As lockdown continues, exercise is often touted as one of the best ways to promote good mental health. But as good as running and cold swimming are if they work for you, they do not appeal to everyone. Nor are they an option if you are ill, injured or living with a disability. I am chronically ill and have been shielding for a year; my greatest exertion has been lifting Oreos from the packet to my mouth.
I don’t want to brag, but I have not gone completely mad. When I spoke about this recently on Twitter, I received hundreds of messages from other disabled people who are finding their own ways to look after their mental health in lockdown (with very little physical effort). Here are some of our best tips.
Lady of letters
We are all missing our loved ones – and probably sick to death of video calls. I have taken to writing to friends, like a Jane Austen extra. There is something emotionally connecting about putting pen to paper. And who doesn’t love post? Treat yourself to some fancy notepaper or make your own cards for added relaxation.
Calm body, calm mind
Meditation is not always designed for people with health problems. If you are in pain, a body scan is not relaxing. Ditto “concentrating on your breath” if you are gasping from Covid. But most can be adapted; try concentrating on whatever point in your body is neutral to you, perhaps your hands or your mouth. Apps such as Calm and Headspace are fantastic for a range of bite-size therapeutic strategies. If you can’t afford to pay for an app, there are also some great guided meditations on YouTube.
Better out than in
It is easy to get lost in ruminating when you are stuck inside, particularly if you don’t have the release of exercise. Journaling can be a great way of getting out your thoughts and emotions – as can playing music loudly (and singing, if your neighbours are friendly). One woman replied to my thread saying she has started throwing a ball of wool at the TV whenever Boris Johnson appeared on the screen. Whatever gets you through.
If you are not busy teaching your children, learning is a great way to fill the mind. The Open University has a range of free courses. Learn a language on the app Duolingo. Immerse yourself in the past with History’s YouTube channel, or ponder Philosophy Tube. If you are fed up of this world, you can explore the universe on Nasa’s YouTube channel.
Bring the outside in
Unable to get to the park? “Nestcams” allow you to watch baby birds hatching around the world. On TV, Landscape Artist of the Year on Sky Arts is a visual dream. You don’t need a pricey flower subscription to get real foliage; my find of lockdown is the £3 roses you can get with a Sainsbury’s delivery. Houseplants come with the added bonus of being great listeners. My cactus is called Barry.
Crafting is win-win: a distraction technique that is also therapeutic and creative. YouTube has plenty of “how to” videos on anything from embroidery to clay modelling. If you prefer books, pick up a beginner’s guide to knitting. You don’t have to have any particular talent. Think of yourself as a parent putting your child’s drawing on the fridge: even if it is terrible, you will still be ever so proud.
If you are struggling, it can be hard to find the energy to help others. That is OK. But a good act can help us get out of ourselves. Check in on a friend. Donate to a charity. Help a shielding neighbour.
A daily treat
Without eating out or live events, we are living without many of the things that make us happy. So it is all the more important to pepper your day at home with little bits of joy. Historically, “let them eat cake” has had a bad rap as advice during social upheavals, but I also recommend macarons and doughnuts. Even better, there is no reason for food guilt: it is your reward for getting through another day in a global pandemic. Congratulations!
When things feel out of control, it is often helpful to manage what is within our power. One woman who replied to my thread was upset about not knowing if she could get married this year, so she renewed her passport. One small step.
Ignore all of the above
Mental health is not a tick box subject: it is complex and personal. What works for one person may not work for someone else. If you are really struggling, talk to your GP. Otherwise, the best strategy is often deceptively simple: listen to what you need. No one knows you better than yourself. These are hard times and wobbles are normal. Take one day at a time. And eat cake.