I chuckle quietly every time I start a video call, remembering a meme I saw recently. It was of two dogs: one scruffy, with a shock of tangled hair, hunched over a coffee in a messy kitchen; the other beautifully groomed, out in the garden, poised with a pen, ready to work. The first was labelled 'conference call with audio only', the second 'conference call with video'.
SO insightful. On a number of levels. It makes a huge difference to everything when others can see us. This can result in (dog 2) us putting on a shiny-happy-me facade. But let's face it, that's actually a mixed blessing because sometimes the pressure of seeing people helps us more than we realise to get ourselves up and out! Isolation removes any need for self-care which for some of us results in a lack of motivation to do anything at all.
The reason it’s a mixed blessing is that action precedes motivation. We mistakenly think we have to wait to feel motivated before we start something, but actually getting up, dressed and ready to face the world GIVES us the motivation to then face the world. If we can push ourselves to do something, we will feel increasingly motivated to do more. One example of this is January's RED mental health campaign (RED = Run Every Day). The idea being that getting out and exercising every day removes the decision making and procrastination element. You just do it, rain or shine, at a set time e.g. first thing. The converse is also true - less you do, the less you feel like doing. So aim to get towards 15 minutes of raised pulse daily, just a short walk is fine, it doesn’t have to be a run! Here are some other ‘every day’ things that can really help.
Plan a routine. God created us for routine - one rest day in seven, the sabbath. Plan a weekly routine so the days don’t all merge into one! Mark out one day for rest and keep it special. Sunday is ideal unless you’re a shift worker. Our family has special Sunday breakfast (chocolate cereals) to remind us that Sunday is the best day of the week because we get to login live to Church and link in with a small group chat afterwards.
Plan a daily routine. Plan an activity to start each day with, then aim to be dog number two in time for that each morning! If your church has a daily live stream, that would be an obvious choice. Perhaps mark the end of the day with a phonecall to a friend. Such events are like stakes holding up a washing line, with those in place it’s easier to plan the rest of the day. Eat three meals at normal times, stay hydrated. Sleep (or lie down and rest if you are struggling to sleep) at night for around 8 hours. Get up at a regular time each morning, get dressed. Aim to stay awake all day – if you need a nap, sleep experts suggest 15 minutes maximum (set an alarm) no later than 2pm.
Plan rest as well as work. Connecting with a friend, doing something creative, resting, media that refreshes you (a good film, book, etc) and enhances mood. Try to avoid thinking of today as a ‘good day’ or a ‘bad day’, the low patch may actually pass within the hour if you rest. So, don’t write the whole day off, take things an hour at a time.
Talk positively. Isolating can actually be a very productive time of working through those jobs you never have time for, and finally finishing that book. Likewise, if you have kids at home, try not to use words like 'nightmare' but be grateful to have this extra time with them, they will soon be grown up! Rest in the fact that what actually happens is not plan B, it’s God’s plan for you, even if it wasn’t as you expected, hoped, or wanted.
C.S. Lewis said: “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”
Stay connected. Agree regular check in times so that people know when and if to worry if they can’t get hold of you. Consider setting up a WhatsApp group with others who struggle with mental health so you can check in on one another, and share what you are planning in your day (which will motivate others too). One friend of mine is trying to do a sketch a day to help her mental health - it’s so encouraging to see each day and motivates me to spend time doing something restful as well.
Be self-aware. OCD behaviours can be triggered by having for example to repeatedly feel the need to wash your hands. To check if you’re getting obsessive, ask yourself why? Why am I doing this: is the washing being carried out for the recommended amount of time to reduce the risk of spreading of the virus - or is it being done ritualistically in a specific order to feel "just right"? Tell someone about these thoughts as that tends to make them lose some of their power. Don't panic; it would actually be weird not to feel more anxious right now so a dip in mental health is not surprising. If you've had therapy in the past revisit the techniques you learned for letting the thoughts pass without impacting you.
Live purely for Christ. When we’re stressed we can default to old coping mechanisms – perhaps addictive behaviours around what we watch, eat, drink or do - to provide temporary relief. Isolation makes it easier to hide these habits. Pray daily for strength to fight temptation, and fight by sharing openly with someone your personal temptations and weaknesses. Be unafraid to ask those you are close to ‘what temptations are you struggling with at the moment?’
Think truth. The devil will whisper lies to us. Hold on to the truth in your head – fight the automatic negative thoughts like "I will pass this on to others and they will die because of me" with the truth that "I can decrease the likelihood of that by following the guidelines like distancing and handwashing." Hold on to the truth in the media by sticking to known sources like government and NHS, limiting your time online, and planning when you will check the news, social media etc. Hold on to the truth in God’s word, accessing livestream services and spending time in personal Bible reading.
If your mental health is having a notable impact on your work or sleep for more than three weeks then seek medical help. If you have suicidal thoughts or plans always seek help urgently from Samaritans on 116 123 (available 24 hours).
The great thing as a Christian is that we can be real with one another - it's ok to be scruffy dog number one! We don't need to hide how we are feeling, because our confidence is not in ourselves but in God who specialises in turning scruffy hearts into hearts fit for a relationship with God.