3 tips to protect your mental health in lockdown

It's understandable if you feel the need to escape your own negative thoughts – as well as your house, writes Jo Steer

Jo Steer

Coronavirus: How teachers can protect their mental health in lockdown

Back in February 2020, I wrote about ways in which teachers might find a regular means of escape from what can be an altogether stifling and repressive career path.

Had I known that months later we’d be in the grip of a global pandemic – that I’d be more concerned about escaping the house than anything else – I probably would have shelved that article.

As it is, I think an update is warranted.

So here it is. Some tips and tricks to help you break free, not break down:

Coronavirus: How teachers can look after their mental health in lockdown

Take a break from your screen

I find myself in a bit of a pickle lately, in that I’ve never felt as compelled to keep up to date with the news, while also being so acutely aware of the damaging impact that information overload has on my mood and mindset.

Worse still, I’ve caught myself scrolling through social media/#edutwitter, basically looking for things to be angry or upset about.

Deciding that there are probably better ways to alleviate boredom, I set to work on my mental diet, taking steps to curate and curtail my daily intake of information, especially the rage/misery-inducing kind. I feel lighter already.

If overindulging in negativity is a problem for you, too, I highly recommend setting time limits on social media and news apps (I use the Screen Time app for this), and turning off notifications.

Pay attention to where you’re paying attention. Strive to stay with things that leave you energised more than depleted. 

Escape the house, mindfully

We’re still allowed outside for our daily exercise, and should be grabbing the opportunity with both hands, right?

I don’t know about you, but months of increased time indoors has left me feeling slightly apprehensive about venturing outdoors, overthinking situations that I wouldn’t have thought twice about months ago.  

It’s unnerving, but also natural. More than ever, we need to step away from perceptions of what we should/shouldn’t be feeling and know that it’s OK not to be OK.

Avoidance isn’t the answer, though. Mindfulness is.

When you do go outside, when you’re experiencing the once-familiar, now seemingly less-so, strive to be present to it. Notice the sights, sounds, smells with curiosity – become a tourist of your local, ordinary surroundings. Don’t waste these opportunities for escape by staying trapped in thoughts.

Escape yourself

Does your physical location matter as much as where you are mentally and emotionally? Unless you’re in imminent danger, usually not. 

Even in the most adverse situations, some people find ways to channel inner calm, joy and gratitude, while others feel suffocated in the seemingly most privileged of circumstances. Mindset matters.

Ergo, the more we look inwardly for answers, wisdom and reassurance, the more likely we are to get it.

I know I harp on about it all of the time, but I implore you to give meditation a go. Try the Smiling Mind app – it’s great (and free).

Meditation allows you to witness your thoughts, feelings and emotions. It creates more space between who you are and what passes through your mind, making the latter feel less intense and important, regardless of what’s happening in the world around you. It keeps you focused towards what you can control, not what you can’t.

That’s something we need right now.

Jo Steer is a former leader now working with schools as a wellbeing consultant

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