“Social distancing”, “self-isolation”, “flattening the curve” or “pandemic”… words that a mere two months ago, we had never uttered. Yet now, it’s hard to have a conversation without one of these buzzwords coming up…
COVID-19 has reshaped our lives in ways that we never experienced, or imagined, before. With half the globe staying home, the pandemic has been taking its toll on many people’s mental well-being. While it is crucial that we all stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19, this responsibility can be a very lonely and scary experience for some of us.
The current situation raises more questions than answers, which can make us feel very unsettled. Right now, a lot of people are feeling anxious, stressed or challenged by the situation and hey – we get it – we’ve felt this way too. So over the last week, we’ve been compiling our top tips, tricks and hacks for staying sane, productive and positive during these challenging times.
So buckle in amigos, hold on to your sombreros, and settle on down – these are our top tips for maintaining and improving your mental health during the current trials and tribulations sweeping the globe like some kind of amped-up gigantic Gorilla.
We’ve got your back friends, read on…
Table of Contents
- 12 Tips To Stay On Top Of Your Mental Health During Confinement
- 1) Practice Gratitude
- 2) Put Your Phone Away Before Going To Bed
- 3) Journaling
- 4) Isolate Negative News
- 5) Take Good Care of Your Guts
- 6) Stay Connected
- 7) Meditate
- 8) Exercise
- 9) Accept Reality
- 10) Look After Your Sleep
- 11) Filter Your Social Media
- 12) Keep Your Mind Busy
- Three Reasons Why You Should Take Good Care of Your Mental Health
- Final Thoughts on Mental Health During COVID-19
12 Tips To Stay On Top Of Your Mental Health During Confinement
1) Practice Gratitude
GRATITUDE. Sometimes it just feels like a band-aid solution, a superficial fix rather than a proper solution.
However, science proves that gratitude is key to well-being. It improves physical and mental health, increases empathy and reduces aggression and anxiety.
I can personally say that being grateful for things has really improved my outlook on life. I’ve always been an optimist – when you’ve been standing by the side of the road half-frozen trying to hitch a ride for hours it’s easier (and better) to assume that pretty soon things are gonna get better. Traveling rough around the world for a decade taught me a lot of things and perhaps the most important lesson was to be aware of good things happening.
Every night, the last thing I do is ask myself what I am grateful for today – it’s pretty easy for me to come up with a pretty long list (My dogs, getting a Broga workout in, Trevor Noah, my friends, ice cubes, power, books to read etc) and boom – before you know it – I’m asleep.
How to be grateful when there’s a pandemic sweeping the globe, though? Well, that’s the beauty of gratitude, it can be applied in any situation, good or bad. That being said, it is important to understand that it is possible to both feel grateful AND sad at the same time. Check out Kurzgesagt’s video “An Antidote to Dissatisfaction” for more insight.
How to be grateful during the lockdown:
- You can be grateful to have a home, food and other basic needs.
- You can make a list of everything that makes you happy during your day. It could be your plant, your TV, the weather, your friends and more.
- You can be grateful to feel both good and bad feelings – take them all in, they’re all part of the human experience.
If you don’t know where to start, I suggest using The Five Minute Journal. It’ll help you cultivate gratitude over time.
Useful App to practice gratitude:
2) Put Your Phone Away Before Going To Bed
If you can, stop using your phone 30 minutes or more before bed. If not, the last thing you will see before falling asleep, most likely, is COVID-19-related content. Similarly, if you check your phone as soon as you wake up, you might start your day off on the wrong foot.
I’ve noticed that I personally have a really bad habit of reaching subconsciously for my phone so for the last couple of months I put my phone in a box at 7 pm every night – I can’t see it and it’s much easier to resist any phone-related urges.
Here are some reasons to put your phone away before bed:
- Checking your phone keeps your mind more psychologically engaged which will make it more difficult for you to fall asleep.
- The blue light from your screen suppresses melatonin, a hormone responsible for controlling your sleep-wake cycle, which is bad for your vision and your brain.
- Checking your phone before bed reduces the total amount of REM sleep. REM sleep is a sleep stage where your mind and body rejuvenate and restore. It improves memories, creativity and problem-solving skills.
Useful App to limit phone consumption:
Writing can help us confront emotions that we can’t understand or can’t make sense of. It’s a good way to turn the focus inward and externalise our worries, thoughts, or negativities. It can also take a role as a grieving process, an acceptance process, or simply a way to stay sane.
Journaling helps us:
- Keep our thoughts organised and memory sharp. Journaling is proven to improve working memory capacity and cognitive processing.
- Relieve negative emotions by “brain-dumping” our anxieties, frustrations and others. It can help us to remain present while putting things in perspective and free up any emotional tension that is in the way of our happiness.
- Improve emotional functions. Journaling in the long term evokes mindfulness and helps us regulate emotions. It gives us a tool to better understand ourselves, others and our relationships with others.
I suggest dedicating a journal to this, to keep your thoughts organized and see the progression over time.
Useful App to journal:
4) Isolate Negative News
Watching the news all day can have a negative impact on your mental health – please don’t do it! Manage how you follow the media, as it tends to exaggerate negative news.
There are some positives sides to the crisis too:
- Nature is thriving;
- It shows us that we all are equal and how much we depend on each other;
- We have some time for ourselves to think about fundamental stuff.
Set some time aside each day to read the news, make sure that it’s coming from a reliable source and mute users who spread negativity or share misinformation.
My Go-to News Sources are…
5) Take Good Care of Your Guts
Did you know that 95% of the Serotonin (happy hormones) are housed in our gut? Also, did you know that 80% of our immune system lives in our gut?
Healthy gut = happy you. Unhealthy gut = belly problems, low mental health and immune system.
A healthy gut prevents food and other harmful bacteria entering your bloodstream while keeping the good bacteria inside. On the other hand, if the gut is inflamed, there are tiny holes along the gut track allowing the bad guys to get in.
The good news is that fixing your gut is possible, easy and up to us. Needless to say that in times of pandemic, having a robust immune system is key.
To improve your gut health:
- Decrease your intake of sugar and processed foods;
- Eat fibrous, fermented foods;
- Eat asparagus, cauliflower, garlic and onion;
- Take prebiotic or probiotic complements.
Useful App to track gut health:
6) Stay Connected
Maintaining a healthy social life during the pandemic might be challenging; however, it is essential. Social belonging is a human need, and our relations with others play a critical role in our happiness and stress levels, especially during times of adversity.
COVID-19 has a massive impact on our social lives and has changed it in ways we’ve not experienced before. However, we need to re-adjust to this new reality and make the most of it, remembering that different doesn’t mean wrong or bad.
Five ideas to stay connected are:
- Organize virtual catch-ups, dinner dates;
- Organize a movie night via Netflix Party;
- Play games – scrabble, Pictionary, karaoke;
- Exercise together;
- Play video games with our friends.
Useful App to stay connected:
With so much time on your hands, it’s natural to think of the past with melancholy and the future with anxiety. Want to change this pattern? Meditate.
Meditation has the potential to help us build healthy coping mechanisms and calm anxiety, as well as focusing on the present rather than the past and the future.
I’ve been trying to meditate daily for about 8 months now, I fail fairly often but I keep on trying and have found it a solid way to start the day – I get up, splash water on my face, avoid my phone, meditate for 15 minutes whilst lying on a cork block to open up my chest and fix my posture, focus on my breathing and attempt to just be chill.
The main benefits of meditating are:
- Meditation helps us focus on the inside world when the external one is unsettling;
- Meditation helps us deal with our emotions in a healthier manner. This is especially helpful in this crisis that brings up anxiety, fear and insecurities about health and financial situation;
- Meditation helps us to deal with change, the unknown, negative thoughts and accept uncertainty.
Useful App to meditate:
As new COVID-19 cases emerge around the world, we are asked to stay home for an unknown period of time.
It may feel hard to exercise right now. We can’t go to the gym, play soccer, attend our fave yoga class anymore. What we can do, though, is be creative and find ways to exercise at home. Remember…
Exercising is primordial for our mental health. When we exercise, we feel more energetic, sleep better at night, relieve stress, and our overall mood and resilience improve.
It’s important to SWEAT – work hard, it’s worth it.
Exercising triggers serotonin (the happy mood hormone) and dopamine (motivation hormone).
I recommend getting into Yoga and working on your flexibility, now is the time my friends.
There’s a TON of free programming available online at the moment as coaches all around the world are also stuck inside – check out my buddy Will Henke – he’s an awesome athlete and posting lots of daily workouts.
In this time of uncertainty and lack of control, staying goal-oriented will help us focus on the things we can control, instead of the ones we can’t control.
Might as well get shredded whilst you’re at home – it’s easier than you might think.
Useful Apps to exercise:
9) Accept Reality
Accepting the current situation is a critical stage of improving our wellbeing. If we fight against it, we suffer and experience “mind constipation” (our mental blocks stop us from seeing the truth).
We don’t accept reality when we believe it should be different from what it is. By doing so, we are just arguing with the truth and relying on conditional and biased beliefs we’ve accumulated through our life experiences.
To accept reality, we need to understand that there only are three things we have control over:
- Our conscious thoughts;
- Our emotions;
- Our behaviours.
Everything else is out of our control.
Ask yourself what your reality is, and how do you define it. Whether it really is terrible, or perhaps it’s your attitude towards your reality that needs to be improved. How do you choose to react to it? How do you choose your next thought, your next action?
Once defined, reshape your reality. If you want a peaceful life, shape a peaceful reality. Meditate, breath, cultivate equanimity and take care of yourself and others, in peace.
Remember: acceptance is freedom.
– “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”, Viktor Frankl.
Useful resources to accept reality:
10) Look After Your Sleep
When we sleep, our bodies repair themselves and regenerate. When we don’t sleep enough, our immune system weakens and we may experience mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.
We go through different sleeping stages that each has its own benefits. When we reach our REM sleep stage, glucose metabolism in the brain increases, supporting memory and overall learning. Our cells regenerate, our tissues and bones are repaired, and our immune system is strengthened. Our emotional health improves.
For several years now I have been conditioning myself to fall asleep to a certain track of music – this works really well and I recommend it. I use an app called Relax Melodies for this.
Here are five top tips to have better sleep patterns:
- Don’t drink coffee late in the day – it stimulates your nervous system.
- Sleep and wake up at consistent times – set your circadian rhythm functions.
- Clear your mind in the evening – read a book, meditate, take a bath, listen to relaxing music…
- Exercise regularly – but not before going to sleep, it’ll stimulate your nervous system.
- Avoid drinking alcohol in the evening – it alters nighttime melatonin production.
Useful App to improve sleeping patterns:
11) Filter Your Social Media
Use your social media wisely.
Unlike prior pandemics, the role of media is huge in COVID-19. The WHO has warned that “the 2019-nCOV outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ – an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” – World Health Organization – Coronavirus Situation Report – 13
Misinformation, arguably, spreads at a faster rate than the virus.
We may also be surrounded by negative people with defeatist outlooks on the pandemic. If some particular accounts are increasing your anxiety or negativity, consider unfollowing those accounts. On the other hand, if any account makes you feel good and increases your positivity, try to follow more like that. Trust the algorithm to show you what you want to see 🙂
Apply self-discipline and remove notifications to those platforms that give you anxiety. Decide when and what information you want to find on your social media instead of letting it come to you.
Useful App to filter your social media:
12) Keep Your Mind Busy
Some of us take this time off to learn new skills, keeping our minds busy and challenged. Learning new skills helps us focus on other things than the pandemic, the number of deaths and the uncertainty of the future.
Activities you can engage with at home are:
- Learning a language;
- Practising your handstands;
- Learning a new technical skill online.
Don’t feel pressured to be creative though, and don’t feel bad if you aren’t completing puzzles, learning guitar or a new language. You can simply read books, magazines, listen to podcasts or watch movies.
Do what you feel like doing to keep your mind busy, and not what other people are doing to keep theirs busy.
Useful Apps to keep your mind busy:
Three Reasons Why You Should Take Good Care of Your Mental Health
Taking good care of our mental health deserves our undivided attention right now. It is integral to living a balanced life.
The information and food we consume, the people we surround ourselves with, the behaviour and situations we accept, all play an important role in how we feel on a daily basis.
Here are five reasons to take good care of your mental health:
1. It will improve your physical health
Mens sana in corpore sano (Latin for “a healthy mind in a healthy body”). When we have better mental health, we engage with healthier habits, we feel lighter, stronger, more resilient and ultimately boost our immune system.
Stronger immune system = lower risks of becoming sick. As simple as this.
2. It will help build healthy relationships
The only person who will stay by your side until the end of your life is yourself. Therefore, cultivating a healthy relationship with yourself is primordial. Let go of negative self-talk, self-criticism and pessimistic over-thinking.
The way you treat yourself is reflective of the way you treat others, and people you attract in your life. This is the time to let go of people who have let go of you and create space for those who pull you up.
Take the time off to reflect on what you deserve and to redefine your boundaries.
3. It will lead to a better quality of life
Managing stress in our lives will help us navigate difficult situations. This pandemic is most likely the most difficult situation we will face in our lifetime, therefore it’s a good opportunity to learn to manage our stress. If we nail it now, we will be equipped with the necessary tools to overcome adversity later in life.
Stress is recognized by many as the number one killer disease today. It leads to a lot of physical conditions including migraines, fatigues, muscle tension and more. In the long term, it can lead to complications.
Reduced stress in our lives will lead to better mental, physical health and improved quality of life.
Final Thoughts on Mental Health During COVID-19
There you have it! Our list of tips and tricks to look after your mental health during COVID-19.
If we’ve missed anything or you’d like to add to my list, please leave a comment. Now more than ever, shared experiences will help us overcome this situation, together, and allow us to work towards becoming the best version of ourselves.
And remember: being alone and being lonely are two different things.
You’ve got this.
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Writer and entrepreneur. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will has been on the road for thirteen years, travelling to far-flung lands on a budget. Today, he runs a number of online ventures, including The Broke Backpacker – the world’s largest budget travel blog. He is passionate about solving the plastic problem and cleaning up the oceans. Currently, Will is based in Bali where he plans to open his first Tribal Hostel in 2020.