I, like many of us lately have been feeling pretty low lately. I think hearing the Government confirm that we are likely looking at tight restrictions for another 6 months confirmed in stark terms what we already suspected and knew deep down to be true. 6 months in and going into winter many of us already feel fatigued from the pandemic, thinking, how can we manage another 6 months of this, especially if it’s worse this time. There are loads and loads of justifiable reasons that this just sucks. Feeling like crap about this is not an unreasonable response. However, if we lean too far into focussing on all the ways that this sucks then we only ensure that we will have a truly miserable 6 months. We have to find some ways to be happy during this. We have to make the best of a bad situation. We can’t let 2020 win! I’m a solution focussed person so when I was feeling low I drew up a list of some things that I can do to maximise my happiness throughout winter. This blog post is 6 ways to be happy over the next 6 months. I hope that there is something in this that might help you too.
Recognise your privileges and practise gratitude
Whilst we are all in this together, the impact of the pandemic affects people in very different ways. Like the phrase says, we are all in the same storm but we are all in very different boats.
Maybe you are a frontline key worker who hasn’t missed a day of work since this began, wearing heavy PPE throughout (once you could get some of course), maybe you are a single parent with a chronic health condition and no garden, or maybe you are a billionaire who has profited grotesquely from the crisis – I joke, zero billionaires are reading my blog (though if you are stop being such a greedy bastard hoarding wealth you can never even spend, go be Batman ffs).
Whatever the boat that you have though, there is always someone who has it worse or harder. There are always things to be thankful for. If we focus too much on all of our hardships then we can easily take for granted some things that we ought to be thankful for.
I’ll be taking a minute to remind myself of my privileges throughout this and I’m starting a gratitude list. Every day I’m going to write down 3 things that I’m thankful for that day, to remind me not to overlook all the good things in my life. I might even get a pretty journal to do it in!
With recognising your privilege comes helping others who need it. Look out for your family, friends and neighbours. Contribute to your community. Give where you can. Throw in a few random acts of kindness while you are at it. Pay people compliments whenever you think them – especially if its to another woman and especially if it’s another worn out mother. Practise kindness and spread it forward.
Make a list of things you enjoy and can look forward to
I got my family together the other day and we collectively drew up a list of the things that we all enjoy doing at home and things that we can look forward to over autumn/winter. If we are bored or feeling low we can turn to this list. I might cut it up and put it in a jar so we can pull things out.
In the summer, on the run up to schools returning, I wrote a blog post about our memories of lockdown. I think a lot of us have started to take for granted some of the things that we loved during the more restrictive days of lockdown. I guess the novelty has worn off. I know that I spoke about how some of us had benfitted from lockdown in terms of more quality family time together and many on social media told me that whilst there were aspects of lockdown that you hated, there were also things you wanted to stay. That you didn’t want to just return to how things were before. It’s time for us to take a minute to take stock and remind ourselves of what those things were.
What are the potential benefits and opportunities of this more restricted way of living?! It’s worth taking a minute to have a think and see if there are any for you in your particular circumstances.
Mindful media consumption
We have not evolved to process news on this relentless 24/7 cycle like we do right now. Especially big news like this that has a direct impact on your daily life. It has you constantly on edge. On top of that, as those of you who have watched the Social Dilemma on Netflix will know (watch it if you haven’t), the whole business model of social media companies is that they profit by creating opposition and drama to rile you up and keep you on their site longer.
They are designed to keep you scrolling past the point where it’s healthy for you. Our attention is the product being sold to advertisers. Social media has been designed by people who have trained in the psychology of manipulating you to keep you on there for longer. Social media is a drug, you get dopamine hits when you use it and you crave more. I for one will hold my hand up and say I’m addicted. I struggle to control it and have done for a while. I fill all my empty moments with it. I reach for the social media apps on auto-pilot searching for something, I don’t know what.
But what do we have when we combine this 24/7 news cycle, with people trapped at home during a crisis where social media might be their only connection to the outside world, plus social media addictions? It’s a recipe for a mental health crisis.
Now, I’m not for a second suggesting with don’t follow the news or use social media but for me the key is to use it mindfully. Go into it consciously and start applying some limits. We don’t regularly plan to do a gym workout and then just lose track of time and end up losing hours. We go in knowing what we are aiming to do, for how long and why and then we move on. We need to start approaching our media consumption in the same way.
Personally, for me, I’m going to try and start limiting my media consumption to three times a day – morning, lunch and evening. It’s complicated for me as its partially my job. I’ve got into the habit of checking the news all day every day though. I want to start setting a timer and know what I’m planning to specifically do when I go on social media so it’s a conscious consumption. I turned all notifications off on my phone quite a while ago but I still check them too frequently. I have set my phone to ‘downtime’ between 10pm and 7am and I’ve also set app limits for social media. My children have a 2 hour limit on their Ipads before they lock down. I don’t have all the answers on this but I know I never feel good after too much screen time so now is the time to act.
Take it one day at a time
Whenever I’ve had challenging times in my life, I try to focus on one day at a time. Sometimes when you have a longer time frame for something challenging (in this case we are looking at another 6 months at the least), it can feel totally overwhelming. Taking each day at a time is much more manageable.
I’m going to try and start each day by asking myself what things can I do to make today as joyful as possible. During lockdown, I focussed on achieving just one productive task that would leave me satisfied per day and one activity just for fun for us all. I think if you come out of a day having done something productive and something fun then that’s a pretty well rounded day in my books. I often set myself unrealistic goals so for me, its a way to be more realistic about what I can do so I don’t end up feeling guilty about not being more productive or like I’ve wasted a day.
Look after your health
Earlier in the pandemic we were blessed with decent weather. We know that’s not going to be the case during autumn/winter. As I write this it’s pouring with rain. It’s going to be tempting to stay cooped up all the time. Humans need fresh air and exercise though which is one of the reasons that even in the height of lockdown we were allowed one piece of outdoor exercise a day. Try and make sure you are getting out in the fresh air at least every few days, ideally every day. Even if it’s just a quick walk around the block or a cup of tea on your front porch while you have a socially distanced chat with a neighbour over the garden wall.
When you can’t get outdoors there are tonnes of workouts that you can do via apps or online these days – many of which are free. As you may know, I personally adore the Centr app which I have now subscribed to for a year and a half now. You can read my Centr review here. It has fab recipes, meditations, workouts and more. It’s really helped me stay fit and healthy during the pandemic – I’ve only missed one workout during Covid and that was when I actually had Covid.
Being active is whatever active is for you – you might have some health issues that means it’s more difficult for you to do traditional exercise but whatever movement makes you feel good is good for you. It may be a walk, it may be dancing, it may be gardening.
Just make sure you move your body a little bit each day – as much for your mind as your body. When I’m not exercising often, I’m like a different person, much moodier and with a lot more pent up aggression. Exercising regularly has even regulated my menstrual cycle when I was very irregular before. It helps me sleep better too. It all has a knock on cumulative effect.
Autumn and winter are host to amazing hearty food to enjoy too. I’m excited about warming soups and stews and hearty casseroles with lots of root vegetables. The key to a healthy life is to eat as many types of plant fibre as you can so I try to have at least 1-2 types of plant fibre with every meal and snack, and the more and more colourful, the merrier.
Health is also about the mind. When I feel myself feeling down or overwhelmed and exercise doesn’t improve my frame of mind I take 5-10 minutes out to do a guided meditation. I use the ones on Centr which I have a subscription to but I have heard that Headspace app has some good ones too. I’m sure that YouTube and places like that will have them too. As little as 5 minutes to focus on your breath and mind can be all you need to feel better. I’d highly recommend incorporating them into your weekly routine.
Finally, sleep is key to everything health wise. Prioritise your sleep however you can and everything else will fall into place. I know those of you with little kids are thinking, yeah right but even with the most notorious of sleep thieves (I would know) there are still usually ways that you can maximise your sleep. Everything feels shit when you are sleep deprived so do what you can to make sleep a priority.
Slow down and try to enjoy the little things
When I spoke to people about what were their positives about lockdown, most people answered that it was a slower pace of life and more quality time with their family (usually from those who were getting to work from home or who were furloughed).
Autumn/winter are often viewed as a time to slow down and ‘hibernate’ at home anyway. The weather is cold and miserable, going out in the winter isn’t as fun as the summer anyway.
I’m going to try to lean into slowing down and enjoying the little things this season. I’m giving myself permission to be a little lazier and relax more. I’m really going to focus on being present with my kids and actively doing things with them – like baking, playing, making and watching things together.
I’m going to make the most of all of our weekends not being scheduled up ages in advance. I’m going to give myself permission to read on a weekend afternoon and even have the odd little nana nap. We are hoping to get some more home projects done to help us make the most out of our home. Yes winter is usually full of loads of exciting Christmas events but it can also be quite frantic and draining. I can see the value in a year where even Christmas is slowed down and stripped back so we can focus on the parts that truly matter.
So this is my attempt to cheer myself up and go into the next 6 months with the right attitude. As tough as all this is, I have two fantastic little humans looking up to me and I get to choose what attitude I have and the example I set to them through this. I’m choosing to see this as an opportunity to teach them how to be resilient and find the positives in life where they can.
How about you? How are you planning to spend the next 6 months? How are you going to spend your free time?
If you liked this post you might like some of my other posts that I’ve written about life during the pandemic: