This is: ‘The Mindful Edit.’
In times such as these, we believe it is so important to remain positive, hopeful, to spark conversation, and to stay connected with each other. ‘The Mindful Edit’ is a weekly initiative that will offer thoughts and tips to encourage wellness mentally, emotionally and physically. This curated content will be written by Alastair Agbaje (our Chaplain) and guests.
Our guest blogger this week is Director of Health Ministries at the Trans-European Division (TED), Helgi Jónsson. A medical doctor and psychiatrist, Helgi shares his thought-provoking perspective on the lockdown, and offers advice on how to cope with the huge lifestyle changes we have all had to adapt to, in response to this pandemic.
Life in a Lockdown
We are living in strange times. Experiencing a situation none of us could have foreseen in our wildest imagination just a couple of months ago. Confined to the four walls of our homes for the better part of the day. Only allowed to work through cyberspace. Meeting with other talking heads on a screen, some seem to listen, others don’t. Some just have a name on the screen, so their presence becomes a little unclear. Some of us are not allowed to go outside, others can enjoy a little more freedom, but everyone is experiencing some form of restriction within their existence.
How do we cope in these situations, where we’ve lost our routine of going to work, enjoying the fresh morning air and the song of an odd robin in a tree? For many, not even seeing another human being for weeks – no touch, no smell, no jokes by the coffee machine or chat in the corridors. Just you. By yourself.
I would say that making a routine is probably the most important thing you can do for yourself, and try to keep it as close to your normal routine as possible. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, every day. Sleep is one of the most important building blocks of all health. Don’t stay up much later than usual. Get up and get dressed. Just because no one sees you, you should not stay in your pyjamas all day. You will feel better by getting dressed.
Eat healthy food, don’t spend your day watching Netflix and eating candy or junk food. In a pandemic like this one, it’s even more important to stay healthy. Not only because healthy plant-based food will boost your immune system, but it will also make for better mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a threat to our physical health, should we get it, but it is even a bigger threat to our mental health in the long run. For all of us.
I would also suggest that you dedicate workspace in your home. That way you can “go to work or class” and “leave work or class” at certain hours. You may not have a big enough flat to have a study space, or an office but you can decide that whenever you’ve opened your laptop on the kitchen table, that is your office, and when you close it again and take it to your living room, you’ve left your work. Small cues like that can make a difference.
The reason I suggest this is so you can leave work at a certain time. All too often, people who work from home, have an unclear workday, their assignments stretch into the evening and all of a sudden they realise that work is everywhere. You have to stop working and do something else. End your workday with a routine. Answer emails or go for a walk at a certain time. If you were at the office you would leave, because you have to pick up your kids or your spouse. Stop working at the same time as usual.
Your kids might need you even more now than before. With kids at home, you may be even less productive, because they need you. Accept that. Take time every hour to connect with them in a positive way. Give them quality time for 5-10 minutes. That will have a positive influence on regulating their emotions and making the day better for all of you. Also, take the time to talk to them about this unusual situation, ask about their worries, talk openly about them and take time to explain why their fears may not be warranted. Talk about plans for the future – something to look forward to. Because this pandemic will come to an end and life will get back to a more normal state than it is right now.
Make a list of things your family enjoys doing together. Do one of those things every day. Watch funny movies or video clips. Bonding in a joyful way will have a positive impact on anxiety and worry.
Think about how you can nurture your relationship with your spouse. A state of lockdown or quarantine can put a lot of stress on your relationship. Spending all day together, every day, is new to most couples and it can be a strain. My collegue at the TED, Karen Halford (Family Ministries Director) recommends this Christian website, where couples can sign up for free – it offers a helping hand to build their relationships.
Keep in contact with family and friends. Make regular phone calls or video conferences. This may take your mind off worrying things, for you and your friend. When we are stressed, it is helpful to focus on helping others. If you’re able to go shopping for those in need, for groceries or to the pharmacy, it can be helpful for you as well. Share positive stories with the people in your life. Laugh together, that is good medicine.
Take time for your hobbies if you have them, to recharge your batteries.
We should also be realistic in this situation, we’re not going to be as productive as we would be in the office. Therefore we need to be more compassionate and understanding to others…and ourselves. My personal experience in this situation, is that I have more work to do than before and less time to do it. Therefore I just want to emphasise that you don‘t have to do all the above suggestions, just find a balance that fits your life, don‘t make your life more stressful than it needs do be.
Remember – this will end one day. Our lives may have changed. Some for better, some for worse. It is therefore important to remember that we have our heavenly Father to thank for every good thing that happens in our lives and He is also with us through our hardships.
One thing that should be on the top of our list is connecting with Him, through reflective reading and prayer. Should that be the only constant we’ve managed to achieve during this crisis, then we’ve done well.