We want to continue the conversation following this years World Mental Health Day as it comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past months have brought many challenges: for health-care workers, providing care in difficult circumstances, going to work fearful of bringing COVID-19 home with them; for students, adapting to taking classes from home, with little contact with teachers and friends, and anxious about their futures; for workers whose livelihoods are threatened; for the vast number of people caught in poverty or in fragile humanitarian settings with extremely limited protection from COVID-19; and for people with mental health conditions, many experiencing even greater social isolation than before. And this is to say nothing of managing the grief of losing a loved one, sometimes without being able to say goodbye.
The economic consequences of the pandemic are already being felt, as companies let staff go in an effort to save their businesses, or indeed shut down completely.
Given past experience of emergencies, it is expected that the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months and years. Investment in mental health programmes at the national and international levels, which have already suffered from years of chronic underfunding, is now more important than it has ever been.
Here are a few tips to help you take time out and relax from what is happening in the world, and you to help you feel centred.
Take a break
Relaxation doesn’t have to take up a lot of time in your busy day. Just spending a couple of minutes stepping away from something stressful or taking time away from your normal routines and thoughts can give you enough space and distance to feel calmer.
- Reading a book or a magazine, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
- Run yourself a bath, watch a film, play with a pet or try out a new recipe.
Try active relaxation
Relaxation doesn’t have to mean sitting still – gentle exercise can help you relax too.
- Take a walk, going at your own pace to get some fresh air into your lungs. You might choose to go for a longer walk, but even a few minutes of walking can help you feel relaxed.
- Look for a class you’d like to try, such as yoga, Pilates or gentle stretching.
Focus on your breathing
Learning to breathe more deeply can help you feel a lot calmer.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to keep your shoulders down and relaxed and place your hand on your stomach – it should rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out.
- Count as you breathe. Start by counting ‘one, two, three, four’ as you breathe in and ‘one, two, three, four’ as you breathe out. Try to work out what’s comfortable for you.
Getting in touch with your artistic side can help you feel more calm and relaxed.
- Try painting, drawing, making crafts, playing a musical instrument, dancing, baking or sewing.
- Try not to worry too much about the finished product – just focus on enjoying yourself.
Spend time in nature
Spending time outside and in green spaces can be great for your physical and mental health.
- Take a walk in the countryside or through a local park, taking time to notice trees, flowers, plants and animals you see on the way.
- Spend some time taking part in conservation, whether that’s digging in your own garden or taking part in a local green project. You can find projects and outdoor activities to suit whatever level of mobility you have.
Listen to music
Music can relax you, connect you to your emotions and distract you from worrying thoughts.
- Listen to your favourite songs. Turn up the volume and dance or sing along, or put your headphones on and close your eyes.
- Really listen to the music. Can you pick out different instruments? Can you hear a drum beat or a certain rhythm? Focus on the music, and let other thoughts fade away.
Do a tech check
Technology can be great for helping you feel connected, but if you’re using it a lot then it can contribute to making you feel busy and stressed. Taking a break (even a short one) can help you relax.
- Try turning your phone off for an hour (or a whole day if you’re feeling brave).
- Step away from the TV, or have an evening where you don’t check emails or social networks. Use the time to do something relaxing – you could try some of the ideas above.
Picture yourself somewhere serene
Even if you can’t physically get away, your imagination can transport you to somewhere you feel calm.
- Think of somewhere relaxing and peaceful. You might choose a memory of somewhere you’ve been, or a place you have imagined.
- Close your eyes and think about the details of this place. What does it look like – what kind of colours and shapes can you see? Can you hear any sounds? Is it warm or cool? Let your mind drift and your body relax.
If you’re finding things very hard right now and the tips on this page don’t feel possible, it is ok to ask for help. Take a look at our Employee Assistance Programme for more information.