Structure your time for better health

A little while ago I did some polls on my Instagram stories in order to find out how people are getting on. It turns out the vast majority of you currently do not have any distinction between different days, or the weekdays and weekends. Each to their own, of course, but I could not help but wonder whether that was by choice. When I asked whether you missed structure in your lives, an overwhelming majority said yes.

On the back of that, I decided that I would like to share my own tips and strategies for maintaining an artificial structure and keeping me sane. Here are my main propositions, for you to hopefully incorporate into your daily lives and see some beneficial results in terms of your mental health (and possibly also physical). As always, I am happy to be contacted for further chats ♡

This is a 3-4 minute read, covering the following points:

  1. sleep
  2. get outside & exercise
  3. structure
  4. things to look forward to & taking it day by day
  5. social contacts & processing
  6. nourishment

#1 – s l e e p

It has recently come to my attention how important sleep is. I could talk about this for ages, but if you have any doubts and an hour to spare, I would really really recommend checking out Dr Chatterjee’s podcast episode #70 with sleep researcher Professor Matthew Walker and the further reading available here (click to open in new tab). Sleep could be the most important predictor of health, longevity and mental health. Poor sleep has been shown to for example predispose us to Alzheimer’s dementia, glucose intolerance and a greater risk of physical injury during sport.

Therefore, my number one tip for you, is to pick set times to get up and get ready for bed. Of course during lockdown, many of us could just stay in bed all day, but I urge you to change this one thing. Pick times which feel natural to you, and ensure that you get at least an 8 hour sleeping opportunity window; that is, aim to spend at least 8 hours in bed, but even more is better (as every minute spent in bed is not necessarily one spent sleeping, and recommended aim is 7-9 hours per night for adults).

I used to sleep way less prior to lockdown, and talk about how I can function on very little sleep. True, I can function – but I do not function at my best and more importantly not being well rested feels pretty shitty. Also, “catching up” on sleep during weekends does not actually neutralise poor sleep during the week. My sleep has really been the biggest change I have made, and after several weeks now I can tell you it has improved my mood, my productivity and possibly even my skin and under-eye bags (!!).

Further tips to do with sleep:

  • screen free hour before bed. read a book or listen to a podcast instead. use blue light filters if you have to. and try to make your room dark and cool, avoid unnecessary bright lights.
  • don’t use your bed for other things than sleeping. if you don’t have a separate room for watching TV and need to Netflix on your bed, try to at least make your bed and have extra cushions and a throw on top so that it doesn’t feel like your “sleeping” bed.
  • if you can’t sleep (I feel you, as someone who often struggles a lot to fall and stay asleep), listen to a podcast or some music. know that even just resting and chilling with your eyes closed is beneficial, and don’t worry too much about actually falling asleep. you can also get up and do something different but boring such as tidying, or perhaps reading a book in dim lighting until you are tired, and try to sleep again. good sleep takes practice, but I have certainly gotten better at it!

#2 – get outside & exercise

Fresh air makes you feel better. Even if the weather is not ideal. If you want to get better sleep, it is advisable to try and get outside first thing in the morning. I have been going on a post-breakfast walk every day for almost three weeks now – even when it has rained – and it is a great way to kick-start my day. Even a 10 minute walk makes a difference, even though I sometimes go on walks up to 2 hours when I have the time to spare. While you are outside, try to not look at your phone and be present. Listen to a podcast or some music perhaps, but other than that use your senses and take the world in. (and of course respect social distancing measures)

Also ensure that you get some movement each day, either instead of your walk or alongside your walk. It will help with tiring you out a little and lift your mood. Importantly, do some exercise that you enjoy. I wrote an article on how to and how not to exercise during lockdown, especially if you have struggled or are struggling with disordered eating and exercise habits. You can access it here.

#3 – structure

This is another big one. And highly personal!

First of all, if you still have work or studying to do from home, make sure that you structure your work in blocks of a couple of hours here and there. Write down to-do-lists for yourself and daily tasks. It is super important that these are realistic though – if you give yourself way more to do than what is manageable, you will end up being overwhelmed and feeling disappointed in yourself. Also, you do not want to burn out so just do not overdo it!

If you do not have specific tasks that require your attention, good for you! But… is it really? Initially when I started lockdown I had a great time chilling doing nothing and watching Netflix for a couple of days, until I started to feel sluggish and understimulated. I would therefore not recommend doing nothing. Even if you do not have work or studies, create your own tasks. This could involve learning a new skill, trying new recipes, meal prepping, working out, sorting your wardrobe out, reading a book, listening to online learning webinars, podcasts, drawing, journalling… there are so many things you can do, especially if you have access to the Internet (which you must have if you are reading this).

For example, my friend created an awesome network called the Stay Home Skill Share where people are teaching and learning all sorts of wonderful things! Check it out here.

I cannot tell you exactly what to do, but I would love for you to do some soul searching and decide what you would like to fill your days with. While Netflix and social media are great (like, honestly, never felt so thankful for them as I do now) ensure that all you do does not revolve around technology and screens.

#4 – things to look forward to & taking it day by day

This will not last forever. As unreal as a post-lockdown world may seem, it will be here and all of these odd times will form only a small part of our memories. Things may be different, but we cannot tell exactly how, so there is literally no point whatsoever in dwelling on what the future may bring.

I take things day by day. I follow my to-do-lists, do little fun activities on the side, and generally just plod on 🙂 Whenever I stop to think about the future, I get a bit panicky, and so I go back to my day by day mindset. What does tomorrow bring, what does next week bring? I do not think much further than that, or rather I do not attach too much value or expectation to those ideas.

It is very important to have things to look forward to. Of course, if you have scheduled yourself work you know what the day might bring, but also write down or plan what else you will be doing. Will you do some yoga? Skype family members? Join a virtual pub quiz? Take a virtual dance class? Keep the distractions coming, and enjoy them. I would not recommend waking up every day and having no clue what you are going to do – unless it is the weekend. I keep my weekends chill and relaxed, which makes them fun and different to the usual weekdays. If every day was Christmas, how boring would Christmas not be? That is why I do not want every lockdown day to be the same. I ensure to plan things to look forward to as well as chores, and that has been one of my most important things when it comes to keeping me sane.

#5 – social contacts & processing

Social distancing in person does not mean you cannot talk to people and connect. Stay in touch with friends and family, you do not need to do it daily but do it as often as both parties would like. Rant it out, but also talk about other fun things. Do not make everything about the lockdown.

While I often rely on friends and family to process and talk through things, I would also recommend keeping a diary or journal to rant and process things on the page. If you are seeing a therapist, make sure you try and continue consultations via the phone if possible!

#6 – nourishment

Nourish yourself physically with good nutritious foods – plants! Try to eat different kinds of foods, both because diversity is healthy for the gut but also to keep your mind stimulated. Of course, nourishing your soul requires some baking and treats and chocolate. Do not feel like you need to be eating “healthfully” all the time (and of course do not feel like the point of exercise is to be “perfect” either for that matter). You want to work on your relationship toward food and eat mindfully and enjoy whatever it is that you are eating!

Also nourish your mind with meditation, yoga and things you enjoy doing like mentioned earlier. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you would a friend. No room for negative self-talk. You are doing your best and that is all that matters!

This too shall pass.

I hope you are able to incorporate some of these tips into your days to make the current situation more bearable. You may even find that you are able to improve on certain things, such as your sleep and relationship with food.

All the love in the world,

xo Linda

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