Ways to help ourselves cope in the next few months

The last few months have been very difficult for many people. Millions of people are finding it difficult to deal with the pro longed uncertainty of this pandemic. Many are also dealing with grief, stress, financial difficulties, job losses and isolation. Now we face the worst Winter months, a time that many people find difficult in usual times.

There are a few things we can do though to help ourselves cope.

Get outdoors and take some exercise
It was easier in the Summer wasn’t it? We all wanted to be outside. The sun was shining, nature seemed to be flourishing and the birds were singing. Exercise was fun even for those of us not keen on doing it! It’s much more difficult in winter. It’s cold, wet and windy and the temptation is to stay indoors. However, it is generally agreed that getting outside and moving is a great way to boost your mood. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, relieving pain and producing a feeling of well-being. It’s so important to keep active to improve your mental health. Being close to nature can also help stimulate your mind and helps with a sense of well being. A lack of exercise increases our risk of anxiety and depression. Even short periods of exercise for ten minutes can help.

Start a new project
Doing something creative or working on a project can help. This might be something ambitious like writing a novel or painting a picture or something much smaller like writing a blog or doodling some experimental drawings. It could be trying to learn a new language or trying a new recipe. Whatever your interest try something new and it doesn’t matter if at first you don’t do it very well. Who cares? Just try it and with practice you’ll get better. In other words don’t wait to do things perfectly at the right time on the right day. That’s even more important in winter when gloomy weather might make you think twice about doing something. Our inner voice of criticism often stops us from doing things. Just go for it. Even trying can make you feel good. Often you’ll be surprised that actually your attempt was not that bad and at least you gave it a go.

Reach out
Isolated people are more likely to focus on themselves, that can make things worse. Reach out when you can, and if Covid-19 means you can’t do that in person, make that phone call to a friend, or arrange to talk online. We’re not really designed to be on our own. We’re socially-oriented. We feel better with social contact. Talking problems over when you can is a good idea, but the key thing is how it’s done. Going over problems again and again, just saying how terrible you feel won’t really help at all. However, sometimes that is a necessary process at first just to get it off your chest and out there. Talking things through with someone who can help you re frame things and see things in a different way may help and help you move through them. This doesn’t always have to be a therapist, but the key thing about therapy is the therapist is non judgemental and has no history with the problem. It’s also confidential. This safe space is what many people find so reassuring.

Don’t over think things
It’s perfectly normal to worry, but many of our worries never materialise. This “what if” tendency is perhaps natural, but more often than not the problem doesn’t get worse, it just goes away. One explanation is the way we have evolved. We are highly tuned to negativity and danger, as a defence against threats which in more dangerous times led death or serious injury. Anxiety can keep us safe, but it’s important to create a sense of balance. Adopting helpful habits to stop you over-thinking is one of the best things you can do. If you’ve been or you’ve been going over questions with no answers just stop and try to distract yourself with something else. The main thing is to shift your focus. It might be that while you are not concentrating so hard on the issue that a solution will come to you. Creative thinking exercises often suggest that you just shift your focus on to something entirely unconnected with the issue you are trying to solve. That’s why also “sleeping on it” and giving yourself a rest often works. How often have you woken up and with a fresh mind you see things differently and often the solution is there?

Daily gratitude
I find this particularly helpful. I try and find three thing each day that I am grateful for. These don’t have to be big things. They can be small things that have gone well. It could be simply be that you managed to get the washing done and you are grateful to have a washing machine and a range of different clothes! It could be you managed a short walk when before you couldn’t get out due to the weather. Or it could be the plant you remembered to water is now growing well. Then over the week look at those three things you have written every day. Optimism grows and optimists tend to have better mental health.