Mental health is worse now than peak pandemic – here's how to prioritise it
The general psychological wellbeing of working people in the UK has declined since the first Covid-19 lockdown, according to research by Life Works.
Of a survey of 2,000 respondents, 35% have a high mental health risk and a further 40% have a moderate mental health risk.
In April 2020, the average score for general psychological wellbeing came in at 73.4. But in June 2022, it sat at 72.1.
While scores have fluctuated since the early days of the pandemic – hitting a low of 69.2 during the third and final lockdown in 2021 – the fact that people feel worse off now than during the first wave of Covid is emblematic of an issue we’re becoming more and more aware of: a lack of time for ourselves.
While the world opening up is undoubtedly a good thing, with two years of lost time to make up for, Brits are feeling more exhausted than ever.
It probably explains why 49% of respondents to the survey said they benefited from lockdown, with 16% being able to prioritise their hobbies and personal interests and 14% being in a better place financially.
Post-lockdown we’re forgetting to prioritise our mental health.
How to prioritise your mental health in a busy world
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when you have a lot to do, but it’s important to be aware of how your busyness might be affecting you. Or, more importantly, whether it’s a product of something deeper, like high-functioning depression or anxiety.
‘Often, people who experience high-functioning anxiety will say they’re so busy all the time, but it is basically a type of distraction away from those feelings of nervousness, stress and anxiety,’ psychologist Dr Meg Arrol tells Metro.co.uk.
If it’s not that, and you’re genuinely overscheduling in a bid to catch up post-lockdown, there are some things you can begin to implement to make yourself feel better.
Schedule time to focus on your mental health
As with everything else – your workouts, meetings, coffee dates – you need to schedule in time to really sit and focus on how you’re feeling.
‘If there’s something that you prioritise, it’s about scheduling it,’ says Dr Meg.
‘So think about what is beneficial to your mental health – whether it’s exercise, meditation, yoga or just checking in with yourself – and actually schedule it in.’
Dr Meg recommends taking some time to journal, whether it’s in the morning before you start your day or in the evening before you go to bed.
‘I think sometimes when people think of journaling, they can be a little bit overwhelmed,’ she says. ‘But it doesn’t have to be something profound, just the act of writing.
‘It doesn’t even have to be anything that’s particularly important, you can write about anything you notice in a day.
‘It’s just that way to focus on making sure and now it’s a way to bring yourself into that moment.’
Make time for play
While scheduling time for your mental health is vital, psychotherapist Mariana Bodiu tells us that time for ‘guilt-free’ play is just as important.
‘This is a time where you allow yourself to do absolutely anything you like – or nothing at all,’ she says.
‘The important thing here is to remove any feelings of guilt, because no matter how insignificant a task or activity may seem, it’s never a waste of time if it makes you feel good and if it’s what you feel like doing in that moment.’
You could draw, paint, dance, go for a walk, exercise, read a book or watch a show – the list is endless.
‘Spending time on the things that we love, and that make us feel fulfilled, is crucial to boosting our mental health,’ Mariana continues.
‘When we spend all of our time on work or on other people, we may begin to feel depleted because we are not allowing any room for activities that fulfil our need for self-actualisation.
‘Every so often, we need to allow ourselves some alone time in which to dream, create, and reflect inwards – which can help us to recharge, set our priorities straight, and find our bliss.’
Use your ‘time confetti’ wisely
While scheduling in time for your mental health might feel impossible when you have so much on, it’s important to remember that there is always time to be used.
You just need to find it.
This is what Dr Meg calls ‘time confetti’ – small pockets of time throughout the day, that we’d usually spend scrolling on our phones or replying to an email, but that we could use to reconnect with and ground ourselves.
‘We feel like we have less time, but it’s actually not true,’ she says. ‘We have less blocks of time, definitely, but throughout the day, we have lots of little bits of time.’
This could be during your morning commute or, Dr Meg says, while making a cup of tea or coffee.
‘Rather than putting the kettle on and then rushing to check an email or do something else in the couple of minutes it takes to boil, use that time as a mental health break,’ she says.
‘Be mindful and really check in with your senses, focusing on the sound of the kettle, the way the water changes colour as the teabag diffuses, focus on the sensations of the smell and taste for just a few minutes.’
This is a chance for your mind to downregulate, and it’s great because you don’t need to use a full 90 minutes to travel to and from a lengthy yoga class, or even the time to take a hot bath to do this.
Connect with nature
On the same note, finding small ways to connect with nature throughout your day can also be useful.
‘Make nature your best buddy and do not underestimate the magic it brings onboard,’ says Mariana.
‘Connecting with the greater ecosystem is a primal healing tool we humans have been blessed with.
‘So, when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, step outside for a few minutes and enjoy the elements of nature at your disposal, whether it be a single tree in a courtyard, a bit of sunshine on your face, or the birds chirping away happily in the distance.’
Seek professional help
Finally, while there are many barriers to people accessing therapy – be it monetary or due to waiting times – seeking professional help might be vital to help you manage your mental health.
Dr Meg says: ‘You can definitely start to help your mental health by doing small bits, but if you are feeling overwhelmed more days than not, and if you’re feeling like you’re not coping, absolutely seek professional support.’
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