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Wed 10 Jun 2020 10:05 AM

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Staying mentally fit during Covid-19

Building resilience and a positive mindset will surely help us through these difficult times, says motivational speaker Marcus Smith

Staying mentally fit during Covid-19

Marcus Smith is an extreme athlete, entrepreneur and motivational speaker. He is also the owner of InnerFight and the co-founder of Smith Street Paleo

Humans like comfort. We seek it out in many areas of our lives and we are perhaps even hard-wired to do so.

Perhaps mistakenly, many people live as if they have control over most things and are able to do what they want, when they want and how they want.

And because full control and freedom is rarely the case, people exercise their freedoms by doing what is permitted; a drive to the beach, dinner at a local restaurant or booking a flight overseas.

Regardless of the specific choices we make, our ability to choose to do these things absolutely contributes to our sense of comfort and control in our lives.

In the context of a world struggling with Covid-19, countries all over the world have made the difficult decision to severely impact these freedoms.

As we are asked to stay home, we are faced with saying goodbye – at least temporarily – to many of the things that bring us happiness and comfort.

And perhaps the most distressing of all is that we can no longer seek comfort from our family and friends in the ways we normally would.

For many, this disconnection is causing a growing sense of discomfort. For some, the motivation to stay fit or be productive in our jobs is waning; for others the act of juggling work and home-schooling their children is overwhelming.

And so, we find ourselves here: on an emotional roller coaster, yearning for human interaction, anxious about the changing economic environment and frustrated at our inability to escape or control the situation.

The result is that both collectively and individually, our mental health is being tested like never before. But, action can be taken to avoid some truly dire consequences.

With that in mind, there are four key things that can be implemented to improve our ability to manage these difficult times, and beyond.

Routine: With work and life merging into one space physically, it is all the more important to separate them mentally.

To do this, you need at least two routines: one for your working week and one for the weekend.

By creating a routine, you create disciple and organisation, and in fact, after a lifetime of conditioning many of us really need this and feel lost and confused without it. It can also be helpful to keep some of your “usual” routine elements in place for a sense of normality.

So if your working hours at the office were 9-5, then maintain the same at home. Or if you always had your lunch break at 1pm then do the same now.

Reflecting on your routine before lockdown and mirroring as many of these elements as you can will increase your sense of familiarity and control, and the impact of this can be huge.

Small things: Keep things simple! If you focus on one or two “small things” that you can do everyday that make you feel good about life, then again you increase your sense of wellbeing and control over your world.

This could be as simple as reading a chapter of a book, listening to your favourite song or calling a loved one. Identify these small things that make you happy and commit do doing these things regularly. In this way, our minds are not so different from plants - with consistent care they can grow and flourish even in difficult conditions.

Create space: Regardless of where you live and how much space you have at your disposal, it makes such a difference if you can separate your workplace, exercise space and relaxing space.

Our brains love routine and consistency, and in fact while they are capable of amazing things, they function best with a singular purpose.

Thus having your work and exercise gear also in your relaxing space will leave you feeling like you are constantly “on”, and likely reduce your productivity in whichever activity you are trying to engage in.

If you don’t have space to dedicate separate rooms to each activity, then simply choose to be intentional in your activities.

Meaning, once you are done exercising, put the gear away to focus on your work. And equally, once you are done working for the day, turn off the computer and put it away so you can properly enjoy your rest time with those around you.

By creating space in this way you allow yourself to clearly focus on the task at hand without distraction...especially important for your rest time so that you don’t end up feeling like you are working all the time now that there is no physical separation from the workplace.

Move: Our bodies are built to move! No matter how big or small, the act of movement creates a cascade of positive chemical reactions in your brain.

These are endorphins, the so called “feel good” chemicals. You do not have to run a marathon to feel this benefit, just 20-30 minutes of exercise each day is enough.

And in addition to this, aim to move or stretch for 5 minutes every hour that you are sitting down. The physical benefits of this are unquestionable, but the psychological benefits too are significant as you give yourself a mini break to reset and refocus.

There is no doubt that Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions on our lives are putting huge strains on us all physically, mentally and emotionally.

Our need for human interaction, comfort and control over our lives is real and changes to each of these elements can leave us feeling lost and anxious.

By taking back some control and choosing to implement these strategies, we build resilience and a positive mindset that will surely help us through these difficult times and well in the future. 

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