Mrs Baker is a Psychology teacher at Derby Grammar School and in this blog discusses the importance of mental well-being during physical distancing and self-isolation periods.
There is a lot of information out there about how to deal with the situation, but it is often very wordy, and written in technical language. Now, whilst I am obviously an advocate of academia, I wanted to write some simple things that you could do to remain positive during these challenging times, that are easily accessible to all of our school community.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but ten things have sprung to mind over the last few days.
Remaining positive – easier said than done you may say, however grounded in Positive Psychology we need to start each day with three things – mantras if you like, that we are grateful for and repeat or renew at the end of the day.
My positive things today are that I’m healthy, I have two beautiful children and the sun is shining so it means I can go in my garden this afternoon. These can also be positive affirmations about yourself, so for example “I’m energised and ready to save the day” or “I am improving each day”.
Exercise – aim for at least 30 minutes each day. During exercise, your body uses cortisol to help metabolize fat for fuel. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol and people often find that their concentration is improved after engaging in physical activity. Remember the current guidance is that we can go out for one run, cycle or walk a day alone or with the family you live with. If that’s not an option, please see my next suggestion.
Setting Intentions – Psychology tells us that we are much more likely to carry out a behaviour if we set a time and date for it. For example, the gym is shut so I set up my own circuits class in the garden last night and my daughters operated the timer for me. Now, don’t get me wrong it took me a few days of coming to terms with the idea of doing a class, so I did spend three days thinking about doing it. But then yesterday I got up and said to myself “Right, at 4pm today, you are doing a gym class”. I compiled a list of exercises and my daughters loved it. They were jumping with excitement and even choosing which exercise I should do next. So if anyone would like my circuit list, just let me know. It needs minimal equipment, you just need to get inventive and locate a couple of tins of beans!
Limit Social Media – There are several reasons for this; social media is full of people masquerading as biochemists and medics who have no professional training, so you can’t be certain that what you are reading is true. If you want factual information stick to the government websites.
The other main reason why social media is not helpful at times like this is because of social comparison theory. It will make you feel terrible if your friend has already completed all of their school work, or some super mum has invented an amazing schooling timetable while you still have to work. What you need to do is focus on you and your family and not compare yourself to what other people are doing. Everyone has individual circumstances, and just because someone has done something you haven’t, it does not mean that it is the best way!
Cuddle – Yes that’s right, if none of the family members that you live with are symptomatic, hold them tight and give them a cuddle. When you cuddle with someone you care about, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin that calms you and makes you more likely to deal with stress better. For example, you might laugh, distract yourself, or try to solve a problem. It also can lower your blood pressure and levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol, which can useful right now. Embracing those we care about is important, at any time not just now.
Laughter – Laughter is the best medicine and a great form of stress relief.
A good sense of humour can’t cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do. A good laugh has great short-term effects so when you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. It can stimulate many organs, enhance your intake of oxygen-rich air, rouse your heart, lungs and muscles, and increase the endorphins that are released by your brain. It also stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
No procrastination – Procrastinating makes anxiety worse. So, you need to set yourself a list of tasks that you want to achieve each day. Make sure that this list is achievable – there’s no point setting a long list that is not doable; that will make you feel worse at the end of the day when you haven’t done it. If the list is too long, you’ll feel overwhelmed and stressed before you begin, and it may compromise your ability to do any of it.
Once you’ve completed a goal, tick it off and feel the sense of achievement. This will positively reinforce your efforts making you more likely to continue repeating the behaviours.
Follow the SMART approach:
Mindfulness- Paying more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the immediate world around you can improve your mental wellbeing.
An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. It could be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.
Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and help us to understand ourselves better as we begin to experience afresh things that we have been taking for granted. This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control us.
Examples of time to practice mindfulness:
- When you are brushing your teeth, try to feel every tooth with the toothbrush.
- If you are cutting up food for dinner, notice every layer of the onion and what the skin feels like.
- If you are outside, listen to the chirps the birds are making, or notice the detail of the leaves.
Keep in touch – This could be FaceTiming your friends, messaging a loved one, or emailing your teacher for support. If you are having to offer support to vulnerable relatives like me then it’s important to set up a structure as to how that will work. If there are several members of the family that can help then try and share the load, so that one member does not become overloaded.
It is also important that the person you are offering support to is aware of any additional responsibilities and work commitments that you may have, so that they can appreciate what else you must achieve in a day. You will have to find the right balance for your family but try limiting shopping trips to once a week where possible. This will reduce your own risk and encourages the people you are caring for to make a comprehensive shopping list in one go.
Reframe the way you see the situation – Remember this is going to be a temporary measure. The sooner we all do what is being asked of us, the sooner we should be able to return to life as we know it. For my own wellbeing, I have had to liken the situation to when my girls were babies and would not sleep at night; people kept reminding me that “it’s just a phase, it will pass”, as I was despairing on no sleep. This situation will eventually pass, but we must stay safe in the meantime.
Take this time at home as an opportunity to do something your never normally have time for, for example, I’m going to clean my windows! But you could open that box of goodies from Christmas, and engage in some self-care of moisturising, a face mask, floss your teeth, sort your drawers out, tidy the garage, loft etc.
Please be clear, I am not trying to make light of the situation but merely offer some remedial relief from the continuing negativity that we are faced with. Our mental health is important and we need to look after it. If you do need any further support, then I would recommend visiting the mentalhealth.org website that can signpost to more specific sources of information.
In the meantime, keep connected, look after one another, and remind yourself that we will come out of this, possibly with stronger family connections.
Should anyone wish to contact me you can do so through my school email address.
With love, health, and happiness, I wish you all the very best.