Experts from neuroscientists to fitness coaches on how they stay positive in trying times.
Staying positive, even when you’re stuck at home (Photo: Getty]
Engage with nature
Take some work calls on your mobile phone instead of Zoom, so you have the option to walk and talk in the outdoors, looking out for birds. I’ve identified cuckoos, swallows and screaming swifts all while working.
Vary your workouts
Instead of pressuring yourself to run or do HIIT every day, try to mix it up so that you work different body areas and don’t lose motivation. I’ve started adding yoga, too.
Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, former heptathlete, Olympic gold medallist and founder of Jennis Fitness
In the evening, ask your family to tell you the three best things that happened to them that day. It reassures me that we can always think of something, even when it feels like it has been a miserable day.
Dr Michael Smith, associate professor in psychobiology and health psychology, Northumbria University
Connect with other people
The positive impact of connecting with friends and family is invaluable. Take time to talk to the people in your life as much you can on the phone or via video calls.
Suzy Glaskie, functional medicine-certified health coach, founder of Peppermint Wellness and host of the Wellness Unwrapped podcast
Taking ideas and thoughts, as well as any learnings, out of your head and putting them down on paper can be really helpful. There is no right or wrong, no red pen to cross out your words, and no pressure, but it can be a good way to ease anxiety.
Natalie Trice, career and confidence coach
Last spring when the first lock-down hit, there was a lot of hype to “do more” – more DIY, more gardening, more zoom calls, grow vegetables, learn a language, get incredibly fit. What this over-looked is that just surviving through such a crazy and scary time was challenge enough in itself, without all the added pressure and comparing of yourself to others, who seemed to be achieving it all. Especially now we are in the winter months, which are natural time for rest, and focusing our energies inwards, being more gentle on myself is a priority. It’s rare to have so many free evenings to relax in front of the fire or weekend mornings to sleep in, without having to rush about or socialise.
Hannah Braye, nutritional Therapist
Find a movement routine
Starting off a routine when it is cold and dark out is often hard – so start with something fun. It could be a five-minute dance or even something tiny, like doing some squats when you brush your teeth.
Chatty Dobson, yoga teacher and owner of boutique fitness studio Flex Chelsea
Plan a trip
Have a far-off destination in mind as a long-term goal. Plan and virtually immerse yourself in the culture of the place.
Don’t stress about homeschooling
For younger children, rhyming games work well as a learning activity. Rhyme a ridiculous scenario as part of a short story or reminder. Do these three or four times and then start to omit words at certain points, getting them to add words to your story.
Leon Hady, parenting expert, former headteacher and founder of guideeducation.co.uk
Have a family games day
From Buckaroo to Monopoly, there are games to suit all ages and abilities. Board games are excellent for building strategic thinking skills, encouraging turn-taking and communication skills. If you don’t have any to hand, why not challenge your child to create their own board game and then play it together.
Sophie Pickles, parenting expert and teacher with degree in Early Childhood Development and Education
Take a group exercise class
Exercise releases endorphins – our happy hormones. A group class can not only force us to move our bodies, but seeing other people and listening to the teacher boom instructions is a great way to feel part of a community. There are thousands of group classes online to try.
Rhea Sheedy, Royal Academy of Dance-trained founder of fitness company Ballet Fusion
Surround yourself with beauty
Sensory fabrics and luxury can boost your mood. I don’t mean bathing in diamonds, but making sure that your home is clean and tidy or using your best cutlery to eat a special meal makes a big difference. This time around I am not “keeping things for best” or slipping back into my leggings and slippers. I’m going to bring luxury with me everywhere I go – even if that isn’t very far.
Sonal Keay, founder, This is Silk
Invest 30 minutes, every day, in doing something new
Novelty and variety are very important to our motivation and energy levels. Imagine having an Advent calendar for the month and behind every date is a new experience. It could be walking a new route, trying a recipe, reading, sewing, baking… The really important thing is that whatever you do gives you a breather from everyday remote-working routines.
Stuart Duff, head of development at workplace psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola
Find a virtual support network
It can be hugely beneficial when real-life contact is restricted. Just knowing that others are going through the same challenges can be a huge comfort and reassurance.
Michelle Kennedy, founder and CEO, parenting app Peanut
(Photo: Getty Images Europe )
Get outside for an hour a day
Just getting away from the computer or out of the house for an hour is so uplifting. Stress is relieved within minutes of exposure to nature as measured by muscle tension, blood pressure and brain activity. Time in green spaces significantly reduces levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Nature also boosts endorphin levels and dopamine production, promoting happiness.
Daniel Herman, qualified PT, nutritionist, speed agility and quickness coach
Far too often, we see parents, carers and healthcare workers neglecting their own needs in order to prioritise others. While this is admirable, it isn’t sustainable long-term if you aren’t also kind to yourself. Self-care can be incredibly courageous; it’s about looking at your failures as much as your successes and asking what you can do next.
Kirsty Lilley, mental health specialist at wellbeing charity Caba
Learn a language by listening to music
Pick a language and seek out its music; you’ll get an instant feel for the people, their language and pronunciation, too. Being a Welsh speaker, I’ve been championing Welsh language music on my radio programmes for years, and I’d like to challenge anyone who wants to learn a little bit of my mother tongue just to listen to some Welsh language tunes. There’s every genre to choose from: indie, rock, punk, funk, folk, electronica, hip-hop and everything in between. Here’s one to get you started: “Wedi Blino” by She’s Got Spies, aka Laura Nunez, who herself learnt Welsh after hearing bands such as Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci.
Huw Stephens, Welsh Language Music Day ambassador, BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Radio Cymru presenter
Keep your news intake balanced
The news is very negative at the moment. I’ve decided to reduce the news content I watch and rely more on print or online news from reputable sources. When reading print, I can read enough of a news story to get the facts I require; I can then avoid any negative comments. I can also search a newspaper and find uplifting stories to balance out the negative ones.
Keiron Sparrowhawk, neuroscientist and founder of cognitive training app MyCognition
Cook a meal from scratch
Not only is cooking your own food usually healthier, it can also be therapeutic. Opting for easier, more simplistic recipes are particularly beneficial for mental health. This is because the process doesn’t create anxiety, encourages focus and boosts creativity and happiness.
Vanessa Gebhardt, mind coach, Freeletics
Remember what you do have
Are you healthy? Is there anyone around you who you consider important? Are you in touch with your feelings? The list goes on and on – return to it each time you start to feel your mood slip.
Dr Matt Grzesiak, psychologist
Take the pressure off
In the first lockdown, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best: the best mum, best homeschooler, best partner, best friend, best employer. Now I’m focusing on being enough and grateful for what is, rather than what is not.
Hannah Corne, executive director, Mini Mermaid Running Club UK
Learn some basic phrases
If you’ve booked a holiday abroad for later this year, why not take the time to learn some handy phrases? Once you’ve mastered the basics, try reading a book you’ve already read in English to repeat, increase and refine your vocabulary and grammar. Focusing on self-development like learning a language helps to distract, upskill, and keep us busy.
Colin Watkins, UK country manager, Duolingo
Commit to good food
Lots of people will have made Veganuary a resolution for 2021, but I often hear concerns that plant-based diets are associated with protein, B12 and iron deficiencies, which can cause moodiness. However, there is now enough evidence that plant-based diets can support good gut health, and research shows that 80 to 90 per cent of the happy hormone serotonin is produced in the gut. So commit to good food for a good mood.
Dr Sunni Patel, clinician-scientist, gut health expert and founder of Dish Dash Deets
Get to know your triggers
Many people will turn to alcohol as a way to help them through lockdown. Although many of us don’t have problematic relationships with alcohol, if we repeatedly seek relaxation by drinking alcohol, a problem can creep up on us. Lockdown will inevitably create situations where we are hungry, angry, lonely or tired – the common triggers for feeling like you want a drink. Find alternative ways to deal with them and find relaxation naturally, and you’re home and dry.
Mandy Manners, wellbeing and sobriety coach and co-author of ‘Love Yourself Sober’
Signpost your day with treats
(Photo: Betsie Van der Meer / Getty)
During lockdown, you can see your home as a paradise or a prison. I find it helps to break up my day with “lockdown luxuries” every couple of hours. It might be as simple as a power-shower first thing, a mid-morning break with the family in our “Costa kitchen” or a 30-minute nap post-lunch. Find your own little daily destinations of delight.
Mark Simmonds, mental health expert and author of ‘Breakdown and Repair’
Exercise outdoors early
It will you get natural sunlight, allow you to start your day positively, and give you more energy. It’s an immediate mood-booster.
David Wiener, training specialist, Freeletics
Spend time with a pet
(Photo: Getty/Moment RF)
Studies have shown that just five minutes of cuddling a pet can relax you by releasing “happy” and “love” hormones. The calming and comforting effect of your pet’s unconditional love can help fight loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression.
Dr Margit Gabriele Muller, vet and author of ‘Your Pet, Your Pill’
Try micro workouts
These are a great way of getting some movement and activity into what can otherwise be a sedentary lifestyle. If you sit at a desk to work, every time you get up, do 10 star jumps, high knees, press-ups or burpees. This will take less than a minute, and if you do 10 repetitions and get up eight times a day, that is 80 a day. You will start to see significant improvements if you stay consistent and, best of all, you don’t even need to get changed to do it.
Darren Kirby, fitness expert and founder, Fitter Healthier Dad
The one thing that brings me joy without fail are my evening kitchen discos. They have been a feature ever since my eldest daughter was tiny. Kicking your shoes off, turning up the volume and letting go is the best feeling in the world.
Emmy Brunner, psychotherapist, personal transformation coach and founder of The Recover Clinic, Europe’s leading outpatient mental health clinic for women
Take five minutes
Tryptophan is an amino acid essential for mental health. We use it to generate the mood stabiliser serotonin, which allows us to cope with stressful days. When the lights go out, we convert it into the sleep hormone melatonin. Natural sources include nuts, seeds, milk and cheese.
Karl Rollison, therapist and life coach
Recognise that you are doing enough
This is especially important for working parents who are also trying to oversee home learning. For many children, the novelty of not being in school has well and truly worn off, and they will be upset – possibly even angry – to be housebound again. Parents shouldn’t dismiss these concerns. Talk to your children about how they’re feeling and keep them in a routine, but ultimately, recognise that you can do only so much. It won’t go to plan every day. If your children are warm, fed and loved, you are getting it right.
Kirsty Lilley, mental health specialist at wellbeing charity Caba
Feed your nostalgia
Spend time focusing on fond memories. You can trick your body and its nervous system into being warm and cheerful by reminiscing about happier, fun- filled experiences. It is an opportunity for respite from the more difficult times we are facing. Let your brain take a break while thinking about your last holiday or a favourite childhood moment.
Leanne Gardner, registered nutritional therapist, Institute for Optimum Nutrition
Create a new morning ritual
I’ve swapped a takeaway from a café to making my own morning coffee with care and attention. This sets me up in the right mood for the day. I grind the beans, use a pretty scarlet Italian hob espresso maker, froth my milk and serve it in a cup a friend gave me.
Rachel Kelly, author of ‘Singing in the Rain: 52 Practical Steps to Happiness’ and mental health advocate
Build your bubble
Chat with friends and family or create a support bubble if you are living alone, using technology to your advantage. Staying in touch is known to increase your sense of belonging and purpose, boost your happiness, reduce your stress and improve feelings of self-worth.
Vicky Fytche, senior wellbeing coach
Create a mood-enhancing playlist
I reorder mine to play uplifting music if I’m feeling down. I have a playlist called “Break in case of emergency” filled with music that cheers me up.
Keeley Taverner, psychotherapist and director, Key For Change
In the previous lockdown, people were afraid, anxious, stressed and running on adrenaline; this time many will be feeling flat, exhausted, hopeless and grey. It is a different kind of survival energy that is heavy and not so easy to shift. Make conscious choices to take care of yourself – from how you eat to what you watch on TV, such as how often you watch the news.
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, neurophysiologist, sleep and burnout expert
Camp in the garden
(Photo: Getty/Robijn Page )
Even though it is winter, camping can still be a lot of fun and a much more memorable experience than in the summer. There is something very freeing about a hot flask of your favourite drink on a cold night, observing the night sky. Staying connected with the great outdoors is one of the best forms of escapism and can help negate feeling trapped and isolated.
David Scotland, owner, Outdoor World Direct
Find that special someone
Human beings are social creatures, so it’s imperative that we don’t emotionally isolate even if we’d rather just lie in bed all day with the covers pulled over us. There is also absolutely no reason you can’t date online and meet new people. In fact, this could be an incredible opportunity to find your special someone, because lockdowns encourage people to think about what’s important in life.
Rachael Lloyd, relationship expert, eharmony
End the day with comedy
I have a collection of 30-minute comedy shows from the radio. I listen to an episode last thing before bed and have a really good laugh, thus going to sleep with a big smile on my face. That sets in motion a restoration of the mind that means I will also have a better start to the next day.
Keiron Sparrowhawk, neuroscientist and founder of MyCognition
Let there be light
If you are inside a lot, try to sit next to a window and make sure you open curtains to get as much natural light as you can.
Dr Sumera Shahaney, NHS medical doctor and head of clinical operations at health tracking app Thriva
Make some things non-negotiable
For me, that’s my morning meditation and journalling, my time in nature with my dog and saying “no” to overloading my calendar with calls and meetings. Going for a daily dip in the river near my home always cheers me up, even as it gets colder and the water temperature drops.
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, neurophysiologist, sleep and burnout expert
Start and finish each day with music
Framing the day with familiar sounds is a great way to get off to a good start and helps to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep. I’d recommend something uplifting in the morning, and something more relaxing and meditative in the evenings. Currently I’m enjoying starting the day with saxophonist John Coltrane’s album Giant Steps and ending it with some solo piano music – Chopin’s Nocturnes played by the Russian maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Chris O’Reilly, CEO, Presto Music
Find a walking buddy
(Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty)
Aim to meet as often as you can for a walk and chat. Being outdoors with someone else will help to make you feel and think more positively.
Lowri Dowthwaite, lecturer in psychological interventions, University of Central Lancashire
Don’t put too much pressure on your relationships
Particularly if it’s a new romantic relationship where you are not living together. It is very hard for the both of you, so don’t expect too much from one another. Conversations will be boring at times and there might not be much to talk about, but that’s OK – you are both in the same boat. Just be there and support each other through this time. Plan things to do together once you are out of lockdown.
Emma Davey, counsellor and founder of MyTraumaTherapy.co.uk
Have a proper lunch break
Working from home makes it so easy to skip lunch or just make a small journey to the kitchen, which means you aren’t getting a proper break to stretch the legs or go out to get food. For me, a proper lunch break means mindful eating, usually eating last night’s leftovers by looking at the food I’m eating, which aids digestion. Chewing properly and engaging the brain/gut axis means digestive juices will flow, making food breakdown much easier. I am also trying to leave my immediate area by going for a walk around the block. Even if I only have time for a 10-minute stroll, it helps to reset my mind for the second half of the day, contributes to my daily step count, gets my body moving and blood pumping, gives my eyes a rest from screens and helps to reduce stress and cortisol levels.
Kelly Mulhall, nutritionist and founder, The Natural Balance
Just say no
I may be at home, but I’m not going to do another Zoom call when my deeper need is to relax or switch off from a screen. Just because we can’t be anywhere else doesn’t mean we have to be available to everyone all the time.
Ben Bidwell, mindset coach and founder, Heart Space
Focus on the positives
Interrupt anxiety with gratitude. There will always be something, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, that we can be grateful and happy for. So when anxiety creeps in, list anything and everything you are grateful for and allow yourself to focus on these positives. In moments, the anxiety should lift and you will be back in the moment.
Caroline Redman Lusher, founder and creator of Rock Choir