By Dirk Smith, MSc, SDL (He/Him).
It is safe to say that this last year living in the Covid-19 pandemic has not been easy for any of us. From the political instabilities, uncertainty regarding jobs, finances, health, endless lockdowns and never-ending incompetence from governmental institutions, a lot of people (including myself) are really struggling with our mental health during these uncertain times. It is safe to say that once this is all behind us, this time will turn into our generation’s “uphill both ways” metaphor of struggle we bore kids with. However, in order for us to get to that point, we need to take care of ourselves now.
Before I offer some different suggestions and ideas for mitigating our struggles with mental health, I’d like to preface by saying we all have good days and bad days during this pandemic. I find myself alternating between periods of optimism for the future and periods of dread for the present reality of things. This is not a “12 steps to better health” kind of article, nor is it any kind of quick fix type solution either because these things will only help if you form habits and practice consistency every day, especially on the bad ones.
Take it easy on yourself.
We are always our own worst critic and it’s easy to get stuck in a feedback loop of negative self-talk. I personally am experiencing a lot of self-doubt, lack of confidence and other issues when I get in my own head; it’s easy to take it personally because we are talking to ourselves. However, I can assure you that pretty much everybody else in your life does not harbor the same feelings about you as you do. So be cognizant of when you are feeling negative about yourself and take steps to break out of that cycle. If possible, flip the page and focus on the positive things you are doing as well.
Do something every day.
Even if that something is taking a shower, washing a dish or going for a walk. Do it every day. Find a rhythm and routine to fall into, even if it’s just a few menial tasks.
Physical Activity is paramount.
One thing I’ve gotten into and if you follow my Instagram you will know that I tend to go for a lot of walks, especially long walks throughout the week. Not every day necessarily but at least a few times per week, usually with a friend and sometimes by myself. With almost everything here closed during lockdown, I can’t join friends for a beer or coffee at the nearest pub or coffee shop, but we can go for a nice walk in the city or park to catch up. Getting out of the house, fresh air, exercise and (sometimes) sun is really is a big thing. Especially on those days when I am feeling down on myself, I force myself to go for a walk and it helps immensely. Doing home workouts, going for bike rides, runs and other forms of exercise are also very important. The idea is to do some kind of physical activity every day.
Set little goals for yourself.
Normally I am a very motivated and ambitious person but staying and working from home during this lockdown has been absolutely the worst thing for that. I hate working from home and the first opportunity I get to work anywhere but home I plan to take it. Unfortunately, sometimes I just have to suck it up and get work done from home, so I set myself little goals to achieve throughout the days and weeks to get things done. Whether it’s setting myself a deadline, reading 10 pages a day or accomplishing one task every day, it’s enough to help me stay on track, even if I am not moving as fast as I’d like.
Honestly, I am not the best at taking my own advice which is why I am putting it here to remind me in addition to everybody who is reading this. Taking the time out of the day for some slow-paced breathing has been showing to greatly reduce stress and help. Fortunately, I have a handy little guide right here to coach you (and myself) through it.
Disconnect to Stay Social
Whether it be with family or friends, disconnect from social media and have one on one chats with people. Social media is very toxic and "doom scrolling" can easily mess us up. Reach out to friends to talk with on the phone or zoom (rather than text), set up movie nights where you can stream a movie together or like I suggested above, take walks outside together.
I uploaded this picture of the landscape to remind us that getting outside and into nature is one of the best thing we can do for ourselves. Things are starting to look up with the increased rate of vaccinations and a government that supports science. So like the organization’s name that reminds us, “It Gets Better” so just hang in there.
David "Dirk" Smith M.Sc, SDL, CSCS, (He/Him) is a sport psychology expert, strength & conditioning coach, swimming coach, sports diversity leader, published research scientist, teacher, writer, journalist, and athlete. He brings over 12 years of experience, education, and training to empower athletes to build self efficacy, strength, confidence, and express themselves through sport.