We’ll spare the tips on sleep and exercise: these are probably the most fundamental parts of a healthy mindset, but it’s likely you’ve heard it all before.
Pulling yourself out of a bad headspace is not easy, especially if you have an anxiety disorder or depression. Often, you want to make changes, but don’t have the energy, or rely on quickly-fading bursts of motivation.
Implementing small, everyday adjustments can make these first steps less intimidating. By listening to your brain and being gentle with yourself, you can learn to work to your own advantage.
It can be useful to have a plan to fall back on if you’re feeling low - especially if you’ve found yourself with extra free time over the past year.
This doesn’t mean having to follow the same boring tasks to military time every day. Creating small patterns in your schedule gives the day a purpose and helps you to stay on top of tasks.
This might just mean washing the dishes straight after dinner to prevent them from piling up, or treating yourself to a fancy lunch on Fridays.
There’s no need to timetable to the hour if you don’t want to, but always having something on the horizon allows you to separate between work and rest.
Saying that, why follow the rules that only make life harder? The endless list of expectations can be a real weight, and at these times it’s worth remembering….they’re all made up.
This is easier said than done: we can’t reject every source of stress. However, sometimes people find themselves following rules to impress people they don’t even really care about, or that don’t suit their daily lives.
Breaking the bank for an acquaintance’s wedding? You’ve got something to wear at home. Can’t find a cinema buddy? Go on your own. Prefer to do the supermarket run at midnight? The world’s your oyster.
If you’re already anxious, the pressure to keep on top of a household might be more difficult than ever, or even a source of shame.
In her book, How to Keep House While Drowning, KC Davis suggests shifting your priorities from “moral” to “functional” tasks. Shame is an unhealthy motivator, and the urge to make things constantly perfect might sway us from starting at all.
Davis’ approach is worth bearing in mind if you’re struggling: having one thing done just fine is better than being paralysed by all the things to do perfectly.
It’s worth noting that avoidance is not a healthy coping technique, and should not be relied on as a solution to anxiety.
However, it’s no harm to make things as easy as possible for yourself, as long as you’re addressing your fear in other ways. We’re all just floating on a rock in space, and Marie Kondo-ing your socks won’t change that.
Social media is a place for celebrating success. However, scrolling through everyone else’s happiest moments can make it hard to keep your own life in perspective.
Similarly, online shopping is a double-edged sword. Sometimes you only have to whisper a product before it ends up in your ads…and then your basket.
However, having it all right there makes it easy to focus on what you don’t have. Unsubscribe from the spam and unfollow your acquaintance that’s always on amazing holidays. If you need something enough, you’ll look for it.
Sensory input can have more of an impact on our daily mood than we might think. Many of our everyday stressors might not be related to the tasks themselves, but more how they make us feel.
When we’re over- or under-stimulated, our body sends silent alarms that something is wrong - but, because they’re not immediately threatening, they’re easy to ignore. With small, everyday factors that build up, it’s easy not to notice until you’re on the brink of burnout.
Sensory struggles often mask themselves as other emotions or leave you feeling rubbish without an identifiable cause. Next time this happens, ask yourself whether your environment might be contributing to your mood:
How you feel: Bored, fidgety, hungry, lonely, angry, irritable, empty, clingy, impulsive.
How it might manifest: Getting distracted when trying to focus; pacing; feeling an intense need for something but you’re not sure what. Usual hobbies might seem trivial or boring. You might have the urge to smoke or drink alcohol.
Work fix: Listen to quiet instrumental music; open a window. Doodle or play with something small and quiet (square of paper, Blu-Tac) during meetings. Crunch on a carrot or a piece of fruit while you work. Take 5 minutes to make a drink or help with an errand.
If you work from home, consider whether another setup might work for you. Could you work from a café? Would a standing desk keep you on your toes?
Fun fix: Blast some tunes and dance along. Phone a friend. Get some exercise. Bake, or make a fancy dinner. Use a weighted blanket or get a hug from a loved one. Take a shower.
How you feel: Panicky, snappy, indecisive, urge to leave. You may feel an anxiety attack coming on.
How it might manifest: Zoning out when trying to focus. Reluctance to initiate a task but not sure why. Urge to leave a situation - “flight mode” activated.
Work fix: Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. Listen to white noise. Write a to-do list and break it down into manageable chunks. Break down those chunks even smaller.
Have easy, bland snacks on hand if you’re prone to forgetting to eat. Wear appropriate but comfy and layerable clothes. Take 5 minutes to escape to the bathroom.
Again, if you have control over your workspace, try dimmable lighting or keep sunglasses on hand.
Fun fix: Escape to somewhere preferably dark and without interruptions. Take a warm bath. Watch something comforting on TV. Establish personal boundaries and make sure both yourself and others are sticking to them.
Most of us know whether we’re a “morning” or “night” person - but how many of us utilise it? In a typical 9-5 workday, it’s all too easy to just chug a coffee and hope we’ll be functional by lunch.
Learn your most productive hours and see if you can switch your daily routine to suit them.
Some adjustments only come with privilege - not many of us can “just take a bath!” or “go for a run!” in the lunchtime slump. But it’s possible to work small things to your advantage.
Research shows that the average worker has three to five hours of quality work in them per day. Try to work consistently, but identify a daily window to really power through.
Consider a “do not disturb” on unimportant emails during this time, or use a technique like Pomodoro to encourage short bursts of focused work. When you’ve exhausted your high-quality time in your most productive hours, use the slump to wade through emails or tackle less pressing tasks.
Just as important to your wellbeing is establishing personal boundaries, and knowing when your helpfulness may be damaging your health. Saying “no” can be difficult, especially when the person asking means a lot to you.
It’s okay to help out sometimes, but try not to reach for excuses when you can’t. Small lies make you feel guilty, yet become easier and easier to depend on the more you use them. It’s possible to be polite, but make your stance clear:
- “Thanks for thinking of me, but I can’t.”
- “I have a few things to think about first. Can I let you know later?”
- “I won’t be around at that time.”
Your worries might also make it difficult to say “yes”, too. Fears over money, time, or the future leave many of us stewing at home. The small “no”s add up, and before you know it, anything new sounds terrifying.
Curiosity and new experiences keep us from stagnating, and it’s proven that keeping our brains stimulated promotes concentration, motivation, and sense of wellbeing over time.
Apply for that evening course; book the weekend away; watch the film even if you think you’ll hate it. Life is short, and it’s hard to progress in your comfort zone.
No matter how much is on your plate, being anxious or depressed shouldn’t be the norm. Make sure to book an appointment with your GP if your feelings persist.
If you’re worried about your immediate mental health, call NHS Direct on 111.