A ‘how to’ guide for wellbeing in a lockdown

University of Canterbury psychology lecturers Associate Professor Gini McIntosh and Professor Julia Rucklidge, who specialise in mental health and nutrition, have provided some advice about staying on track during a time of uncertainty and stress.

Here are six of their top tips:

  1.       Manage your expectations and take charge of your thinking.

During difficult times and times of change it’s important to make sure your expectations of yourself are reasonable. These could be expectations about how productive you should be, and how long you should be working/studying at a stretch. Consider relaxing overly high standards of yourself and be understanding when you don’t finish something. We don’t need perfection.

How you think impacts on how you feel so take control of what you say to yourself (self-talk). Try talking to yourself as if you were talking to your favourite person, someone you want to look after and wish the best for.

  1.       Establish a routine

Decide how you want to spend your time and make a plan. Not a rigid one, but more of a guideline. Make sure your routine will help you do the things that need to get done (assignments, deadlines, writing, housework, cooking, etc), has downtime (walk, watch a movie, play a game, sing, dance, bake), time for sleep (the most efficient time for sleep is the same eight-ish hours each night), time to connect with people, and time to be active.

If you have more time available than usual think about projects you might like to take on. Be creative: build the raised vege plot you have always wanted, learn te reo, start yoga, learn to knit, learn to make sourdough, tidy your wardrobe or learn the ukulele.

  1.       Connect with people

Staying at home with only the people in your household limits your usual social interactions but it’s still important to connect in different ways with different people. Use Zoom, FaceTime, email or phone a friend or family member. Social connectedness is highly associated with well-being and longevity. 

  1.       Be generous

Everyone needs to feel cared for just now. Check in on classmates, colleagues, family, friends and relatives. Offer to do something for someone else – shopping for a neighbour, an online tutorial for a friend, or dishes for your flatmate. The wonderful thing about generosity is that it comes right back at you.

  1.       Be Active

Physical activity has many positive benefits – including improving circulation, helping with brain health and memory and boosting energy. On top of the physical benefits, it also enhances mood, improves motivation, and leads to a greater sense of enjoyment. Staying at home can make it more of a challenge to stay active but make sure you walk, run or ride your bike around your neighbourhood, or try an online gym workout or yoga class.

  1.       Eat Well

When under stress we can often reach for foods that are “comforting” (like biscuits, donuts, cake, pastries, and chocolate bars), but these calorie-rich but nutrient poor snacks aren’t the best choice for feeding your brain under demanding circumstances.

To cope well with stress your goal should instead be to eat more fruit and veges and other foods that are high in nutrients. Grab a banana instead of a biscuit, a carrot stick dipped in hummus instead of chocolate, and nuts and seeds instead of a bag of chips.

Aim to eat a Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole foods, rather than Western-style processed food. Include good fats, nuts, seeds, fish, a modest amount of meat, vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Limit sugar intake and, although it’s tempting, try not to let your caffeine and alcohol intake creep up.