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Pension Tips

From full time to free time: psychologists reveal 11 activities to keep you well during lockdown


Profile Pensions
Profile Pensions

Profile Pensions spoke to psychologists to find out what we can learn from retirees on staying mentally well during lockdown.

One day we were in the office, the next we’re either working from home or furloughed. For many, this means finding a way to deal with extra free time and spending many more hours in our homes.

Whether we like it or not, many of us are now getting a taste of retirement. It might not be the ‘travel the world’ form of retirement, nor the more sociable aspect of retirement but we now have an abundance of free time.

Impartial pension advisers, Profile Pensions spoke to five psychologists to find out how we can keep well during this challenging time and it seems there are many tips to be learnt from retirees. Here are eleven boredom-busters you can do at home without breaking current restrictions.

1. Practice gratitude

“If we focus on what we are grateful for, we start to see more positivity in the little moments of everyday life, and that positivity resonance spreads.” Lee Chambers MBPsS, Environmental Psychologist and Wellbeing Consultant at Essentialise.

It is easy to see the negative in our current situation. With no fixed end-date, quarantine can feel overwhelming. Instead of focusing on this, it is incredibly valuable to focus on what you are thankful for in quarantine. For example, your family who you’re isolating with, your video calls with friends, the extra time with your children and the time to start a new television series.

2. Journal your day

“Journaling is an excellent stress management tool, and has been shown with time to lower blood pressure and improve liver function. Writing our feelings about the current situation helps us to manage them in a healthy way, and expressive writing can help us unwind. It also boosts memory and comprehension, giving us more capacity to interpret the world around us with more clarity. It becomes easier to regulate our emotions when we take them out of minds, and put them on paper, and that in turn can provide us with an instant mood boost.” Lee Chambers MBPsS, Environmental Psychologist and Wellbeing Consultant at Essentialise.

Keeping a journal helps us to feel productive and gives us an opportunity to deal with the abnormality of the current climate. Writing things down is proven to reduce stress levels and often allows us to think more clearly rather than catastrophizing.

3. Get comfortable alone

“One particular issue [in our current situation] is readjusting to living on your own. This can trigger a number of unhealthy emotions– anticipation and apprehension, loneliness, and loss of identity. But because you are no longer working, you have more of a chance to spend time with yourself– and this means finding the ‘you’ outside of your work.” Dennis Relojo-Howell, mental health expert and founder of psychology website Psychreg.

If you’ve been furloughed, you’re effectively making the same overnight transition from full time to free time that retirees have already tackled. We spend so much time at work and so it is easy to let it define us, but this time off gives us a chance to rediscover who we are outside of our jobs.

4. Take up gardening

“Research has found that around three hours of gardening can burn as many calories as an hour at the gym. Physical activity [even as simple as gardening] releases endorphins – the ‘happy hormone’ - which makes people feel satisfied and relaxed.” Dennis Relojo-Howell, a Mental Health Expert and Founder of psychology website Psychreg.

It is quite a stereotypical hobby of retirees, but for good reason, as spending time in the garden is good exercise and will help you feel less ‘stuck inside’. It will also help you to still feel productive and you’ll gain a sense of achievement seeing your progress. If you live in a flat, why not invest in some plants or a herb garden on your next weekly shop?

5. Mindfulness/ Meditation

“Mediation is also proven to help us switch off mentally, which is challenging to do with many people working, educating, sleeping and relaxing all in the same environment. We also become more attuned to our own bodies, and start to find it easier to regulate our emotions as we become more focused on the present, and less worried about the future.” Lee Chambers MBPsS, Environmental Psychologist and Wellbeing Consultant at Essentialise.

It might feel like life is already too slow right now but giving yourself time to sit, breathe and deal with the thoughts and fears you’re having will go a long way. It doesn’t have to be spiritual, but setting aside time to meditate or even relax, will help you to feel grounded and more equipped to deal with this period of anxiety.

6. Learn a new skill

“Studies suggest that mastering challenges helps us to feel more in control. So find anything that you find both enjoyable and a challenge that will allow you to see progress. For one person, that could be learning to juggle. For someone else, cooking new recipes. For a third person, learning a new language. Don't be limited just by what other people seem to be doing. Think about what you could find engaging and a challenge that you can master.” Dr Rob Yeung, Chartered Psychologist at leadership consulting firm Talentspace.

As well as getting back to old hobbies, try your hand at learning a new skill. No matter how old we are, our brains are wired to constantly want more knowledge. There are plenty of online resources to support you in learning something new while you’re safe at home.

7. Take up cooking

“Baking can boost mindfulness and sensory pleasure. Aside from its social benefits, it also allows us to relax and forget our problems.” Dennis Relojo-Howell, a Mental Health Expert and Founder of psychology website Psychreg.

It might be tempting to live on convenience food at this time – especially if you’re cooking for one – but taking the time to prepare and eat nutritious foods is beneficial for our physical and mental health. Baking in particular, is known to really allow us to relax and concentrate on the task in hand rather than allowing our mind to wander to anxious thoughts.

8. Take up a new hobby

“From virtual trivia evenings, mindfulness and meditation guides, through to store cupboard cooking and cocktail masterclasses, and online exercise classes, these activities are just a few of the ways to find your new normal and keep entertained during isolation and in the lead up to retirement. There's no underestimating the benefits these bring." Baybora Erol, wellbeing expert and personal trainer at retirement Audley Villages.

We always complain that we don’t have the time to do the things we love so seize this opportunity to do just that! Instead of being stuck home, try telling yourself that you are safe at home. This will help you to use this time wisely doing the things you love– we don’t have to wait until retirement to do this!

9. Use your allocated walk time

“Mindful walks in nature allow us to soothe those worried parts of our brain and find a sense of calm. By exposing ourselves to green, natural spaces we can significantly reduce our stress response and have a positive effect on our overall wellbeing. Not only do you get the physical benefits of exercising, but by mindfully walking and using your senses to enjoy the sights, smells, sounds and sensations you can decrease rumination, anxiety, and fear by getting out of your head and becoming present and grounded in the experience of the natural world.” Catri Barrett, Transformational Life Coach and founder of the Curiosity Club.

Taking a walk outside allows us to feel more present in the now and gives us a chance to come to terms with our thoughts. Why not take a walk around some nearby fields for the added benefit of being around nature too.

10. Take a nap

“Sleep has a massive effect on all elements of our wellbeing. If we are sleep deprived, we lose our ability to regulate our cortisol levels leaving us feeling more stressed. If we are under-slept we retain more negative information, recall more negative experiences, and have larger emotional swings. By having more positivity, we are less likely to have conflict within ourselves and with others. And by having higher cognitive processing and concentration levels, we make less mistakes and feel more positive in ourselves.” Dennis Relojo-Howell, a Mental Health Expert and Founder of psychology website Psychreg.

Sleeping during the day is often thought of as being lazy but psychologists say it might actually be needed. Having enough sleep improves our ability to handle stressful situations– something which is definitely needed in the current situation. Try to keep a good sleep structure but the odd daytime nap is also allowed if your day warrants it.

11. Communicate as much as possible

“To ward off loneliness, it can be helpful to communicate as much as possible. We now have a range of online platforms which can allow us to literally talk to anyone in the world.” Dennis Relojo-Howell, a Mental Health Expert and Founder of psychology website Psychreg.

Social isolation doesn’t have to mean complete isolation. We’re fortunate enough to have many apps we can use to communicate without breaking social distancing rules. In particular, Zoom and Houseparty have seen a surge in downloads, so why not give a crash course to your family or friends so that you can all stay in touch.

Baybora Erol, a wellbeing expert and personal trainer at retirement Audley Villages, explains: "Staying both mentally and physically active is important at any time, and at any age, but perhaps never more so than now. With the country on lockdown people, and businesses, are sharing more activities we can partake in in our own homes, to keep us all motivated and inspired, and importantly put a smile on our faces.”