How to make every day count — instead of waiting for 'normal life' to resume

Sarah Ilston
·6-min read
Photo credit: Artur Debat
Photo credit: Artur Debat

Let's face it, this past year has felt a lot like Groundhog Day. Lockdown life has meant it's often been hard to differentiate one day from the next — living in limbo as we wait for more and more restrictions to be lifted on the roadmap to 'freedom.'

But what will that freedom even look like? Will we all feel entirely comfortable come June 21st? Will we still be required to wear masks indoors in public? It's uncertain if overseas travel will be able to go ahead this summer and with new Covid-19 variants currently seeing restrictions tightened in other countries, who knows if this will be the great 'return to normal' we've all been hoping for.

Whatever the imminent future holds, it's clear there's still a long way to go until 'normal life' resumes, and without holidays and other momentous social occasions, there's a danger of time eclipsing and seasons merging into one — unless we make a conscious effort to make long-lasting memories on a daily basis, lockdown or not.

'We should all be marking small occasions,' says Sharnade George, celebrity therapist and founder of Cultureminds Therapy, who describes celebrating our small victories as 'a form of self-love and self-care.'

And whilst she stresses the importance of planning out our weeks – to give us a sense of purpose and structure — she also recommends doing small things to mix up your daily routine, especially if you find yourself stuck in your bad habits.

'Much of what we do is shaped by our environment and when deciding to mix up your daily routine, try to ensure that it is something which is going to benefit you in the long term, working on yourself is always uplifting particularly if you’re looking to change unhealthy habits,' says George.

Photo credit: Tim Robberts
Photo credit: Tim Robberts

How to mix up your daily routine

If you are looking to switch up your day-to-day, try to make each day exciting to help uplift your mood — this will give you something to look forward to in each day, which you have control over. Start by making small changes to how you spend your day and what new things you can implement — having a focus for each day, or different times of the day, will help you stay motivated. For example:

Morning: Meditation to help clear your thoughts and help you mentally prepare for the day.

Afternoon: Get active, engage in physically activity to help release mood boosting neurotransmitters.

Evening: Self-reflection helps your empowerment and psychological wellbeing — being kind to yourself can boost how you think, feel and behave towards yourself and others.

Put small measures in place throughout the week

  • Plan the week ahead (activities you can do)

  • Think about some goals you want to achieve

  • Don’t put pressure on yourself, but give yourself something to look forward to and prepare for

Mark small occasions on a regular basis

It can be common for people to only celebrate big wins, however we need to normalise celebrating all wins however big or small.

Scientific evidence has shown that when we celebrate our victories, it activates the reward system in our brains — which elicits pleasurable feelings, motivating us and allowing us to feel a sense of pride.

Dopamine is the hormone associated with happiness, and serotonin regulates our mood. Dopamine helps us experience the feeling of being rewarded and can motivate us in wanting to achieve more — thus creating a domino effect of motivation, achievement and celebration.

Having a routine is vital

The importance of routine has been associated with a variety of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. The reason behind this is that when we organise ourselves and know what to expect, it’s easier to actively work towards counteracting unhelpful thinking styles affecting how we feel and behave.

Research has also shown that routines could help lower stress levels, helping you feel more productive and focused. A lack of structure and routine can actually exacerbate feelings of distress and make you pay more attention to the source of your problems, which may lead to ruminating on the past, feeling anxious about the future and not being fully present and aware of the moment.

That being said, it is also important to know that everything in life requires some form of balance — learning how to accept and welcome change in your life is just as important as having a routine.

How to reframe your mindset

A psychological technique called 'cognitive restructuring' helps people identify and change the way they view situations, experiences, events, or emotions. This process will help individuals examine their unhelpful thinking styles (cognitive distortions) and learn to develop new thinking styles and re-frame how they previously thought about situations.

The main point of cognitive reframing is to find a more positive interpretation, view or experience of unexpected adverse events, concepts or even ideas that you dislike.

How you can do this is:

  1. Identify your unhelpful thoughts

  2. Write down your emotion (how you feel)

  3. Provide evidence that supports and goes against your unhelpful thoughts

  4. Think of an alternative balanced thought based on your evidence

  5. Re-rate your emotion

This technique is something which requires practice in order to see the benefits.

Photo credit: SEAN GLADWELL
Photo credit: SEAN GLADWELL

How to stop feelings of boredom

Get creative. Being creative helps you become more mindful and helps you to focus on the present moment. A great activity which I love and have recommended to clients — to help give them hope for the future and boost their mood — is a 'mental health vision board,' which is a form of art therapy and a great technique based on creativity and visualisation.

The images you choose can help you better envision what you’d like your life to look like and your goals for your mental health and well-being. Vision boards can also help take your mind away from feeling overwhelmed, anxious or uncertain about post-lockdown life. It helps you to focus on the things you can control, giving you a sense of hope and uplifting your mood in the process. This will help prevent ruminating on the past and feeling anxious about the present.

How to put this into practice?

  • Practise mindfulness

  • Practise gratitude

  • Try something new

  • Connect with others

  • Exercise

  • Relax

Have phone-free evenings

Having a social media or technology detox is important, research and surveys have found that technology use can also contribute to stress. One study found that heavy technology use among young adults was linked to sleeping problems, depressive symptoms, and increased stress levels. There have also been proven benefits of technology free evenings such as; stress recovery, better moods, feeling more creative and being more mindful and present in the moment. Having one or a few evenings off social media will do more good than harm.

And her advice for those feeling like they're in limbo waiting for 'normal life' to resume?

  1. Trust the process

  2. Be patient with your journey

  3. Focus on what you can control

  4. Prepare yourself mentally for new beginnings

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