If that feels too hard at the moment, why not make a list of things you will appreciate when you start to feel a little more back to normal, or something you look forward to doing again in the near future.

I hope this helps in some way – please take care of yourselves, and reach out if you need to.

G x

Five ways that 2020 impacted eating disorders

Hands up who had a great 2020?

…that’s a collective no-one then.

It’s been a unique year full of challenges and uncertainty. The word ‘unprecedented’ has now lost all meaning.

When we stayed up until midnight to welcome in 2020, could anyone have predicted what was in store for us all? Certainly not me.

Without a doubt, it’s been a terribly difficult 12 months for anybody with a mental health condition as fear and anxiety swept the world, causing even the hardiest of characters to wobble. Those with eating disorders certainly weren’t exempt.

It’s been the perfect storm for both those in recovery and ones who manage their ED unaided. A pressure cooker with all of the right ingredients to wreak havoc!

Each individual sufferer will know which elements of lockdown caused them the most difficulty, but on reflection, I think the following five tripped me up the most…

Stockpiling

Nothing induced panic like fearing my ‘safe foods’ would be unavailable.

Rice, pasta and tinned goods are staples of my daily trusted edibles and unfortunately also popular amongst the stockpilers.

Going food shopping is stressful enough without worrying about my safety items being out of stock and I would feel apprehensive about finding appropriate alternatives to satisfy my needs. Similarly, when we were told to only visit our local supermarkets, I missed the foods I usually bought from other shops further afield. A friend was kind enough to post some to me as she lived closer to those stores than I did. What a bonkers time!

However, I coped. I built those alternative foods into my daily plan and hardly bat an eyelid about them anymore. It’s funny how something so initially scary can turn out to be absolutely fine.

Nothing to lift mood

I don’t know about you, but when I feel like my ED voice is in the driving seat, it helps me to go out and take my mind off it.

I try to socialise more, I make an effort to say ‘yes’ to invitations to do things (rather than politely decline as per) and attempt to make myself feel positive and worthy in other ways.

It was impossible to do that for several months of 2020 – even illegal at times! I felt the effect of losing those social distractions and lifting my mood by spending time with people I love. It helps you to see the world outside your own bubble and get a broader perspective to keep your worries in proportion.

I felt that without those comforts, the demon voices shouted louder and I had more time to ruminate on my fears, food choices and weight. Not ideal.

Lack of control

It is common for people with eating disorders to feel they need a sense of control over something, namely their shape, food intake and exercise levels. This overwhelming instinct usually kicks in when there are elements of our lives we feel powerless over or that seem much bigger than we are.

Throwing a highly contagious, novel virus that is wreaking havoc all over the world and killing people in their thousands creates a breeding ground for those out of control feelings to run riot.

I found myself becoming even more obsessive over daily exercise totals and calories as the result of little else being within my circle of things I could ‘sort’. Not properly anyway.

My therapist did some work with me on the locus of control – a tool that demonstrates what is in your reach to have control over and what isn’t, and it really helped. I actually learnt I could control more elements of life than I first realised and was able to let go of those other things more as a result. It’s worth a google!

Restricted access to support

As I’ve said in previous posts, I have a fantastic therapist and I rely on her a great deal.

I’ve often told her that she is like a ‘fixing machine’ and that my chaotic, irrational, disordered thoughts and worries tumble out of me and into her much more logical way of thinking. She literally transforms and retrains my brain and I’ve improved so much as a result of my appointments with her. She’s quite remarkable.

It’s the great relationship we have that made it so tough to lose touch a little this year when arguably more support than ever was needed. I was fortunate to have phone calls and the odd socially distanced, face-to-face appointment in the summer but it hasn’t been the same and I feel progress has stalled somewhat as a result. I’m hopeful that some regularity can resume when the vaccine is rolled out.

Fear

When you’re living in near constant fear, it can feel pretty hard to focus on recovery and stamping out disordered behaviours. Eating difficulties commonly manifest as a coping strategy and we’ve all needed lots of those this year!

I’d have days when my anxieties and worries were so huge, I couldn’t have eaten if you’d have paid me. I also felt that I often wanted to eat but my thoughts were so negative I couldn’t allow myself to. It was quite hard to navigate my way through such uncertainty at times. I have to be in the right head space to eat properly and on very few occasions this year was that possible.

With any luck, 2021 will provide more hope and an exit strategy from the hardship of the pandemic.

I’m sending lots of positive vibes and good wishes to everyone reading this. I hope you’re well and finding ways to self-care at this turbulent time.

G x

A week in lockdown V2

Monday

It may be a new week but I find myself lacking in #MondayMotivation today. I woke up feeling empty and like I wasn’t sure what my purpose was. I’m working from home during lockdown but have today off so don’t have that to get out of bed for.

I lay there awake, watching TV for a further two hours, still unsure what to do with the day. The news channels are quite negative and frightening this morning so I turn over to a funny panel show to make myself feel happier.

My favourite time of the day is going on a walk at the moment so I decided to finally get up, have a shower and get outside. It always makes me feel better to move around, feel the sun on my skin and fresh breeze on my face so walking resets my mind frame and I feel more motivated and positive.

Last week I made a distraction box full of things I can do to occupy my mind so I reach in and pull out a piece of paper that says: ‘call a friend’.

FaceTime decided not to play ball tonight so instead I have a great hour long chat on the phone with one of my best friends and it cheers me up so much. We laugh, talk about good times and vow to make exciting plans together in the future.

I realise that I haven’t really eaten very much today, mostly because of low mood so I make a stir fry for my family tonight and it tastes amazing!  A tricky start to the day, but grateful that it improved.

Tuesday

Today I’m back to working from home and have a video meeting on Teams so get up early to be ready for it.

I feel more motivated and productive today and have some tasks to be getting on with following the meeting which helps keeps my mind active.

I’m conscious that we’re running out of some of my safe foods at home and it’s making me anxious. My family and I are trying to only go food shopping once a week as we have a vulnerable person in the household so minimising trips to busy places like supermarkets is important.

It can make it hard when running low on supplies and having to adapt meal plans to fit in with availability, and I struggle with being out of routine and eating different things. I made a list tonight of the things I need to get and discuss items that would be ‘second best’ should stocks be low.

Hopefully we can go shopping tomorrow and find the items I like to eat and feel comfortable having.

Wednesday

Today I feel anxious – it’s food shopping day.

Not only do I worry how busy it will be, I’m nervous for what we will be able to buy. If the foods I want aren’t available I find it hard to compromise and adapt my routine to accommodate the changes. I know we’re all in the same boat and I’m fortunate to have any food at all but it is a struggle.

The experience wasn’t too bad – I managed to find 80% of my safe foods and even though we had to queue I felt calmer once we got in to the store.

Tonight I made myself a new meal plan for the week ahead based on what we bought. I always feel so overwhelmed by all the new food in the house because it feels too much but I have to remember that it’s not all for me and it’s not all for now!

Thursday

I’m grateful for sunshine and a countryside stroll today. It makes such a difference to my mood when the weather is good and I can walk outside instead of feeling stuck in the house.

I enjoyed logging in to an online mental health training session this afternoon and sharing tips on anxiety management. It’s really helpful hearing how to control my mood levels whilst knowing there are others feeling the same as I am at the moment.

I also felt very calm tonight doing my yoga class via Zoom so I end the day on a positive note and notice that I am less restrictive and guilty over my food intake as a result.

Friday

A day of two halves – an anxious morning followed by a better afternoon.

Rubbish weather has resulted in me being inside all day and I’ve felt very restless and struggled to concentrate. I had to have regular ‘breathing breaks’ several times to stop and focus on slow breathing techniques. The simple ‘in for four, hold for four and out for four’ works best for me today.

This afternoon my ED therapist phoned me. I’m so grateful for the telephone appointments I’ve been having since lockdown restarted and they help me a great deal – but I do find it tough not being able to attend in person. It’s just not the same.

We had a really positive chat and she shared some helpful tips with me including finding motivation in the mornings so I know straight away what I’m getting up for and methods to distract my mind from periods of anxiety. Planning is key, and she would like me to try creating a daily plan this week and see if it helps. I feel better for talking about how challenging I’m finding things and receiving some caring advice in return.

Tonight a friend messages me and suggests avoiding the news, both online and TV, so I’m going to try that this weekend and see if it helps improve my mood.

Saturday

Yet again, I wake up lacking motivation as I’m not working today. But I remember my therapist’s advice from yesterday and decide to get out of bed and vacuum my room this morning for distraction. It helps me feels better having a sense of purpose and achievement.

This afternoon I went on a slightly longer walk along a different route which was helpful. It’s good to see sights that make a change from the usual routine!

I had that familiar feeling of uncertainty and uselessness when I got home so went to the distraction box again and decide to do colouring and crafts. It’s quite exhausting having to keep my mind constantly occupied to avoid it racing but at least I enjoy doing the activities.

Sunday

When lockdown was reintroduced I signed up to an online course but haven’t made a start on it yet so decided to get going on it this afternoon.  

My family decide to make tonight’s dinner together and as I’ve not really eaten much today I’m quite hungry now.

I definitely feel better for avoiding the news, even though I’ve still caught sight of a few unnerving headlines on social media.

I end the weekend on a positive note and decide to write a list of things I’m grateful for. I know it’s a scary time and I often find myself spiralling into negative thinking, but I must also remember that I’m very fortunate too.

What better way to do that than to make a note of everything I appreciate at the moment so I can refer to it each time it all feels too much?!

Surviving a second lockdown

This week, I had the privilege of guest writing for the wonderful Sistem magazine again – this time with a light-hearted piece titled ‘My top five tips for surviving a second wave of Covid‘.

There’s far too much fear and negativity surrounding the possibility of a second lockdown this winter, so I took a humorous and reflective view of the lessons we’ve learned so far this year and how I’ll use them again if forced.

Do you agree? Take a look and see what you think…

It’s OK if all you did in lockdown was survive!

We all know a social media show off, who uses their channels as a shop window of how perfect their lives are.

Whether it’s their amazing figure in their work-out gear, their latest glistening expensive purchase or their envy-inducing home and garden, it can feel like these people exist to make us feel completely inadequate in comparison.

Sadly, they didn’t take any time off from flaunting in lockdown and continued to spend their days showcasing their best lives for us all to see and crave.

With a reported 87% increase in social media usage over the last few months*, it’s been impossible to escape seeing others using the pandemic to upskill themselves, renovate their properties or embark on new healthy eating and exercise regimes. It’s exhausting to scroll through, let alone actually do!

The Covid-19 crisis has been the most extraordinary event most of us have ever experienced, altering the way we live our lives and creating new rules and protocols to abide by in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

We were each forced into our homes for an intense period of three months and left to make our own entertainment, distractions and coping strategies to endure what was, on reflection, a pretty terrifying period of time.

Even those without any pre-existing mental health difficulties have admitted to finding it tough – the uncertainty, concerns about unemployment and struggling to stay confined to our homes all the time. It wasn’t great for anyone!

Some chose to use the time to study online, broadening their skillsets and qualifying in new areas. Some made home improvements, brought pets and modernised their gardens. Others bought home gym equipment and bikes and vowed to eat healthily or quit drinking.

All that is great. Seriously, hats off to everyone who made the most of it and managed to be productive – but it’s OK if all you did was survive.

If you were able to calm a racing mind, if you made it through the days without crying or, heck, if you just got up and dressed most days, you did great too!

Thankfully, restrictions are easing now and the ‘new normal’ is upon us. As many emerge as ‘better’ people with new skills and outlooks on life, it’s important to remember that it’s OK to return to life as it was before. To not be a new person, or to not have changed in a big way.

Anxiety, depression and mental health conditions are on the rise as a result of lockdown and it can be difficult enough to get back to our former lives and routines, let alone trying to be brand, shiny new versions of ourselves.

So however you’re ending lockdown, remember it’s OK. This is a situation unlike any other and there’s no right or wrong way to be. Keep going – you’re doing great!

* – Business Today