Staying sane in winter lockdown

Some self-care tips in socially limited times

By now, we are all familiar with the lockdown phenomenon, where we have to limit our social contacts to a minimum. Though we may be better prepared this second time around, one thing is very different: the season. Remaining at home while the days are getting darker, colder and the rain often limits us from going for a walk, it is important to take good care of yourself so that depression and anxiety cannot get hold of you.

With so much uncertainty in the air and less interactivity, many people feel less joyful, more worried and tired. Given that our mind has the tendency to focus on what is not so good, it spends too much time on negative things. This can make us feel stressed and low in mood. It is therefore important to watch your mind carefully and to take proactive steps to keep your mind in a good shape – before the winter blues gets a grip on you.

This is what helps me get going in these socially restricted times:

Accept what you cannot change

Even though we are deprived from many things, it does not help to fight the situation. On the contrary – the constant complaining and struggle against the unwanted makes it worse and is exhausting. Acceptance is a beautiful mindfulness practice which can help to let go. It does not mean becoming passive or weak, but it is a way of preserving your energy and finding peace in the midst of difficulty. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction programme, "acceptance is an active recognition that things are the way they are. It is a gateway into freedom from suffering and towards healing" (watch the short video here).

There is nothing you can do about this situation. If you allow your mind to worry and to linger on the negative all the time, your mood can swing in negative directions. Therefore, it is important to notice when you are lost in the future or in the past and make sure you bring your attention back to the present moment. It can help to ask yourself from time to time: "How are things right now?" You might find that often the answer is "quite alright".

Focus on what you can control

Why not put your attention on the things you can control instead? In the framework of what is allowed, you can decide to cook a nice dinner for a friend or to go for a mindful walk in nature. I have created this new habit to take a walk twice a week with my friend in Paris. We both leave the house at the same time and we speak over the phone as we walk in the park. It is a small thing, but it feels good to not be alone and to have a friend listen empathically. I also noticed that it feels rewarding to become more mindful about where I spend my money. I have decided not to shop via internet giants such as amazon, but rather consciously choose local providers who are having a hard time to survive. These small things give me the feeling that I have some control over my life. And feeling in control is a great medicine against the feeling of helplessness, which can draw you into a depressed mood.

Don't be too hard on yourself

At the beginning of the first lockdown, I had all these plans to declutter my house, start running and take online cooking classes, but in the end, I did not do any of those things. I noticed that I started to criticise myself about it and it put me down. It can be quite frustrating if you are criticising yourself for not being the perfect version of yourself. But it's perfectly ok and normal to feel a little lethargic and to have less energy in these times. Also, know that in this global health crisis you can allow yourself to feel bad, even if you still have a job, are financially ok and healthy. Your feelings are not irrelevant just because other people have 'bigger issues". As soon as I started to talk to myself like a compassionate friend who would encourage and cheer me on, I felt less guilty and had much more energy to do things than before.

Enjoy the little things

Our mind has a natural tendency to be drawn into the negative and to overfocus on it. Therefore it is important to deliberately shift your mind to what is good, because this is also true. Much happiness can come from little things, if you take the time to enjoy it. A walk involving all your senses, a nice meal, a hot bath, a good glass of wine – there are still many things to enjoy. Most of us are in privileged situations with nice apartments or houses and enough to eat and drink. Perhaps this is even a perfect time to take an online class of something supportive you always wanted to learn, for example a mindfulness course. It is important to not only notice when there is something pleasant, but to also spend some extra seconds to enjoy and take it in – focusing on the bodily sensations and emotions that come along with it and practicing gratitude. Research has shown that gratitude is a true happiness booster. Before I got to bed, I name 10 things in my day that I am grateful for. It helps me end my day on a positive note.

Connect with like-minded people

In these socially poor times, connection has become a precious good. As social animals we need human connection and love. Therefore, I established a small bubble with two very good friends with whom I go for walks and regularly speak on the phone. Knowing that we are all going through the same thing and that we care for each other is of great comfort to me. Also reminding myself that we stay at home for a reason, to protect the most vulnerable ones in our society, is a nice compassion exercise.

This precious feeling of connection is boosted in our daily morning meditations where we meditate together in a small group, followed by some sharing of our experiences. Everyone is welcome to these sessions, regardless if you have experience in meditation or not. Participants share how this is of great support to them to start their day with grounding quiet time and loving connection on the screen. Some people also look for an outside person to talk about their difficulties, for example in a coaching session. However you do it, looking for connection and comfort is key in these times.

I wish you lots of love and comfort in the weeks to come.