Stress, anxiety, and worry are nothing new. But adding the strain of preserving personal and family health, homeworking, home-schooling, and disquiet over employment prospects, simply increases existing pressure. The incessant news-flow has further ramped up existing anxieties with its constant headlines of pandemic statistics, political unrest, racist attitudes, protests, violence, and public distrust of authority. So how do we maintain a healthy life balance? In a recent article I came across the following suggestions. I hope you find them thought provoking, perhaps even catalytic.

Create distractions. 

People struggling with chronic pain find intentional distractions can provide some short-term respite. When you are feeling overwhelmed, distractions can be very beneficial. Removing yourself from the situation, provocation, or temptation can help. Those working from home can feel locked in technical combat with poor connections, and even go on to develop ‘Zoom fatigue’. Their normal meeting schedule may look the same, but there is a subtle but vital difference. In the office there are breaks and some exercise as you walk from meeting room to meeting room, plus the opportunity to grab that all important coffee or water cooler chat. The loss of that short human interaction has consequences we are only beginning to recognise.

Consider adding breaks to your diary, even ten minutes throughout the day. During the working day dive into a book, take time to make a special cup of tea or coffee (nothing stronger despite the temptation). Get inventive with sandwich lunches, warm something up the old-fashioned way, without the microwave. Yes, it takes a few minutes rather than seconds but that’s the point. It can break the rhythm of your day and give you a moment to spoil yourself. The exercise of walking from workplace to kitchen, maybe even a quick tour of the garden can give a little breathing space and ease some of the tensions.

Who can you talk to? 

Dr Henry Cloud once said, “There’s a difference between solitude and isolation. One is connected and one isn’t. Solitude replenishes, isolation diminishes.”

We all know email and texting are efficient, but they are also an unhealthy camouflage. Human connection and relationship are essential for personal development. They’re vital. Living lives online has left many young people unable or uncomfortable speaking to others.  Do you have someone who will “just listen”? This can be an opportunity to release any build-up of emotion and stress. If it doesn’t find a way out, it can congeal into more damaging anger and resentment. Whether it is a quick “Hi, how are you? Have you got ten minutes?” to a full-blown emotional outpouring, it’s good to talk, honest! So, phone a friend. Don’t feel you have to go it alone.

Escape out into nature. 

It’s been well said that, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” Venturing outside sounds like a great until you see that it’s raining, snowing, windy, cold, whatever. Take the risk. Layer up and get out there. There has been an 80% increase in outdoor pursuits since the start of lockdowns. The great outdoors can have real benefits, but restrictions during lockdown make it harder to escape the house and meet friends. If you have a garden, try to take time to see what’s going on out there. Check on the flowers, trees, bushes, feed the birds and hedgehogs, whatever you may have visiting.

This can help form a healthy connection and relaxing routine that helps reduce time spent wrestling with issues that invade your thinking. Those of you fortunate enough to have pets at home may already appreciate the calming and restorative impact spending time with animals can have.

Get involved. 

Many people have found themselves compelled to get out there and do something for their neighbours and communities. There is a huge need for foodbank support, befriending single and older people by calling them once a week and having a chat. Finding a cause that grabs your imagination, gets your blood pumping, or puts a smile on your face is a great distraction and worthwhile commitment of time. Doing something for other people has a remarkably beneficial effect and always makes you feel better for doing it.

Look after yourself. 

Someone said to me recently, “It’s not bad to think of yourself first, don’t they always tell you on flights to put your own mask on before helping others!” Despite the idea that it’s selfish, looking after yourself by eating and drinking healthily, getting enough sleep and exercise gives you the energy and strength to look after others when called upon. There is more to this than just doing the things you enjoy. It can also mean saying no and committing to asking for help when you need it.

Step away from your devices!  

Pavlovian theory involves pairing a stimulus with a conditioned response. Today we have people stopping everything to check their phones whenever they hear a buzz, ding, bleep, or chime. Why? It has been described as an addiction. The reaction to receiving a social media post, text, or WhatsApp is the same reaction to alcohol or gambling; it delivers a dopamine shot. If, however, the message is a negative one such as a bad review or losing followers, it can lead to a deeply painful and emotional response.

Consider a devices amnesty. Switch off or disable your social media apps (that way you still have a fully functioning phone for essential contacts) over a weekend and see how limiting exposure to social media and news flow impacts your moods.

Have a good laugh. 

Finding something to smile about at the moment can be difficult. I recently revisited some old comedy shows to see if they could still make me laugh. Only Fools and Horses scenes with Dell Boy falling through the bar and the scene with the hapless duo removing the fixings on the wrong chandelier still make me laugh out loud. Find something that you enjoy which brings a smile to your face. It could be a family event, a terrible Dad joke or dance, take time to relive the moment. Track down some favourite moments and enjoy them in between zoom calls, over a coffee break or at lunch. My church leaders compete every week in a Fun Friday sending everyone funny stories, clips, or quizzes. It’s amazing how something so simple can change your mood. Well, they say laughter is the best medicine!

Routines and the rhythm of life. 

It’s difficult coming to terms with things you can’t control such as pets, the weather, investment markets, the behaviour of others, or government guidance. But we can create some controls and put routines and rhythm into our daily lives. We can be proactive with routines for cleaning and hygiene, to help protect yourself and your family as best you can, playing our part in curbing the pandemic.

Create comfortable but functional surroundings. 

It’s highly likely more homeworking becomes the norm. Many have already taken steps to make their new work environment more suitable and comfortable to operate from. With so many decisions now taken out of our hands, we can still choose to control our workspace, making it more comfortable and welcoming. This can be a testing time for those with a perhaps overzealous tendency toward order and organisation, however de-cluttering and tidying can be therapeutic.

Mental “spring cleaning”. 

There are various techniques we can use to relax and calm our minds. Physical exercise can help clear your head. Breathing exercises can help restore some balance into your daily life. Some people use yoga, mindfulness, and meditation as a way of letting tensions drift away. Having a regular routine of creating time and space to unpack and de-clutter your thinking can help. Reading a helpful passage and thinking about its possible application to your situation can bring some clarity and focus, cutting through the confusion often stemming from the pressure of looming deadlines. Gradually introducing time each day for some mental decluttering can help ease tension and provide you with more mental energy and space to cope with life as we know it right now.

A series of small actions…

Sometimes it’s the small things that can help the most in pressing pause, and mentally recalibrating. Don’t underestimate the mental health toll that the coronavirus situation and other events in the world can take, especially in conjunction with the pre-existing stresses in your life. Acknowledge how you’re feeling because it’s okay to not be okay.

Try taking proactive measures to ease away from the stress and step away from the harrowing news. Be gentle with yourself and build into your daily lifestyle the tools and activities that can help soothe and uplift you, mentally and physically.