10 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health While Social Distancing

If the current corona crisis has you feeling like you are just one more negative news headline away from losing your sanity, here are 10 things you can do to regain your calm

1. It’s okay to not be okay

First of all, let’s all take the deepest breath of the day thus far. Relax your shoulders, unclench that jaw, unwrinkle that forehead. How are you feeling today? Whatever the answer may be, that’s okay. Anxiety, fear, sadness or being overwhelmed are all valid feelings right now.

The collective vulnerability that we are experiencing is a chance to start having more honest conversations with each other; to normalize talking about mental health. Not just with friends and family but in our work environment too. No one has all the answers. The whole world is winging it.

Take some pressure off of yourself to be “fine” all the time. Talk to someone about how you really feel instead. And, if you’ve got room for one more thing on your watchlist, I suggest this iconic TEDTalk by shame researcher Brené Brown (she also has a Netflix special).

2. Alleviate anxiety

There are a number of grounding techniques we can use to alleviate anxiety. Stop your brain from overthinking by shifting your focus. For example, by counting all the green things you see around you or counting backwards out loud from 100 by threes.

Another worthwhile technique is progressive muscle relaxation, an exercise that involves tensing and then releasing parts of the body one by one. Here’s a free audio guide for that, in a charming Australian accent.

The world might be in chaos right now and you can’t do anything about it, but there’s one thing that you can control and that is your breath. Try this calming exercise called box-breathing. You can do this anywhere, even on your busy commute from bathroom to kitchen.

The technique works like this: Inhale deeply into your belly to a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold your lungs empty for a count of four. Begin the pattern anew with the next inhale. Do this for a minute.

If you struggle to sit still and relax into mindful breathing, try listening to this track of binaural beats on headphones. It uses different frequencies between the waves entering the left and right ear which many people find relaxing. If you’d like to take it further and try meditating, here are some free guided sessions. And did you know that Zalando’s very own mindfulness guild hosts virtual meditations on Fridays at 12 p.m.? Join here!

3. Express your fears

What doesn’t help when you are feeling anxious is ignoring the feeling and pretending it isn’t there. Fear thrives on uncertainty. If you instead really look at your fears, they often become manageable. Do this exercise to fully recognize your fearful thoughts for a few minutes instead of dwelling on your anxiety.

Set a timer for five minutes, turn to your laptop or use pen and paper, and write down every anxious thought on your mind. Don’t filter anything out. Don’t judge yourself. Just express it all, including absurd fears and worst-case scenarios.

When the alarm goes off, stop. You should feel some release from blowing off steam like that. If you wrote on a piece of paper, rip it into pieces and throw it away.

Move your body to snap out of the negative energy by dancing, doing a few jumping jacks or just shaking it off. Do this whenever you feel like your mind is occupied by fear.

4. Limit news consumption

Now that you did a fear cleanse, make sure to not clog up your system with a 12-hour negativity stream every day by relentlessly checking the news. Sure, it's important to be in the know, but you don't need to obsess over it.

There's a point where information gathering can become problematic and drive up your fear. Stick to reading the news once or twice a day.

Turn off the notifications for your news apps to make it easier to stay in your newsless bubble for a bit.

5. Continue to be social

We are social creatures. Living alone during these times can take a toll on our mental health. Even if you are isolating with your family or roommates, you might want to see other people, too.

Try to stay as connected as possible with your loved ones by scheduling virtual hangouts. Video chat is especially good for avoiding feelings of isolation.

And get creative with it. You can play song quizzes and have trivia nights with your friends on apps like House Party. Many clubs stream their DJ sets, so why not have a virtual night out? Or invite your friend to join you on your walk with a phone call.

It doesn't even need a special joined activity. Sometimes, passive company is what we need. Just video calling a friend, letting the phone with their face sit next to you while you work, read, cook or watch a movie together makes us instantly feel more calm and connected. 

6. Get up and move every 30-60 minutes

It’s dangerously easy to fall into a sedentary lifestyle when you live and work within the same few square meters. To improve your mental, cardiovascular and visual health, take breaks often during your work day, and not just a quick YouTube or tik tok binge.

Don’t take a break from your big screen with a small screen. Step away from technology completely and get the blood and oxygen flowing with a short stretch or workout. Dance for the length of one song. Do twenty squats. And get outside.

If you ask me, there is no such thing as too many walks. Added benefit: Looking at nature relaxes the amygdala, the emotion-processing part of our brain. Inhale, exhale, hug a tree.

7. Keep to a schedule

Quarantine days can feel like a blur, especially if you are living by yourself. If you need to check your calendar to know what day of the week it is (guilty as charged), it’s time to be more proactive and lay out a structure for your week.

Stick to your pre-corona work times if possible. Set times for meals, exercise, chores, phone calls, and things you just like to do. Write it all down or block the time in your digital calendar.

Make weekends stand out, even if that means something simple like making a more elaborate breakfast. This combination of structure and variation keeps you both grounded and stimulated.

8. Set boundaries and non-negotiables

If you are in home office right now, work is home and home is work. Which can take a toll on our ability to switch off and relax. If you have kids, you are also suddenly a teacher and a babysitter, as well as a parent. If you have a significant other, you might have spontaneously decided to live together for however long this situation might continue for.

You are wearing a lot of hats with no real physical separation. That’s why it is important to create some boundaries like a designated work space where you won’t get interrupted. But your mental health needs some boundaries, too.

Make a list of things that you need to do in order to stay sane and feel like a whole person. Those are your non-negotiables. If you live with others, communicate with them clearly and make sure you let nothing and no one come between you and your non-negotiables.

9. Take your brain on vacation

Since all of our trips, travels, events and even visits to a friend’s house have been canceled, we need to get a little creative to get a change of scenery.

A surprisingly effective way to do that is to close your eyes and visualize your favorite relaxation spot. Paint the mental picture from your memory as accurately as you possibly can. Think of colors, sounds, moving pieces like wildlife and tree branches.

Listen to nature sounds like a rainy forest or waves crashing on Spotify if that helps you. Do this visualization lying down and really relax into it.

You can also look for guided visualizations and meditations on your podcast app or YouTube.

10. Find joy in the little things

Lastly, we want to encourage you to still seek fun and joy in your daily life.

You certainly don’t have to become your best self during a pandemic by doing every live workout on Instagram or starting five projects that you kept complaining about not having time for before the world got put on hold.

But you can still make the most of this quarantine. Whether that means improving sleep patterns and watching movies or picking up a hobby and learning new skills.

Make this time as nice for yourself as you can.

And remember: this is temporary and we will get through this together.

© 2020  Self-Care by Sina