I just read the latest figures on the effects of Covid on people’s mental health. It made me realise why I had such a strong calling to start a new career in coaching when Covid struck. Like many others, I sensed the fear and gloom all around. Gandhi’s quote inspired me: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help others, and this has certainly been true for me during these times. I was frustrated that my consultancy projects couldn’t happen as planned, so I decided to use the time to learn new skills and find new purpose.
I’ve made it my mission to help others find their way to more light, just as others have done for me in the past when I have been struggling. I call myself The Joy Coach partly because my name is so difficult to pronounce and remember, but mainly because I know from experience and being coached myself that there is so much we can do to positively influence how we feel, no matter what the current circumstances – and no matter how lost or stressed we think we are.
It shocked me to read that depression has increased 3-fold in the US during Covid and has not diminished over time. Here is what Catherine Ettmann (Chief of Staff, Boston University School of Public Health) reports:
Today, our team published findings from the first longitudinal study on depression conducted on a representative sample of U.S. adults followed from Spring 2020 to 2021. We followed the same group of adults over 1 year to see how depression changed. We now see that depression went from 8.5% before COVID-19 to 27.8% in Spring 2020 up to 32.8% in Spring 2021.
So, if you have been feeling overly anxious or depressed during and even “after” Covid, please know that you are not alone.
So, what can you do about it?
Here are my 5 favourite (and scientifically proven) activities that you can do every day to find more positive energy:
Start the day with just a few minutes focusing on your breath and connecting to yourself, before others start needing and wanting things from you.
RPM – (Rise, Pee, Meditate) – Before you even touch your phone, take a shower or talk to anyone, go straight to your cushion, sit up straight, relaxed but alert, and spend a few minutes watching your breath with openness and curiosity.
I find it helps to add a mantra to focus my attention:
– You could try “let” on the in-breath and “go” on the out-breath
– “Receive” on the in-breath and “radiate” on the out-breath.
It’s perfectly natural to have thoughts come to you – the practice of mindfulness that you learn here is in noticing your thoughts and letting them go, then refocusing on the breath. Don’t judge them or yourself, but gently bring your attention back to the natural movement of the breath. The more you learn to do this in the morning, the easier it will be to become the master of your thoughts and emotions in the rest of your life. It’s truly liberating when you suddenly realise it’s working and you become a witness to your thoughts rather than be at the mercy of them.
To keep myself away from my phone at this precious time, I use a separate iPad that has no email or social media access. This ensures that I don’t get tempted to check in with the outside world before I have done my own inner “joy” work.
Here are my three favourite morning routine apps that are on my special “no distraction” iPad!
– I use Insight Timer for silent meditation as it has a great free timer with lovely gongs (plus lots of interesting content and events).
– I use mindfulness.com for an inspiring 2-4 minute talk on mindfulness every morning, a new one given every day by the wonderful teachers there, Melli and Cory. I can also recommend their great guided meditations that follow on from the daily dose of inspiration.
-I follow my meditation practice with my gratitude “journal” (the Gratitude! App pictured above).
2. A Gratitude Practice
Focusing on what’s good in your life in the morning trains you to proactively focus on the positive throughout the day. My coach told me it’s impossible for gratitude to coexist with depressing or anxious thoughts. Being grateful helps you to reframe situations and put your problems in perspective. This allows for joy to bubble up from inside and abundance to come your way.
I make a list of what I am grateful for on my Gratitude! App (see above for a recent example). I love this app because it’s so easy to do. It lets you add a new photo every day. When I add a photo from my life it reminds me of recent positive experiences and I get to relive them. This sets off a chain of positive emotions which then makes it easy to fill up 10 spaces with things I’m grateful for.
Find joy in movement and feel your energy for life change for the better! For overall well-being, it doesn’t matter so much WHAT you do, but more THAT you move – and with the right mindset.
I started exercising as a teenager because – like many women – I was trying to fix myself, specifically my weight. But then I found that exercise made me feel strong, energetic and powerful – not just while I was running, cycling, swimming or going to the gym, but also for my life. With the years (and it’s taken MANY!) I care less about how thin I look and more about how strong and energetic I feel.
See exercise as a treat rather than a chore and feel those good endorphins flood your system as you move with joy.
4. Reach out to others with an open heart and a curious mind
It takes effort to take an interest in others and ask questions, especially when you are feeling less than joyful yourself. But it’s often the best way to shift your perspective and your mood. By connecting to others with genuine interest and asking lots of questions, really listening to the answers and showing you care about what’s going on in others’ lives, you get out of your own head and your own problems.
This is a picture of my beloved “Tante”, my German godmother, who is the best example of someone still thriving mentally and physically at the age of 94. I believe that this is because of her amazing ability to be curious about others and forge heart-felt connections with mostly everyone she meets! She gets depressed on her own but lights up when with others. Watching her as I grew up, I learned that when we turn our gaze outwards to connect to others with an open heart and a curious mind, we find friends, hope and new opportunities where we thought we had none.
5. Celebrate your bravery
Sometimes when we’re feeling down, we forget how far we’ve come and how much we matter to the people who love us or the people we work with. We look at what we want to achieve and what is left to do on the list rather than appreciating the journey. We need to learn to give ourselves some slack for the times when we didn’t meet our own “productivity” expectations.
Being kind and compassionate to yourself has been proven to be much more effective for self-motivation than beating yourself up.
We can learn to be our own champion instead of our own worst critic.
When I’m in a slump, I often don’t feel like doing anything that feels vaguely unpleasant, like doing admin or tidying my desk. Then I feel even worse for avoiding these tasks.
But, if I do find the courage to do the things I fear – however big or small – I always feel better afterwards. On some days finding the courage to tackle your admin can be the bravest thing you do that day – and sometimes harder to start than a big presentation that your client or boss needs.
As Brené Brown so wisely teaches us, choose “courage over comfort” but also make sure you celebrate that more difficult choice.
You may well have heard these tips before, but sometimes we need to hear or read about things many times before we finally get nudged into turning them into daily consistent habits. Perhaps for somebody out there this will be the final nudge they needed to finally start a new routine that brings them on to a more positive path for their health and happiness. I needed to read and hear about the benefits of meditation for about 6 years from many different sources before I finally got “pushed over the edge” to start doing it consistently every day. And I am so grateful for this anchor in my life that has changed the way I see things and the way I handle life in general.
If you are in a truly dark place, please get professional help. There is light out there for you, you just can’t see it right now. And there are people who want to help you. We all need help sometimes to find our way. There’s no shame in that. It’s called being human. So, reach out, ask for help and start taking small steps towards the light.