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By Terri McGeoghegan, March 23, 2020

“COVID-19, self-isolating and social distancing” were not words that were that were in my vocabulary four months ago. If someone had put them to me at the start of December and asked what they were in relation to, a feasible answer would have been that they were part of a script from an apocalyptic Hollywood film, starring Tom Cruise or some other well-known cove. We watch these types of films as a source of entertainment and escapism – because they are so outrageous and far from real life. I’m sure you’re the same as me right now, and wake up each morning after an unsettled sleep, and remember that this isn’t a film we’re watching on a screen or dreaming about. It’s real life.

I closed the door on my beauty business after ten years of trading last night (Saturday March 22), as did thousands of other businesses both local and nationwide. In normal circumstances that would have been my worst nightmare, but ironically enough, it is the least of my worries. My biggest worry is not singular; it is endless, surreal and at times haunting.

I have lain awake most nights for the last fortnight fretting about my grandparents who have both survived cancer, not to mention World War Two. Now their new reality is that they can’t walk beyond their front path and must stay away from their family for upwards of 12 weeks. I have watched scenes on the news from Italy which I wish I could unsee, while knowing it’s important to watch in order to grasp the severity of the crisis. I have seen elderly people walking around the supermarkets with empty baskets, looking hopelessly at their shopping list and back to the bare shelves.

We are seeing both the coming together of people and the unravelling of humanity, all at the same time.

Before all of this, we were in the midst of a mental health crisis. Depression and anxiety levels were at an all-time high. It’s safe to say this will not have helped matters! People will possibly be experiencing anxiety for the first time. When things feel out of control, like they do now, it’s important to focus on the things that we can control. There are many actions we can be taking to help our mental and physical health, as well as following the guidance from the government to do our bit to help stop the spread of the virus.  

  1. Get out in nature

Yesterday I went to the Castle Grounds for a long walk, and focused on all of the things that were unchanged in an otherwise rapidly changing world – the trees, the river and the singing birds, to list a few. It was comforting to be surrounded by this familiarity, in contrast to the unfamiliar atmosphere in the ever-quietening Stornoway town centre. I’ve never felt more comforted by nature, and we have an abundance of it on our doorstep in the beautiful Outer Hebrides. If you can’t get out and about then simply step outside and look up to see the things that are unchanged in the sky – the rising sun in the morning and the stars in the sky at night.

  1. Step away from the phone

If you’re anything like me, your phone will be glued to you right now, even more than usual. I feel like I’m missing some vital piece of news if I don’t refresh my newsfeed on facebook regularly. But it is precisely this type of behaviour that enforces negative thoughts and behaviours. Why do we put ourselves through this unnecessary stress? Try to limit your exposure to the news and social media to a couple of times a day instead of constantly hitting refresh. Or better yet, have a social media break for a day or two. Your head will thank you for it!

  1. Find your inner child and laugh

Bear with me on this one. Something I’ve realised in the last couple of years is how much enjoyment I get out of things I did as a child. Board games, playing cards, chess, tumbling down sand dunes, hide and seek, playing pranks and jumping out of closets on my poor suffering boyfriend are my personal favourites! All of these things bring me joy and above all, laughter.  If you have children, then get involved in their games. You have got to remember to laugh throughout all of this; and when you do laugh, don’t feel guilty about it!

  1. Keep to a routine

Repeat after me – this is not Christmas. If you are in the majority and are stuck in the house for the coming weeks, then try not to treat this time like the Christmas holidays where you wake up at weird times, eat too much junk food and drink too much Pinot Grigio! Eventually these routines leave us feeling sluggish and unmotivated. Routine can be a surprising anchor in our daily lives, and we soon crave it once it’s gone – it gives us certainty as well as a sense of security. Try to still get up at a set time, eat your meals in your normal algorithm and plan your day. Routine is especially important if you have little ones at home for their home-schooling, meals and bedtime. 

  1. Prioritise your sleep

It is well known that our mental health suffers more when we are tired and are functioning on too little sleep. I am finding it incredibly hard to sleep at the moment and am constantly waking in the night thinking about what is happening to our precious world.

Try to practise good ‘sleep hygiene’. Turn off your devices a good hour before bed and try to do something calming, like reading or having a bath. Don’t do what I’ve been doing and read the latest news then expect to fall into any sort of blissful sleep!

Another great thing to try are sleep stories (like bedtime stories for adults!) I use the Calm app’s sleep stories if my monkey mind is active, which is most of the time at the moment. My favourite is Matthew McConaughey’s sleep story “Wonder”.

  1. Connect

We must all make an extra effort to stay connected during this period of self-isolation and social distancing. Check in on your loved ones as much as you can and get into the habit of video calls instead of voice calls – it helps stop the sensation that you haven’t seen anyone for days, or weeks even!

  1. Use your time wisely

Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to do, or wanted to do more of, that you don’t have the time to do? If you’re self-isolating at home, then now is your time. Learn the guitar. Start writing a book. Paint the hallway. Make candles. Or plan ahead for life after lockdown – maybe you want to go back to studying, or start a new business? Whatever it is – do it!

  1. Reset

This could be a great option for you if you feel like you’ve been run ragged recently with little time to focus on yourself. Often when we’re busy self-care, diet and exercise can fall by the wayside. Use this as an opportunity to eat well, exercise and focus on yourself a bit more. There is an abundance of resources out there for exercising in the home, such as YouTube videos, DVD’s and apps. I love the Bad Yogi app, which allows me to do class after class of Vinyasa yoga in my living room! When I manage to do some yoga, walk my dogs, write on the computer or have a bubble bath with a good book, then I generally go to bed happier and feel more accomplished.

I appreciate that if you are a frontline worker in the NHS that none of this is feasible, and that now more than ever you are in need of self-care and lots of hugs (that we can’t even give now!) I think you’re all heroes, there isn’t enough gratitude in the world right now for our frontline doctors, nurses and carers.

  1. Look at the positives

How can there be positives in this sorry saga? There are positives in everything, you just have to look a little harder with this one. I saw a funny facebook meme the other day, that read, “It kind of feels like the Earth just sent us all to our rooms to think about what we’ve done.” Despite the humour, I thought this touched on something a bit profound. While COVID-19 is blazing its trail through each country across the world as I type, mother nature is healing. Recent pictures of the air above China showed how two months without production cleared the skies, dramatically reducing pollution and their carbon footprint on the world. The virus is showing us that by slowing down life and travelling less that a better environment can quickly emerge, which could be pretty groundbreaking on a large scale.

In the last 50 or so years we have been pushed along by the idea that a life well lived is one of travel, possessions and big homes – bigger, better, more, more, more! As a result, we have more or less destroyed our planet. We have more things, but has ruining the earth been worth the sacrifice? Are our lives actually richer? Materialistically, yes. But in our values and our principles I think we’ve become poorer, and lost sight of some of the more important things – such as family, as well as looking after the elderly and vulnerable more. I truly think we can come out of this as better people and with a more considerate society.

Whatever the coming weeks bring, know that we will get through this. To echo Harriet Beecher Stowe, “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

Take care, stay safe, and as always - wash your hands!