Dear Therapist..."My Mental Health Improved in Lockdown – How Do I Protect It Now?"
Unlike some people, I actually enjoyed lockdown and getting off the hamster wheel my life had become. With the world opening up again, I worry I will lose the sense of calm I have enjoyed all these months at home. I hear a lot about ‘mental health workouts’ and so am exploring how to create one to keep me mentally fit for the new normal. What would you recommend?
In order to maintain some calm in an increasingly open and busy world, we are wise to do as you are now – proactively attending to mental hygiene rather than waiting for the next crisis to hit.
I am hesitant to be too prescriptive as to any precise ‘workout’ as this will vary from person to person depending on individual needs. And a key component of good mental hygiene is building and fostering self-awareness. Accordingly, turning inward to assess what we need at any point in time rather than following any externally dictated regime makes sense. By all means take recommendations and try them out, but settle on a routine that works best for you.
That said, I tend to think there are three key tenets of any mental health regime: some type of quieting the mind, some form of physical movement and some time for inspiration.
- Quieting the mind may be meditation, or it may be journaling, drawing, painting, sitting quietly with a favourite tea…anything that gives our overly active minds time to settle and allow for thoughts and feelings to percolate.
- Daily physical movement is essential as so many of us are pretty cut off from our bodies (as if our whole person is reflected in the Zoom screen from the shoulders up) and this leaves us feeling disconnected from our emotions, ourselves. Here think less of what you ‘should’ do - e.g., finally take up running even though your body screams out in protest every time you lace up your joggers – and more about movement that feels good and right and maybe even a bit joyful.
- Inspiration means consciously directing our focus to something that lifts the spirits - whether this is poetry, painting, pottery or puttering in the garden – as there is so much that is dispiriting in the world vying for our attention and it can be all consuming if we let it be.
Give a think what activities you enjoy that bring you quiet, movement and inspiration. Also pay attention to what timing carved out for these activities works for you. Many people (myself included) swear by the benefits of a morning routine but if you are more of a night owl, don’t struggle to rise early. Work with your natural rhythms instead.
Once again, listening to your body and the possibilities available in your daily schedule are your best guides here. But do continue to prioritise your mental health – for yourself, your family and the wider world that needs us all showing up grounded and centred and ready for whatever new challenges come our way. Good luck!