“Have you maybe tried going for a run?” Says Karen, kale smoothie in hand as she smiles pseudo-sympathetically. “Blah blah, dopamine, blah.”
We’ve all been there.
When you’re at a low place, it can be hard to even comprehend how you’re going to make it back to your baseline, and Karen’s ‘well-meaning’ advice mostly does more harm than good.
Wellbeing isn’t a one size fits all concept, and what might be exceptional for your mental health one day can be detrimental to it the next.
Over-emphasising grand achievements over genuine, habitual change is the issue with a lot of advice around wellbeing, particularly at a time when a lot of people are in circumstances surrounding them in the unknown.
When you build up simple day-to-day habits in your routine, you give yourself a catalyst for something bigger in future.
These ‘momentum building activities’ might not seem monumental, but starting somewhere familiar to you is always more valuable than trying to jump further than you may be ready to.
Here’s some ways you can get started yourself:
HR Manager Jonathan might feel accomplished in the first hour of the day because he’s done a forty-minute jog, drank two whisked eggs and meal prepped for the month, but what Jonathan considers his cure for depression is…questionable.
Some of us are morning people and others resist getting out of bed for as long as humanly possible, setting fifty alarms and snoozing every single one of them.
Regardless of your working/living circumstances, there are a few things to consider implementing.
– Waking up at a similar time every day
I love a lie-in as much as the next person, but I’m self-aware enough to know that it doesn’t make me feel any more well-rested when I set multiple alarms or oversleep.
As a general rule of thumb, try to keep within an hour and a half of a set ‘waking hour’. For example, if you use 8am as a general waking hour, the latest you set your alarm for should be 9:30, and the earliest 6:30.
You may find you feel less tired even though you may be getting fewer hours of sleep!
– Make your bed
It’s often seen as an insignificant chore, but making your bed is still something you accomplish in your day.
It’s a reminder you’re getting out of bed and that you’re starting your day, and there’s fulfilment to be found in that.
– Brush your teeth
Now I know you’re likely to be rolling your eyes right now, and I can’t blame you. A lot of the suggestions seem redundant to people, but sometimes it takes all of the willpower we have to physically get out of bed in the morning.
Brushing your teeth is time for headspace. It’s only a few minutes after you’ve woken up, and it’s the perfect time to just let your thoughts run free and just go with it.
A lot of the times, tasks we see as mundane tend to be the ones that give us the biggest boost, because we’re not weighed down by too many thoughts at once. We’re focused on a routine task, so our mind tends to go in all directions.
– Savour your morning drink
I am that person who doesn’t want to speak to, look at or engage with anyone before my morning coffee. I’m not a morning person and I usually have to wake up way ahead of time for work or social events just to unscramble my brain and give it time to wake up.
Team coffee, team tea, team loose-leaf or orange juice, it doesn’t matter.
Sitting with your breakfast is you time. It’s entirely up to you whether you take this time to plan your day mentally, put things in a calendar or simply respond to messages on your phone.
Sometimes when we miss out on this slice of time in the morning, we can feel overwhelmed without realising it because we’re used to having a moment to ourselves before being thrust into social situations or problem-solving.
Breathe in the smell of those beautiful coffee grinds and savour the moment.
– Channel your energy
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we feel overwhelmed.
When things get a little too much, we’re left with an excess of energy and emotion that can feel like a huge burden.
People channel this energy in various ways: cleaning, cooking, laundry, spring cleaning.
A lot of mothers will tell their children that they enjoy cleaning not just because it can remove clutter in their house, but also give them time to declutter their brain.
Instead of making a to-do list that seems like a huge mountain to climb, propelling yourself with the energy you might have in your lowest moments can not only help you find some clarity and calm, but also benefit you in the long run in terms of doing small things that add up to something big.
Self-care & work
There’s a lot of us working at home at the minute, and self-care is just as important in your workspace.
When we usually have a down day, we physically have to drag ourselves to the office in most cases under regular circumstances, so for a lot of people, working from home presents new challenges.
We’ve already covered a lot of ways in which the hardest part of the day (getting out of bed, that is) can be made easier.
Here’s a few ways to start implementing self-care into your work:
– Divide your time
Nobody can be ‘on’ for 9 hours straight, and in most cases, our productivity can stretch for about 40 minutes for one dedicated task at a time.
With this in mind, dividing your day into sections is the best way to get adequate rest in between doing tasks.
Some people favour the Pomodoro technique, a technique in which 25 minutes is spent on a task with a short 5-10 minute break afterwards until the next Pomodoro. After 4 Pomodoros, a longer break of about 30 minutes is taken.
If that seems too structured for you as you tend to spend longer ‘in flow’, then a good general rule is to take ten minutes after completing a task of any duration.
Top Tip? Start with the hardest task as the first task of the day and you’ll find everything afterwards comes a lot easier.
– Have a distinguishable workspace
As someone writing this from their bed, I’m not going to pretend like everyone has the luxury of having an office at home or the space to curate an entire workspace.
However, I do try to sit at a fold-up desk a couple of times a week at least to do work, which gives me more room and helps to distinguish work from leisure time.
Even sitting in a different place on your bed, or sitting at a dinner table, can help. Some other creative options that have cropped up have been standing desks made using an ironing board, or laundry basket chairs and bedside tables used as desks.
When we sit in the same place for leisure time that we do work in, we can find it difficult to fully wind down and will be more likely to ruminate in thoughts about work without realising.
Make your Netflix-binging area safe and go elsewhere for work… otherwise you might find yourself pondering spreadsheets over an episode of Tiger King.
– Put it on ‘mute’
Even those with impeccable self-control struggle not to pick up their phones every half an hour, as the little red notification buttons can be enough to drive anyone to complete distraction.
However, there’s a way to check up on your day-to-day notifications without completely neglecting your work, because let’s face it, once you pick up that phone and fall down that rabbit hole, it’s hard to get back to whatever you were doing in the first place.
We’ve spoken about taking short breaks between work, and this is an ideal time to set aside five or ten minutes to catch up on notifications and conversations, news and all the miscellaneous things between.
This not only means that you’re not getting distracted from other tasks, but also that you’re more likely to have a break in order to have time set aside to check your phone.
Once you get into this routine, you’ll find you may be less likely to accidentally spend forty minutes laughing at a random Twitter thread (we’ve all been there).
Routine isn’t easy. Especially when you’re in a period of extreme uncertainty and change.
But once you recognise that you can adapt your routine in a way that isn’t detrimental to you, the benefits are limitless.
Big achievements are great, there’s no denying that. But people don’t wake up one day in the midst of severe depression with the ability to run an entire marathon for charity, or do a public speaking event on their mental health.
Sometimes, the biggest challenge we face is getting our feet planted on the floor and out of our beds, and everything that follows is an achievement.
The little things build a foundation for you to grow to the big achievements, so try not to get bogged down with a lot of the messages you might be seeing on social media.
Now go forth and make your bed!
- TedTalk: Learning To Live With Depression: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDPDEKtd2yM
- The Dark Coffee Podcast: https://www.darkcoffee.co.uk/podcast
- Downloadable Resources: https://www.darkcoffee.co.uk/downloads
- Online networking, every Wednesday: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-worst-episode-of-black-mirror-tickets-102815281274?aff=ebdssbonlinesearch
- ‘HumpDay Huddle’ LinkedIn group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12394089/