I very rarely go to the beach, maybe once every few months, and when we do it's usually only for an hour or so before Kat and I both get bored. But ever since Spain went into lockdown ten days ago, I find myself fantasising about walking barefoot on the warm sand at sunset, all golden colours and just a touch of a breeze. What is going on with my brain?
If I'm honest, I've struggled with the current Coronavirus situation - it's really affected my mental health. The twin spectres of constant harrowing news and not being allowed outside are my own two little horsemen of the apocalypse, except one of them is holding the BBC news website and the other one is wearing running shoes.
Diary of a news junkie
I have to confess to being a bit of a news junkie; if I don't pay attention I can find myself checking various news sites twenty times a day. I know it's not healthy, but in the current climate of ever-rising Covid-19 infection and death, it's positively toxic.
So for now, I've decided to stop reading, looking at or listening to all news. I've removed news apps from my phone, deleted my news bookmarks in my browser, and I'm resisting the temptation to visit the BBC News website constantly. This was quite a challenge for the first few days, but I'm feeling much saner as a result.
Obviously I can't completely avoid hearing about the situation, and I trust that people will tell me about anything particularly important that I need to know about.
A related problem was that all my WhatsApp groups are going crazy - last Sunday I counted over 300 messages in one day. I've muted practically every group that I'm a part of to stop the incessant notifications, and now I'm allocating a few minutes each day when I want to sit down and catch up on what's going on.
Running to heaven
I've never managed to find nirvana in meditation, but send me running for an hour or more and I'll return home as the very incarnation of the buddha - it frees me from the stresses of daily life, work and the world.
So I was absolutely heartbroken when the Spanish government implemented their lockdown which prohibits exercise in public spaces. Of course, I know it's for the best and if we are going to beat the virus everyone has to make sacrifices. So Kat and I have designed an indoor exercise programme, and I'm trying to do two hours of activity per day. So far it's working pretty well!
Here are some of the things that we do to keep fit at home at the moment:
This is a mobile app made by exercise-tracking company Fitbit - it used to be called Fitstar. It consists of a number of 10-40 minute programmes just using bodyweight exercises, so you don't need any equipment. Their beginner courses are free, and the premium subscription is only $40 per year, way cheaper than that gym membership you never use! Check it out at https://coach.fitbit.com/
We have a small home gym at home, including a set of dumbbells, a barbell, and a bench - but you can create a great weights workout just using a set of dumbbells on their own. You can use the excellent and free Jefit app to plan a routine and track your progress.
If you're going to buy a set, we'd recommend getting a 20kg set made up of a number of discs in cast iron (they'll last forever) with spin collars, which you can normally pick up for about £40. Something like this would be perfect, except that they're currently out of stock! As of today, Amazon's sellers are price gouging dumbbells like crazy, with some sets going for £500, so maybe stick to Fitbit Coach's bodyweight exercises for now. Or alternatively, you could use bottles of water instead of weights!
This is my favourite video game ever. The Just Dance Unlimited version of the game has over 200 songs, old and new, and the idea is that you dance along on-screen following the prompts in the bottom right corner. It's possible to create your own playlist of your favourite songs and after an hour-long routine, I'm exhausted!
If you don't have a games console, you can get the mobile version here or watch videos of the dances on Youtube.
After a fun stint on the dance floor, I'm ready to unwind with some yoga. Adriene is clearly the queen of Youtube yoga with over six million subscribers and has a number of 30-day yoga programmes that you can follow along for free. Kat's just completed the Home programme and loved it.
If you've ever read our blog before, you'll know that I'm more than slightly obsessed with the Oculus Quest, a virtual reality headset. I bought it last year to investigate whether we could development commercial software for it (the jury's still out on that, I don't think the world is quite ready) but I immediately fell in love with it. I'm currently spending at least an hour a day doing a variety of great fun games, which all work up a sweat!
Exercise games on the Quest deserve their own blog post (coming soon), but my favourites at the moment are boxing game The Thrill Of The Fight, futuristic dance game Oh Shape, retro shooter Pistol Whip, rock climbing game The Climb and the legendary Beat Saber.
The Quest itself isn't cheap with the 128GB version retailing for £500 if you can find one, but it takes fun to a whole new level.
Last but not least, doing housework is a great way to keep fit! An hour's sweeping floors, scrubbing the bathroom and cleaning the windows is guaranteed to get your heart pumping. And it's free!
As well as exercise, we're spending plenty of quality time relaxing with a movie, catching up on a Netflix series, listening to podcasts (Futility Closet is big in our house) and trying out new recipes. The number one activity right now has to be a 2,000-piece jigsaw, which is coming along nicely as of day 2.
Resources to keep your sane
I've read a bunch of articles about how to improve your mental health during these times. Here are my favourites:
Coping with stress
A single-page PDF from the World Health Organisation which has some simple tips for coping. This suggested the idea of reducing my news consumption that greatly helped, and I love the line "draw on skills you have used in the past that have helped you to manage previous life’s adversities".
How to Talk to Children about COVID-19
This is a short PDF written by staff at the Flourishing Families Clinic in Brighton, and as well as giving advice for children I found that it applies to adults just as much! I love the idea of having a designated worry time each day where it's okay to worry about the situation, as it helps me to not worry the rest of the time.
How to protect your mental health
The BBC keep updating this excellent resource on how to protect your mental health, which suggested to me about muting WhatsApp groups, another thing which has definitely helped me. It also suggests making sure you stay in touch with people (presumably not through WhatsApp groups!) and we've just made a list of people that we want to chat to over the coming weeks.
The Psychology of Uncertainty
Finally, this is an excellent article about the way our brains work, and why uncertainty produces such a strong emotional response. This stems, apparently, from being "hardwired to overestimate threats and underestimate your ability to handle them - all in the name of survival".
Working from home
Having worked from home for most of the last fifteen years, I'd call myself something of an expert on the subject. If you're new to working from home during this pandemic and finding it hard, don't worry. My top tips are:
- Give yourself time to get used to working from home, it's a skill to be learned like any other
- When you take a break, really take a break - mute your phone, turn your computer off and leave the room for fifteen minutes to sit with a coffee while you do the jigsaw. I'd suggest going for a walk, but...
- It's fine to take time for household chores, or pop to the shops to buy food for lunch
- If you're on the phone or making video calls, don't feel you have to apologise if people can hear your normal home noises in the background, or if the doorbell goes
- If you have children at home with you, no-one is expecting you to be as productive as you are in the office
Taking some simple steps has really improved my state of mind, I really hope that you can find something useful here that helps you too. If you've got any tips or suggestions, we'd really like to hear them.