Covering the BACEs
As I’m writing this, November 2020 is drawing to a close and we’re nearly at the end of the 2nd lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic. This year has been incredibly challenging for so many and brought a lot of unwelcome changes, loss, disappointment, and stress. Whilst it would be impossible to address all the issues the pandemic has brought up for everyone in this blog, what I thought might help a bit is to look at what makes for a mentally healthy life and how we can take care of ourselves as much as possible amidst the restrictions that may be with us a for a while longer.
Before I get going though, I’d like to say from the get go that I’m fully aware of how hard life is right now and so the kindest, and possibly the most important thing you can do for yourself, is to be self-compassionate, be patient with yourself and try not to beat yourself up over anything you’re struggling with. I’ve seen a lot of t-shirts and Facebook posts with the slogan ‘be kind’ and yes of course we should do our best to be kind to others, but let’s also be kind to ourselves.
With that in mind, let’s look at the ‘BACEs’ we need to cover to look after our mental health….
B is for body – Taking care of your body can have a big impact on your emotional wellbeing so it’s well worth thinking about your diet, exercise, relaxation, and sleep. We’re fairly well informed these days about how to eat healthily with five-a-day fruit and veg, eating lean proteins and healthy carbs, keeping the unhealthy snacks to an occasional treat, watching the caffeine and alcohol intake – I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. But with lockdown it seems there’s been a greater challenge in doing this, a tendency to reach for additional food (usually the unhealthy variety) for either comfort or through boredom. That need for comfort is understandable with all the stress this pandemic is causing, but maybe it’s worth thinking where else you can find comfort: maybe talking with a friend over Zoom, giving your pet a hug, listening to some peaceful music or having a hot bath, whatever works for you.
Getting some exercise has become more difficult with gyms closed and the evenings getting darker, so maybe it’s time to think about indoor options such as exercise videos or making use of any gym equipment you have in the house. If you’re working from home and there’s some flexibility in how you work, could you take a walk outside in your lunch break? Exercise is generally believed to be as effective in elevating mood as antidepressant medication, so it really is worth it.
In some of my earlier blogs I’ve written about the links between physical health and emotional wellbeing and guidelines for getting better sleep so why not have a look at these too: https://www.bethanythorntoncounselling.co.uk/news/article/how-physical-health-affects-emotional-well-being.html and https://www.bethanythorntoncounselling.co.uk/news/article/some-advice-for-a-better-nights-sleep.html.
A is for Achieve – we tend to feel good when we achieve things during the day and we naturally need to have purpose in life, so whilst work can be stressful at times, on the whole working towards achieving tasks is a mentally healthy thing to do. Science backs this up because they’ve found that the brain releases the feel-good chemical Dopamine when we achieve our goals, even the small ones (I know how I feel when I can tick things off my ‘to-do’ list). However, with many people furloughed this year, it can be difficult to know how to fill the time. So how about setting some achievable goals such as tackling some household chores or cleaning the car, helping children with homework, getting on with some DIY you’ve been meaning to do for a while, or even starting a new hobby.
However I understand that when you’re feeling low it can be difficult to motivate yourself to do these sorts of things, and if you’re struggling to motivate yourself at the moment then maybe it’s about starting small, even just one small task a day to start off with, and reward yourself for anything you’ve managed to do. Your mood will gradually improve as you get used to being more active, and you can build up how much you do over time.
C is for Connect – OK so this is the one area that’s certainly been the hardest to do this year and that’s to connect with others, and it’s been widely acknowledged that whilst social distancing is important to prevent the risk of Coronavirus infection, not being able to see family and friends is having an adverse impact on mental health. As well as this, when you’re feeling low you can be tempted to withdraw and isolate yourself too. Yet connecting with family and friends, or helping others, really boosts your wellbeing. Whilst meeting face-to-face is significantly limited at the moment, how about arranging a phone or Zoom call? Skype offers free group calls too so you can meet up online with more than one person. It may not be quite the same as meeting in person, but it’s the next best thing. At the moment social media can be a useful tool to keep up to date with friends and family, but I would encourage you not to make this your only way of connecting if possible. Maybe getting out of the house for a while for a walk and just seeing other people out and about can be good or smiling and saying hi to the cashier at the supermarket can lift that sense of not being alone. When you’re at home why not fill the silence by putting the radio on, just listening to someone talk can give a sense of having someone else in the house.
E is for Enjoy – in these bleak times when so many of the activities and events we enjoy have been cancelled it can be hard as we’ve less to look forward to. When we switch on the news, we tend to hear about all the things that we’re now prevented from doing and so the focus is on the ‘don’ts’, rather than on the ‘dos’. At times like these when your choices are being limited, there is a lot of benefit in reminding yourself of what’s still possible, because that can give you a greater sense of control over your life. We all need some fun to brighten our days and remind us that life can be good too, so to keep your spirits up, how about focusing on what you can still enjoy. That might be playing a board game or video game, baking a cake, playing with the dog in the garden, watching a comedy tv programme, having a dance to your favourite music in your living room, knitting a scarf or making some Christmas cards. We’re all different and so just do whatever ‘floats your boat’.
So there’s the BACEs to cover to help keep your mental health more positive, I hope it’s got you thinking a bit more about how to take care of yourself and of course, all these principles of Body, Achieve, Connect and Enjoy apply even when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. However, if you’re struggling with something really difficult and feel that talking it through with a counsellor would help please feel free to get in touch, I’m still available for sessions either over the phone or online.