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A Mindful Lifestyle

Not only can we be mindful about our own emotions and how our actions impact those we care about. We can also be mindful about how our eating and lifestyle habits are impacting the planet and the eco-system. And we must try to be more environmentally sustainable now more than ever – environmental sustainability is the responsible interaction with the environment to avoid further depletion of natural resources and to ensure long-term environmental quality (The Balance Small Business, 2020). Burning fossil fuels and coal, factory farming and deforestation generate greenhouse gasses (CO2, CH4, and N20) that are released and trapped in the atmosphere, which means less solar radiation from the sun can be deflected back into space, so instead the heat is re-radiated, causing the earth to warm. This has depleted natural resources and led to a climate shift resulting in extreme conditions such as forest fires and rising sea levels from melted glaciers.  According to the NOAA 2019 Global Climate Summary , “the combined land and ocean temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.07°C per decade since 1880” (Climate.gov, 2020). Fortunately, it isn’t too late to reverse some of the damage. Although changes need to be made by world leaders, there are some things we can do individually to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, they may seem insignificant, but if every person did as many of these suggestions as they could, then that is a step in the right direction.

Just so you know, I am not claiming to be some sort of Greta Thunberg, I know it takes research, practice, and patience. I am still learning how to be more sustainable myself, but I thought it would be useful for you to have this guide on where to start and maybe learn a thing or two along the way.

Diet

You’ve probably heard all the “meat is murder” and “eating meat is destroying the planet” phrases before. I’m not here to tell you to turn vegan, yes, following a plant-based diet supposedly causes less harm to the environment than an omnivorous diet – but soy and palm oil cultivation can also destroy wildlife habitats, harm endangered species and produce greenhouse gases. Even though most of this soy is fed to livestock, either way, the Amazon Rainforest is being destroyed at an alarming rate – 20% of the rainforest has been already cut down and scientists predict a further 40% will be destroyed and another 20% will degrade within the next two decades (Small Footprint Family, 2019). So, we see that having fish or meat on your plate isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s about moderation. And we need to consider much more than our diet alone.

I added fish back into my diet a few weeks ago. I was previously vegan, and I thought I would be for the rest of my life, so you could understand I felt hesitant at first. I won’t ramble on about my reasoning, but I decided it was the best decision for my health. My mind was made up once I researched the ways I could add fish back into my diet in a sustainable way. This looked like – only eating fish for 3 or 4 meals per week and eating plant-based the rest of the week. And only buying fish that was labelled ‘MSC certified’. It is important to choose responsibly sourced fish, so you know the fisheries are not overfishing, the fishing activity was managed carefully to ensure other species in the eco-system remained healthy and the fisheries complied with relevant laws (Marine Stewardship Council, 2020). It gets a bit trickier with meat, since factory farming is known to be one of the worse pollutants. But, if you’re adamant to keep meat in your diet, then there are some ways to do it that are slightly sustainable: you could eat less meat per week, have smaller portions of meat, buy from local farms or only buy pasture-raised meat, which means the animals spent their time unconfined and eating vegetation, so they were able to express their natural behaviours (FootPrint, 2020). I’d assume the same would apply to eating eggs and dairy too – moderating consumption, choosing free range / organic and buying from local farms. If your only concern is limiting your carbon footprint or ensuring you aren’t eating tainted meat, then hunting is a plausible option.

Food waste

Each year, “4.5 tonnes of food waste is thrown away from UK households” (The Guardian, 2020). That’s not even including waste from supermarkets and restaurants. Considering all the people living on the streets or who cannot afford food, you’d think we would be more conscious about what we throw away, but that’s a whole other topic we don’t need to get into right now.

There are many ways in which we can personally limit our food waste and how supermarkets and restaurants can do the same. Such as, buying products from supermarkets that will be thrown away the next day or eating food at home after the best before date – remember the ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates are different. The best before date is only a rough guide but the use by date is shown on food that shouldn’t be eaten past this date for health and safety reasons e.g. meat. But, even some products that surpass the use by date are still perfectly safe to eat e.g. certain fruit, vegetables, and pastries, which means a lot of the food that supermarkets throw away is still edible. More than 10 million tonnes of food and drink are wasted every year in the UK. Despite efforts to decrease this amount through donating food surplus – the number is still off the scales. Supermarkets need to ensure ALL edible food is donated to food banks and homeless people. They could even stock surplus food on the shelves for customers to take for free. There are many great apps which can help limit this issue as well. For example, ‘Too Good To Go’, which allows cafés and restaurants to sell their surplus produce at a discount price. And Olio, an app which helps connect neighbours and retailers, so surplus food can be shared and not wasted – you can often trade with people and get items for free.

Another way we can limit food waste within our home, is meal planning. Only buying the food you need and prepping for the week is a good way to use up everything you bought to ensure nothing is wasted. If you find yourself with spare items in your fridge that you don’t know how to use, you can just throw it altogether to make a soup or casserole. You could even give the items that are safe for animals, to your dog or cat (but make sure to research beforehand) or give leftovers to a friend or family member if you made too much.

Composting is also a great way to recycle your food scraps whilst benefiting the environment – it minimises methane emissions that would have been produced if it were buried in landfills (Primary Industries and Regional Development, 2018). It also acts as a fertiliser, which is useful for those who enjoy gardening. It’s really simple and easy for beginners, all you need to do is create a pile full of equal parts ‘brown’ materials (carbon) and ‘green’ materials (nitrogen). You’ll also need water but it shouldn’t be too wet or too dry (Better Homes & Gardens, 2020). There are plenty of how-to videos and articles online to act as a guide. But, I’ve added a guide to help down below. It’s something that I would like to start myself as well.

How to Compost:
What to Include:

Photo credit: urbanfoodgarden.org

Plastic

“8 million tonnes of plastic enter the sea every year, enough to circle the world 4 times. This plastic pollutes beaches, kills marine wildlife, and degrades into microplastics that enter our food chain. And without big action, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean” – (Turning The Tide on Plastic, Lucy Siegle 2018) 

So, what can we do about it?

If you want to decrease the plastic usage in your life, first you need to assess how much plastic you are currently using. If you are one of those people living in blissful ignorance and the idea hasn’t even crossed your mind yet. That’s fine. At least you’re here now. Go take a look around your house or flat and see what you can find – keep an eye out for plastic bottles, wrappers on food, magazines, and toiletry packets. Once you are aware of how much plastic you’re using, it would be useful to write it down and see how often you buy these items. If you haven’t already, you could start by creating a box for recycling your household items, it usually tells you on the packaging whether you can recycle it or not. Or create a new purpose for the things you cannot recycle. Next, think about some replacements you could make for something more sustainable. For example, buying biodegradable wipes, choosing toiletries without microbeads in, opting for bamboo toothbrushes and earbuds, reusable water bottles, straws and coffee cups, glass tupperware, soap bars instead of shower gel, cotton bags for shopping and buying your fruit and vegetables without plastic wrappers. Then try to think on a wider scale – limit ordering food or clothes online to avoid packaging (or order from places where you know they use cardboard / paper packaging) buy in bulk when you shop, grow your own vegetables, take containers to fish and meat butcheries, shop at markets that sell loose items, which is a good way to support small local businesses too. I could go on and on, but you get it by now.

It may seem a bit excessive and you may have items you couldn’t possibly think of giving up. But, this is merely a list of examples, it’s all about starting small. Buy that reusable water bottle. Start recycling if you didn’t already. And then work your way up. A plastic-free life is almost impossible to stick to all of the time, but it’s important to do something at least. You may find it harder if you’re a parent, living with people who don’t share the same values as you, or you’re just clueless when it comes to this sort of stuff. But, speak to your family, research those alternatives, do something now if you care about the future of the planet.

What can UK citizens and the government do as a whole?

Decrease or ban plastic packaging and bags from supermarkets, have a bottle deposit system, beach clean-ups, ensuring all contents of recycling bins are actually recycled, create stricter policy, use plastic in innovative ways i.e. fashion – Adidas made shoes out of ocean plastic in 2018, put pressure on the government through activism and support plastic / waste free businesses. 

Other – cosmetics, fashion, and transport etc. 

Wait, there’s more? Yes indeed.

It is also important that we are conscious of the cosmetics products we are buying and using such as makeup, shampoo, aerosols, toothpaste, moisturiser, sun lotion, nail polish and soap etc. A lot of the items you use daily include ingredients that bleach coral reefs, pollute the earth, contribute to deforestation and are toxic to aquatic animals (they end up in the ocean after we wash our face, hands or take a shower for example).

Here are some ingredients to avoid if you are wanting to be eco-friendly with your regime (plus some natural alternatives):

  • Exfoliating microbeads (made from polyethylene – plastic particles). Used in face wash, body wash and toothpaste. They are toxic to marine life as they don’t degrade or dissolve – using coffee, rolled oats or brown sugar to exfoliate would be a better alternative.
  • Silicones – used in moisturiser, hair products and anti-ageing creams (large amounts were found in Nordic regions and detectable amounts were found inside fish, which means it could be contaminating the fish we eat)
  • BHA/BHT – Synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in lipsticks and moisturisers, among other cosmetics. They are also widely used as food preservatives. Known to be toxic to aquatic life and have a high potential to bioaccumulate (David Suzuki Foundation, 2020). Rosemary extract is a good replacement.
  • Octinoxate Oxybenzone, plus many more chemicals used in sunscreen, which results in coral bleaching. You can find a list here: https://stream2sea.com/ingredients-to-avoid/ Opt for “reef safe” labelled brands instead – Nivea is an affordable option.
  • Palm oil – used in everything, from your pizza to your shampoo. It’s a major driver of deforestation – destroying the habitats of already endangered species such as the Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino (WWF, 2020). Choose ethically sourced palm oil or coconut oil instead.
  • Mineral oil / liquid parrafin, and petroleum jelly – found in a lot of products such as baby oil, Vaseline, eczema cream, candles and lip balm. Extracting oil destroys habitats, burning petroluem creates CO2 and mineral oil pollutes drinking water and kills marine life (opt for castor oil, shea butter and soy wax instead)
  • Volatile Organic Components – cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays, air freshener, repellents & pesticides, permanent markers – and many other solvents. They produce fine particles that play a significant role in polluting the earth and forming a ground level ozone layer. Limit buying and using these products, choose biogenic options or create natural alternatives for household cleaners.
  • Parfum (fragrance) is a type of phthalate – it is toxic to marine life and disrupts our hormones (opt for rose water, lavender essential oil or fragrance-free products, which are also better options for your hair and skin.
  • Triclosan – found in hand sanitizer, laundry detergent and deodrant etc. When these are washed down the sink, they can change the biochemistry of fish and other aquatic life – also causes pollution when released into the air. Opt for roll-on instead and use brands that are trisoclan-free, such as Faith in Nature. You can make natural detergent and cleaners from ingredients such as: lemon and tea tree essential oil, apple cider vinegar and baking soda.

I know that was a lot to take in. As I said earlier, it’s all about starting small. It’s difficult to find affordable products that contain no harsh chemicals because even some brands labelled as “natural” contain parfum, silicone or mineral oil. So, ‘natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean better – remember to read the ingredient list to make sure (tip: the ingredients are listed in order of percentage, so the first listed ingredient is what the product contains the most of and the last ingredient listed is what the product has the least of). A great place to start for affordable natural skin and hair care would be Lush, The Body Shop, Botanicals, Noughty, The Ordinary, Faith in Nature, Milk Makeup and Original Source – or DIY your own products from natural ingredients.

Ah, fast fashion. The root of all evil. Well, that’s a bit far, but you get what I’m trying to say. We are all obsessed with buying the latest trends – we didn’t even take a second to consider the impact it’s having on the environment, next thing we know, our wardrobe is full to the brim with clothes we don’t even wear and we are throwing away tops by the dozen. If you didn’t know, fast fashion is “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends”, so think of your high street stores. We are all guilty of this, I used to be a bit of a shopaholic myself due to my love for fashion and styling. Even though, I enjoyed buying second-hand clothes from charity stores (for the vintage bargains) and always donated / sold my old clothes. Sometimes, I’d overindulge, and buy clothes I didn’t even need or want. But, recently I had a massive wardrobe clear-out. So, my goal from now on is to only buy items I really need, choose second hand as my first option and avoid buying clothes from stores such as Primark – the materials are cheap and synthetic (polyester, acrylic and nylon), which are non-durable and bad for the environment.

The global fashion industry generates a lot of greenhouse gases during the production, manufacturing and transporting processes. For example, burning fossil fuels for synthetic fibres, cutting down forests to grow wood-based materials like rayon, viscose and modal, degradation of soil through overgrazing of sheep raised for wool and the massive use of chemicals to grow cotton. The list goes on. Each year, around £140 million worth of clothing is thrown into landfills, taking 200 plus years to decompose and simultaneously emitting a harmful greenhouse gas emission called methane (WRAP, 2018). 

But, here are some ways to be more sustainable with your fashion:

  • Research & check labels
  • Buy second hand or choose vintage
  • Sell unwanted clothes on Etsy / Depop
  • Donate old clothes to charity or friends
  • Learn how to repair your clothes or turn them into something new (DIY)
  • Choose ethically sourced and organic materials – support sustainable brands
  • Invest in good quality clothes and shoes that will last 
  • Only buy clothes that you need (ask yourself how often you will wear it before you buy)
  • Trans-seasonal clothing that you can wear all year round

(Bazaar – Amy De Klerk, 2020)

Transporation & Energy Usage

Another major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is transport, even though the number has slowly decreased each year since 1990, “UK net emissions of carbon dioxide were estimated to be an astonishing 351.5 million tonnes in 2019” (National Statistics, 2019). The government has promised to reach net-zero emissions by the end of 2050 –

But, what can we do to lower these emissions and save energy within our homes?

  • Consider driving less – choose walking, cycling or public transport if and when possible (or buy an electric, hybrid or energy-efficient car).
  • Try to conserve water & use less hot water – turn off the tap whilst brushing your teeth, cut down shower time or buy a low-flow shower head, fill up your sink when washing dishes, only do full loads of laundry, wash clothes on a colder temperature and use a timer for your hot water heater.
  • Efficient energy sources – energy-saving bulbs, LED lights, solar panels, programmable thermostat, dimmer switches, ceiling fan instead of air conditioning and energy STAR appliances (help cut electricity costs long-term).
  • Energy Conservation – hanging laundry out to dry, only putting cooled food in the fridge, use lids when cooking, wash dishes by hand, insulate your home properly and use more blankets during winter – and finally, always remember to turn off lights & unplug sockets when not in use, as most appliances drain energy even when you aren’t using them.
  • Choose non-stop flights when flying, because landing and taking off requires more fuel and therefore creates more emissions. Avoid flying business class (the larger the business class area, the less economy seats there are – so, less people on the flight creates a higher carbon contribution per person). Airline companies should also scratch ‘Frequent Flier Programs’, as they encourage people to fly more. And improve engine and fuel efficiency.
  • Become more politically active – vote, petitions, protests.

I know it’s unlikely you are going to pop out to buy some solar panels and an electric car. I know some people have no option but to drive to work because of how far they live, buy connecting flights because they are cheaper or use more electricity due to living with more people. That’s understandable. But, there is no excuse when it comes to conserving water, turning off light switches, unplugging sockets and small alterations you can make when cooking and washing up. Everyone can do this. So, it’s time to stop making excuses. And I’m talking to myself too. I’ve learned a lot just by writing this and it’s opened my eyes to the changes I need to make. I hope you will also try to implement a few of the things we’ve discussed today, into your life, so we can both reduce our carbon footprint, conserve our planet and oceans for the future and reverse some of the damage that’s already been done.

Mental Health & The Importance of Self-knowledge

Author: Ivona Kafedjiska

Originally posted on: https://jungle-dancer.com/

What is Mental Health?

Mental health: we neglect it so often, forgetting that it is one of the most crucial aspects of our life. Symbiosis of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Simultaneously shaped both by our brain [chemistry] and by our everyday experiences. Mental health: it is us, and we are it.

Our mental health affects every pore of our being: how we think, feel, manage stress and work responsibilities, maintain relationships, manage our time… The challenging part about it is that is constantly evolving – same as we are. Depending on our age, biology (genes or hormones for example), external conditions, traumas and stressors, and/or family and friends dynamics, our mental health can take unexpected, but not necessarily negative, turns.

One of the common misconceptions about mental health is that is a “topic” relevant only for those who struggle. Anxietydepressioneating disorders, and bipolar disorder are some of most well-known mental disorders; yet, it does not mean in any way that you have to be diagnosed with any of these in order to start paying attention to your mental health.

mental health

Truth is, we all struggle. But, understanding that this is normal part of life on the one hand, and understanding ourselves on the other, can be extremely comforting.

Why am I as I am? Who am I? How was I influenced by my past experiences and how will these shape my life in the future? Am I only a prisoner of my thoughts; or, can I find a way to overcome the barriers in my life and finally overcome to biggest barrier of them all – myself?

Finding the answers to these questions and realizing the importance of self-knowledge are the first steps towards maintaining a good mental health and a healthy relationship with yourself. Hopefully, after self-knowledge, self-love and self-acceptance can follow.

Self-knowledge

Much of what destroys our lives can be attributed to emotions that our conscious selves haven’t found a way to understand or address in time. It is logical that Socrates should have boiled down the entire wisdom of philosophy to one simple command: “Know yourself”.

– An emotional education by The School of Life

Knowing ourselves is laying the foundation for nurtured mental health. Much of our behavior patterns can be traced back to our childhood (cliche, I know, but true); yet, at the same time, we can barely remember anything truthfully about it. We tend to romanticize our former selves or our former experiences, even when it is not about about childhood memories.

It is not completely unreasonable to forget – or, better said, suppress – the wounds of the past. It is in fact a protective mechanism that sugar coats our personal histories and through denial, falsely promises us a joyful and obstacles-free life. However, by choosing to focus only on the cheerful memories, we omit – at least for a while – precisely the memories of the events that had the greatest impact on our character.

Through self-deception, we stay in our comfort zone, even when the comfort is damaging. Yes, sure, we “protect” ourselves from finding some possibly painful answers; but, at the same time, we avoid finding out how much we have compromised our lives for the sake of others; how much we need to change about our relationships with others – be it a partner, parents, siblings, friends, or colleagues; or, how we have ended up being in a job we hate. And these points largely influence our mental health and our overall life quality.

Markers of emotional health

The School of Life – a collective of psychologists, philosophers, and writers operating under this common brand – identify four markers of emotional health. They suggest that in order to assert how badly our early years have influenced us, we should firstly assert how we respond to these markers.

Markers of emotional and mental health
Markers of emotional and mental health, as described in “An Emotional Education” by The School of Life

Let me give you some food for thought for each of these four markers.

1. Communication

  • Do you communicate or internalize your pain?
  • When people upset you, do you feel the need to communicate with them? Or, would you rather avoid the possibility of a conflict?
  • How do you react when people cannot understand what you are trying to tell them?
  • How good are you at communicating your disappointments, the reasons for these disappointments, and how you want to change things?
  • How do you deal with frustration when you cannot communicate well with loved ones?

The answers to these questions should tell you not only how you respond to your struggles, but also how actively you think and talk about them. Finding the strength to verbally explain your feelings and experiences shows a certain emotional maturity, but also self-assertiveness that can have an overall positive impact of your mental health.

Since we are social beings, much of our emotions and mental health patterns yield from social contacts. These can never be long-lasting unless you can speak up your mind in the best possible way. Even if it is hard at first, give it a try. Maybe write a bit before you speak. Do not get discouraged if you are misunderstood at first. Seek for good listeners and people you trust in so that you can feel safe when sharing your burdens. Which brings me to the second point – trust.

2. Trust

  • How much do you trust other people?
  • How much do you trust yourself?
  • What do you think when meeting new people or starting a new job?
  • How do you react to unfamiliar situations?
  • When you are faced with a challenge, how readily do you accept it and how much do you trust yourself that you can stand up to it?
  • When it comes to love, how are you as a partner?

The topic of trust is a highly complex one. It addresses behaviors directed towards us, but also towards other people. In this way, the trust we have – or the lack of it – determines how controlling we need to be in our lives. Trusting other people and trusting ourselves and the decisions we make are the main conditions for embracing the world as it is and accepting that even though sometimes people hurt us, it does not mean that we are not worthy or deserving of something great.

3. Self-Love

  • Can you always stay on your side and be your own best friend?
  • How do you react to humiliation or offense from other people?
  • How do you react to toxic relationships – be it your own one or of other people?
  • When you make a mistake because of ignorance, how do you feel? Do you distinguish between lack of knowledge and lack of character?
  • How ready are you at work to ask for help and/or promotion/raise?
  • Can you say “no”?
  • How much do you need to please others? If a lot, why? If not at all, why?

I think this point is pretty self explanatory, but same as self-knowledge, it comes hard to many of us. We do not necessarily hate ourselves, but we do not necessarily always love ourselves either. The idea of self-love, however, is indeed asking us to always be mindful about our characters and love them nevertheless. Of course, through the process of self-knowledge we might want to aim to alter some of our behaviors, but even then, we should do so lovingly and respectfully. Nothing blooms when watered with hatred.

4. Candour

  • Up to which extent to you allow difficult ideas to enter your mind? How well do you accept them?
  • How often do you turn to denial when faced with a criticism or (negative) feedback?
  • Can you admit to yourself that you have made a mistake?
  • How often do you reflect upon your misbehavior?
  • Can you explore your own mind and its troubled, dark corners without feeling guilty or scared?
  • How readily do you learn from and listen to others?

If communication addressed the point of speaking up peacefully what is bothering us; if trust addressed the point of how well we trust other people that they want abuse our weaknesses or pains we have communicated with them; if self-love addressed the point of accepting ourselves, even when someone breaks our trust and refuses to loves us; then, candour addresses the willingness to hear everyone’s criticism – including your own. In doing so, you pave the path for self-knowledge on the one hand, and for fruitful communication on the other. Slowly, you learn to trust yourself and others until you finally learn how to be your most loyal and most loving friend.

Final words on self-knowledge and its influence on mental health

These four emotional markers are interwoven and almost indistinguishable from one another. Only through insightful questions and honest answers you can slowly, day by day, get to know yourself.

It it funny that we spend all of our time with our thoughts, quirks and character and yet, we are strangers to ourselves. We bombard our mind with social media, work, art, music, literature – which is all needed and nice – but we tend to forget to stop looking so much into the outward world and decide to take a look inward.

I believe that self-knowledge is the first step towards nourished and balanced mental health. Through self-knowledge, we get the chance to utilize our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses. Accordingly, we can use our strengths to our advantage, but also be ready to reach out for help, whenever needed. By doing do, we give ourselves the chance to grow. To change and evolve beautifully. To accept that we and life cannot be perfect, but when we know ourselves, life can be healthy, joyful, and loving.

These four emotional markers are interwoven and almost indistinguishable from one another. Only through insightful questions and honest answers you can slowly, day by day, get to know yourself.

It it funny that we spend all of our time with our thoughts, quirks and character and yet, we are strangers to ourselves. We bombard our mind with social media, work, art, music, literature – which is all needed and nice – but we tend to forget to stop looking so much into the outward world and decide to take a look inward.

I believe that self-knowledge is the first step towards nourished and balanced mental health. Through self-knowledge, we get the chance to utilize our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses. Accordingly, we can use our strengths to our advantage, but also be ready to reach out for help, whenever needed. By doing do, we give ourselves the chance to grow. To change and evolve beautifully. To accept that we and life cannot be perfect, but when we know ourselves, life can be healthy, joyful, and loving.

Check out her blog for more content on mental health, and also – travel, art, science, sustainability and much more!

Instagram: @jungle_dancer

How I Stayed Sane During Lockdown

I know what you’re thinking, this would have been way more helpful at the start of lockdown, and it seems irrelevant now since things are slowly getting back to normal. But, it’s never too late to form healthier productive habits, so I thought I’d share my experiences with this incredibly unique situation in the hopes that it would help you, due to the uncertainty still up in the air – as you may still be out of work, unemployed, currently waiting to go back to university, or just in a rut.

Mindfulness

Firstly, let’s talk about mindfulness. What is mindfulness? “Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment – free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them” (Headspace, 2020). At first, being in quarantine was extremely hard for me, I felt anxious over how long it would last and how I would deal with being stuck at home every day. Having this mindset over situations we cannot control, won’t change the position you are in. But, what you can do, is shift your perspective. So, I decided to view this as an opportunity to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do but ‘never had the time to’. You can practice mindfulness in many ways such as meditation, yoga, and journaling, which I did a few times a week until I had the motivation to implement these into my everyday routine. I found these were helpful for me because writing down how I felt and what I had to be grateful for, was a good way to release negative emotions and remind myself of the things I was taking for granted. Also, giving myself a bit of time each day to meditate and do yoga allowed me to slow down, be present at that moment and relax, which was a good way to create zen in my life during the ambiguity of quarantine.

Socialising (when possible)

Human beings are social creatures. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human needs can be depicted by five hierarchical levels within a pyramid – half way up the pyramid there is ‘belongingness and love needs’ which is one of our psychological human needs. Examples of this include friendship, intimacy, affection, and acceptance, which are essential to motivate our behaviour. I know this may have been difficult for those who live alone, aren’t close to their family or have friends that moved back home during the summer. But, any sort of social interaction, whether that be a video call with a friend, speaking to the cashier in a store, a socially distanced walk with a loved one or talking to random people on the internet. Social interaction can help us feel connected to those who understand what we are going through. So, keeping in touch with my friends and spending more time with my family was really helpful for me during this time, because it reminded me that I have people who care about me, that are going through the same exact situation. There’s nothing worse than isolating yourself from the world ~ especially during ‘self isolation’.

Focusing on My Hobbies

This is the perfect time to focus on something you love doing because you may not get another opportunity with this much free time on your hands. If no hobbies spring to mind, then you could always take up something new. It could be reading, learning something new, learning how to cook or a new sport, it could be anything, it could be a mixture of activities, as long as it’s something that brings you joy and it doesn’t feel like a burden to do. According to Delta Psychology, 2016, hobbies help you cope with stress, as they help you unplug from what is bothering you and escape from a mundane routine of everyday life. And we all know how boring lockdown became at times, so having a few hobbies can be beneficial for your mental health, especially if you’re unemployed or currently out of work and university. During this time, I tuned into my creative side, I was painting much more often and went on long walks with my camera to take some scenic shots. I even started dancing, reading tonnes of books and doing some online courses. This was my way to escape and keep busy, which was an important part of how I stayed sane during lockdown because without doing the things I love and keeping busy, then the days would have seemed meaningless and dull. 

Exercising & Getting Out

I know we all had those days where we wanted to stay in bed watching Netflix all day with the curtains closed. But, in reality, this will only make you feel worse. Even if you push yourself to go on a 15-minute walk, do a short workout at home, or even sit outside for a little bit, anything is better than nothing. I made the habit of walking my dogs with my mam every day for an hour, starting my day this way always lifted my mood, and I began to cherish the moments I spent with my family over lockdown. For those who live alone or became irritated by your family or flatmates, you could always go on a walk alone and listen to music or make plans with a friend now that social distancing measures have eased. Throughout lockdown, I tried out a few forms of exercise, such as skipping, cycling, dancing, weight lifting with some dumbbells I had at home and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)– as of now, following dance workout videos have been my favourite because they aren’t as daunting as a mundane routine. I won’t lie, I’m still not as consistent as I would like to be, but on average I do around 2/3 workouts a week alongside my long walks every day, which is what I aimed for before lockdown too (but going to the gym instead). Staying active is an important part in keeping a healthy mind and body. This is shown in a study by Sports Medicine in 2000, where 43 hospitalised and clinically depressed patients were exposed to a vigorous exercise routine over a nine-week period, after this, there were significant reductions in their depressive symptoms, which shows how physical activity is an effective treatment for depression and depressive symptoms. So, next time you’re feeling blue with nothing else to do, why don’t you try going for a walk or do something a bit more intense if you’re up for it. If you’re feeling anxious you could try something more relaxing to do at home such as yoga or pilates.

Keeping Your Mind Active

As we’ve previously covered, it’s important to keep our bodies active to obtain optimal mental well-being. But, in order to keep our minds healthy and sharp, we need to keep our brains active. We can do this by reading intellectual content, playing mind games, drawing, listening to music, writing frequently, learning a new language and through many more activities. During quarantine, I bought tonnes of new books (I’m embarrassed to say how many) which was my favourite way to keep my mind active because I learned a lot from a range of subjects such as sociology, self-care, psychology, and neuroscience. And because of it, I discovered more about myself and how to implement this newfound knowledge into my own life. I’ve also been trying to learn Spanish, paint, and discuss what I’ve learned with my friends and family. It’s important to challenge or at least engage our minds every day instead of solely going through the motions and scrolling through social media. As this can improve memory and our thinking skills in the long term – alongside good sleep and eating healthy, of course, but we all know that went down the drain as soon as this whole lockdown ‘thing’ started. Joking aside, not getting enough sleep or eating a well-balanced diet has been proven to have detrimental effects on our health and mental well-being. I know it’s easier said then done (speaking from someone with insomnia) but taking small steps in creating a better night-time routine and incorporating healthier options into your diet is a step in the right direction.

Clear Space, Clear Mind

Normally our living space reflects how we feel – “your desk is a mirror that reflects your inner mind”. When you’re feeling anxious, your room is usually cluttered and messy like your thoughts, so it makes sense that a messy room can also make you anxious, it seems to be a constant cycle, right? In zen temples in Japan, monks clean the temples every morning and evening, not because the temples are dirty, but because they believe cleaning ‘hones the mind’. I know cleaning and tidying my room has always felt therapeutic for me and my mind feels much clearer afterwards. So, during lockdown, I ensured to keep my room tidy every day (with the occasional inconsistency) and I sorted through all my drawers and boxes to get rid of anything I didn’t need or use – I either donated or sold my clothes and items, of course, to avoid the harm of fast fashion and ensure nothing went to waste. A lot of us have items we don’t really need or acquire new things that are no use to us, simple living is a key part to a clear mind, so why not try parting with old things before acquiring new ones – it can symbolise letting go of your attachments and burdens. I know that tidying your room can seem like such a daunting task, but that’s only when you let it get to a state that seems overwhelming. Spend a few minutes each day to organise your room, as it will create an environment that’s compatible with productivity. I’m sure many of you did this during lockdown because there was nothing else to do, but it’s an important habit to keep around.

To sum up…

The most important part is creating an efficient and consistent routine, such as when you will do your chosen activities and how long you will do them for. Some flexibility can be beneficial for those who don’t enjoy fixed routines, but you need to know when to differentiate between being flexible and staying in your comfort zone. After I slowly introduced these habits into my weekly routine, I created an everyday routine, which consisted of journaling, meditating, walking, doing yoga, Spanish and reading – with some leniency around how long and where I would do each task, because I couldn’t predict how I would feel each day. But, implementing what I learned, trying new things and sticking to these tasks every day was the key to how I stayed sane during lockdown.

I hope you enjoyed reading my experiences with quarantine and that you can take away something from this. I will leave you with a quote by Abu Bakr, to put all of this into perspective – “without knowledge action is useless and knowledge without action is futile”.

References

Mindfulness

Headspace. 2020. The Science-Backed Benefits Of Mindfulness. [online] Available at: https://www.headspace.com/mindfulness [Accessed 20 July 2020].

Socialising

Edgley, R., 2020. The Art Of Resilience. 1st ed. London: Harper Collins, pp.215-216.

McLeod, S., 2020. Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs. [online] Simply Psychology. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html [Accessed 22 July 2020].

Hobbies

Forbes, J., 2016. The Benefits Of Hobbies. [online] Delta Psychology. Available at: https://www.deltapsychology.com/the-benefits-of-hobbies [Accessed 20 July 2020].

Exercise

Paluska, S. & Schwenk, A., 2000. Physical Activity and Mental Health. Sports Medicine, 29(3), pp.168–170.

Keeping your mind active

Whitley, M. (2020) 10 Proven Ways to Keep the Mind Sharp as You AgeA Place for Mom. Available at: https://www.aplaceformom.com/caregiver-resources/articles/sharp-mind (Accessed: 29 July 2020).

Clear space, clear mind

Masuno, S. (2019) Zen: The Art of Simple Living. 1st edn. Japan: Penguin Books, pp. 24-28.