Here is some invaluable advice from Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist, and mental health and wellness expert, to help you over the coming months
It has not been an easy year for anyone. The global pandemic meant that while we were all not necessarily in the same boat, we were very much facing the same storm, and it is a storm which caused a great deal of sadness, loss and fear as it raged around the world. Worse still, when loved ones were lost – sometimes the “relief” was “It wasn’t covid” (hardly a true comfort), and when it came to being able to grieve and say farewell, restrictions meant that even that moment was shattered. We had little to balance the sadness either with weddings, christenings, parties either curtailed, cancelled or postponed; few opportunities to even reach out and feel the warmth or a hug from our friends and families – especially if we have had to shield. And it’s just not the same to try and share in the joy of a new baby or exciting life change over an online platform – and that’s even if we’re comfortable using them!
This is where a focus on building our resilience – centring ourselves, and gathering our emotional and mental fortitude for this push towards that “new normal” – can help us. Resilience isn’t about surviving crisis – it’s clear, we’ve been able to do that somehow, perhaps instinctively…but it’s about keeping going now we can see the finish line and then learning to thrive again beyond it.
Tools to rebuild mental and emotional strength:
- Find time for you. Every day, do ONE thing that’s just for you. For example, savouring a cup of tea in the garden; having a bubble bath; chatting with a friend; wearing an outfit you like – that makes you feel great; making time for an episode of a programme or a chapter of a book
- Join a class or a club/Volunteer – perhaps there’s something you always wanted to try, or something you always enjoyed. There you may meet like-minded people where you know it will be possible to connect on some topics of conversation. Another opportunity to engage with like-minded others is volunteering somewhere, this may also build a sense of fulfilment through contributing to the community or an energy boost at trying something new.
- Remember that your physical health can affect your mental wellbeing. Eat, sleep and exercise – getting the blood pumping can help clear your mind. Over-indulgence can result in feeling of guilt and perhaps excess weight which can then be an additional issue to feelings of loneliness. But undereating and a lack of sleep can also result in a lack of ability to focus or feelings of anxiety which also may not help you in forming positive connections. Simply getting out (while dressed suitably for the weather!) can help you get more Vitamin D which can increase feelings of happiness and fresh air is also good for us.
- Make your living environment positive as well – photos of the people you love, or feelings of comfort in the place you like to spend time can at least help you feel good when you are having time alone.
- Accept invitations – even if you are unsure if you will enjoy the event. At least you will know for next time, and you might meet other people who think the same while you are there.
- Make advance plans – if you are missing someone specific, make plans to see them at a later point, and you’ll have something to look forward to!
- Begin to explore and set your goals for the second half of the year. While you may be tentative because our recent experience is “anything can change”, having a focus, with flexibility or alternatives, means you have something to work towards, and look forward to. Try writing down your aims, and then breaking down those goals into smaller steps – some of which you might be able to start right now.
- Cherish the positive influences surrounding you. Good friends, supportive colleagues, opportunities…it’s not just about writing them in a gratitude journal – what got you through lockdown? Actively appreciate their efforts with some in return. Perhaps even drop them a line saying “I’m thinking of you” – there’s something still so lovely about a handwritten note.
- Keep a mental social distance! Ask yourself before taking something on – IS THIS REALLY MY RESPONSIBILITY?
Be mindful that when you resume your “new normal” that you are doing what you choose to do, not always fulfilling demands of others. “No” is a complete sentence, and it is also possible to negotiate your commitments. Perhaps consider ways of signposting those who are asking for your support rather than always thinking you need to step up.
- Reflect on the “little wins” of the year. Perhaps you didn’t achieve the big goals you had set, but maybe you got to see some milestones of your children which you might have otherwise missed. Perhaps you had good intentions to learn to play the guitar, but instead you contributed to your community through volunteering. Recognise the gains as well as respecting any losses.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist, mental health & wellness expert and author of a new book The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, Pearson, £14.99