How to stay sane during lockdown

Some people are naturally well balanced. Others, like me, have to work at our sanity - and even more so during times of crisis, uncertainty and self-isolation. Here are some tips to hold on to your emotional and mental wellbeing during the new Coronavirus outbreak.

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I write this post as much for myself as for you. They say we teach what we need to learn, although I'm not teaching here. I'm simply offering suggestions that I know work well for me and my clients.

Emotional balance doesn't come naturally to me. I have to put in some effort in order to feel grounded and peaceful - and never more so than right now.

I'm a former news journalist and recovering adrenaline junkie who's prone to high anxiety and obsessive thinking. I'm so accustomed to living with high cortisol levels - something that began in my childhood - that peace and stability have always felt dull and deadening. Self-care has never come easy to me, I'm not great at sitting still and I'm terrible at being ill. 

I've made huge progress over the last two decades of personal growth, development, healing and recovery. I'm calmer, more grounded and more connected to myself than ever before.

But old habits die hard.

My personality and physiology mean that I'm prone to use on the news - I can lose hours reading the latest updates and scrolling through social media, because this feeds my fear and my inner adrenaline addict and keeps my cortisol at a level that feels normal to me. I can also wind myself up with worst-case scenario thinking, creating catastrophes in my mind.

While doing all of the above, I can neglect self-care and abandon the tried and tested routines that keep me healthy and sane. As I do so, my mood dips and eventually plummets, at which point I'm no good to anyone.

Clearly, this is a state I'd like to avoid. If you'd like to avoid it too and stay mentally, emotionally and physically well during this extended period of uncertainty, here are some suggestions:

- Ground yourself every morning

Before starting your day and definitely before switching on screens or turning on the news, spend some time grounding yourself - step into your inner world and connect to your truth and to your feelings. You can do this simply by sitting still and tuning in to your breath, by listening to a guided meditation, or by taking a mindful walk or some gentle exercise outdoors. Try this guided meditation to connect you to your truth and your feelings.

This is a time for being rather than doing, a time for feeling rather than thinking. If you connect with fear and anxiety during your quiet time, allow yourself to feel those feelings. Remember, we have to feel it to process it and to heal it. Then try to soothe yourself - speak to yourself with kindness, reassure yourself as you would a frightened child; make yourself a cup of tea; cuddle up with a cushion; or phone a friend, share your vulnerabilities and ask for support.

- Avoid using on the news

Put some healthy, self-loving boundaries around TV, radio and online news. It's good to stay informed during times of crisis but we can limit our news consumption to once a day or twice at most. If you end up watching, listening to or reading the same news bulletin twice or flipping compulsively from one news site to the next, call time and turn your attention to something else.

Similarly, put some healthy boundaries around social media and electronic messaging. It's wonderful that we can stay connected electronically at this time of social distancing but we can get sucked in by our screens and lose sight of what we actually want to do with our day. We end up reacting to life rather than acting. If I do this for too long, I spiral downwards and end up feeling rubbish.

- Exercise

We can get outdoors and do some gentle exercise, while keeping a safe distance from others. Exercise helps us to get out of our heads and to connect to our bodies and nature is a great soothing agent. Can you commit to at least 30-minutes of exercise every day? If you can't get outdoors, tune in to an online class.

- Connect with others

Although I'm a hugely sociable person, I also have a tendency to isolate. If we struggle with relationships, it can feel "safer" to be alone rather than to navigate the world. But too much time spent in isolation can lead to loneliness and depression, so reach out to others as often as possible.

For some of us, this will require courage. We might feel like we don't want to disturb people. Everyone is so busy. We don't want to suffer the hurt of rejection if we ask for help and it doesn't come. But by bravely reaching out for support, we confront our fear of rejection and it loses its power over us. If you reach out to someone who isn't available, dust yourself off and then try again. Someone will be grateful for your call.

- Practise acts of kindness & service

Make a call every day to someone in need. Clearly, the focus right now is on caring for the elderly and infirm but it's important that we look out for our single friends too or for people of any age who live alone. Social isolation can take its toll on our mental health. So phone a friend every day or someone who lives alone and check they're doing OK. Or write someone a letter or send them a greetings card. If you're feeling well and not in self-isolation, offer to shop for people or walk their dogs.

- Accomplish tiny things

Lower your expectations of yourself and choose one or two small things that you can accomplish in a day. Remember that self-esteem comes from doing estimable things, so what estimable acts can you do today? This could be a piece of work or it could be an hour spent decluttering your wardrobe or doing your monthly accounts. Set yourself tiny targets and reward yourself afterwards. 

- Play & create

How can you incorporate more play into your life, amidst all the seriousness and doom and gloom? Dig out some board games - to play with your nearest and dearest or online. Or do something else that feels playful. I'm lucky enough to live by the sea. Playing in the waves reconnects me to my inner child and makes me giggle. The benefits last for hours.

And what can you create? What can you make? What crafts can you explore? Creativity, along with playfulness, will help to keep you sane.

- Rest if you feel unwell

I'm the worst ill person in the world. That is, I'm terrible at sitting or lying still. I like to be active and doing things all the time. But sometimes, the only option we have is to surrender and to allow our bodies to heal. So if you're not well, give yourself permission to rest and recuperate. Your future self will thank you for it.

***Resources & Events***

If you'd like to use the coming weeks to go on a personal development journey, supported by me and a small group of like-minded women, take a look at my How to Fall in Love - Laying the Foundations course, with weekly group coaching calls via live video, insightful content, daily reflective exercises and a supportive community. We begin next Monday March 30th. There are 10 places and a few places remain. This is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen your connection to yourself, grow in self-esteem and explore and change unhealthy relationship patterns. Email for more details.

Join my free Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole.

Download the first chapter of my book, How to Fall in Love, for free via my website here.

Katherine Baldwin

Midlife Mentor, Dating & Relationships Coach, Author of 'How to Fall in Love'

I work with women and men who are ready to change their lives or careers and with those who want to find love. I guide people on a journey of inner transformation, similar to the journey I've been on. I know how it feels to be stuck in life and to be reluctantly single, and I know what it takes to change and find love. My book 'How to Fall in Love - A 10-Step Journey to the Heart' describes how I went from being a single woman, living in London, bored with my work and longing for a more fulfilling life to a woman in love, engaged to be married, living on the Dorset coast and doing work that makes my heart sing. I have been in recovery from an eating disorder, workaholism and dysfunctional relationship patterns for 14 years, during which time I've mentored and coached others on their journey to a healthier, happier life. I have a Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy Skills from the Westminster Pastoral Foundation. In my former life as a news journalist, I reported for Reuters from the Houses of Parliament and travelled with the prime minister. I climbed high but despite my external success, I felt empty inside. Since then, I've turned my life upside down in the best possible way. I work 1-2-1 and in groups, run workshops, courses and seaside retreats. I write for the national media and have appeared on radio and TV, most recently on Woman's Hour. I also speak to business leaders, students and school children about the importance of authenticity and of sharing our internal battles. I'm an advocate of wholehearted living. I do my best to walk the walk.