It’s no secret that the past year has had an impact on our mental health.
Being separated from loved ones, celebrating milestones virtually, juggling homeschooling with working from home and the risk of being furloughed have all been contributing factors. And lockdown easing may also be daunting, potentially causing a psychological condition known as re-entry anxiety.
Marc Hekster, consultant psychologist at The Summit Clinic in north London, previously told The Independent that it’s “the fear of the unknown and the loss of this period of safety created by the enforced lockdown into our homes”.
“Lockdown has created an artificial sense of security about the world. We have been protected from the virus and perhaps also protected from complicated family circumstances, family conflicts and other external issues.”
Dr Lucy Atcheson, a counselling psychologist, notes that one of the main problems with the way we're currently living is that we miss out on “micro-lifts” that used to be peppered throughout our days without even necessarily realising.
She previously told The Independent: “You’re on your way to work, you might pop into your favourite coffee shop or say hi to someone in the street. There are small little things throughout our day that help to lift us often without us even realising. When you’re alone at home that doesn’t happen – and the cumulative effect of that is massive.”
Owing to the detrimental impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people’s mental health, we’re honouring Mental Health Awareness Week – 10 to 16 May – by sharing some of the products we have found to be comforting to us.
This year’s theme is “nature and the environment”, which was chosen because of nature’s importance during lockdown, particularly because going for walks outside became a coping strategy for many.
The organisation noted that “even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health and preventing distress”.
Ahead we’ve rounded up some of the things we’ve used for looking after our mental wellbeing over the past year – from sleep apps to help get a good night’s rest to uplifting novels to read – in the hope they provide a little help to you too.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
The perfect running shoes
Besides maintaining your physical health, exercising can also help with your mental wellbeing too.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, previously told The Independent in our guide to managing your mental health during lockdown that: “Our physical health and mental health are linked, so try to create a routine that includes some physical exercise.”
If you’re looking to pick up running as a new form of exercise, our guide to how to start running is ideal for beginners and there's a whole host of resources and tools at your disposal to help you meet your fitness goals.
All you really need is a pair of running shoes. We found the New Balance fresh foam 1080v10 (£135, Newbalance.co.uk) to be a firm favourite for both men and women's running shoes – they were loved by our writers for being lightweight and extremely comfortable during long runs.
The upper was praised for keeping the foot in place, protecting and securing the heel and achilles.
If cycling takes your fancy though, read our guide for beginners here– it’s another great activity that will encourage you to get outdoors in nature.
Something to ease you to sleep
With stress and increased anxiety often comes fatigue as well as difficulty in getting a good night's rest.
If you struggle to drift off, a sleep tea can be a godsend. In our round-up of the best sleep teas, the Fortnum and Mason camomile and bee pollen infusion tin (£8.95, Fortnumandmason.com) was our favourite, with our writer praising it for being “one of the tastiest teas” they’d tried.
“There’s a subtle sweetness from the bee pollen, liquorice root and Fortnum’s own honey, however, the dominant ingredient is chamomile to help aid sleep and digestion,” noted our writer. “The reusable tin is so pretty that this would also make a lovely gift for the insomniac in your life,” she added.
A sleep app can help you settle into a zen state of mind before bed, using sounds and meditation techniques to help you drift off and wake up gently.
The free version gives you access to a series of bedtime stories, “which gradually dial down the noisier parts of your brain by speaking in soothing tones about various calming scenarios, such as taking an island drive or exploring an antique shop on a rainy night.” It could be a good solution if you find it difficult to prepare for a good night's rest.
A diary to track your thoughts
“Getting it out of your head and onto the page can really make a difference and help process how you’re feeling,” she says. This 18-month weekly notebook (£18.99, Moleskine.com) is small enough for a back pocket but is chunky and compact.
There’s a week on the left and a ruled page on the right, which makes this suitable for anyone who wants to do more with their diary than jot down appointments or birthdays.
Dr Hibberd says something as simple as practising gratitude can help stop you from getting caught up in what’s making you unhappy and encourage you to look at the bigger picture. It can be simple things such as a sunny day, a hot mug of tea, being outdoors or a delicious meal.
“Keep a diary of all of your feelings – lots of people have reported a catch up of emotions as they are less busy and there is more time to think. Getting it out of your head and onto the page can really make a difference and help process how you’re feeling,” she explains.
Fiction and non-fiction must reads
For a much-needed bit of escapism, try The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard (£8.16, Amazon.co.uk) to boost your spirits.
It’s the first book in the author’s classic series, The Cazalet Chronicles. The story starts in the summer of 1937, when three generations of the Cazalet family gather at the family home in the heart of the Sussex countryside.
Despite the idyllic setting, siblings Hugh, Edward, Rupert and Rachel have each experienced heartache. Hugh is haunted by the ravages of the First World War, Edward is trying to hide his latest infidelity, Rupert seems unable to please his demanding wife and Rachel risks losing her only chance at happiness because of her unflinching loyalty to the rest of the family.
If you prefer non-fiction, then No Such Thing As Normal: What My Mental Illness Has Taught Me About Mental Wellness by Bryony Gordon (£11.58, Amazon.co.uk) came out top in our guide to the best self-care books.
Journalist Bryony Gordon is known for her honesty and frankness when it comes to discussing mental health. In the book, “she shares what she has learned about sleep, addiction, worry, medication, self-image, boundary setting, therapy and learned behaviour”, noted our writer.
She also recognises the importance of walking and talking, something many of us have come to appreciate in recent months.
CBD products to help you relax
CBD is said to encourage relaxation and bring a general sense of calmness. The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis reports that the CBD market is currently one of the fastest-growing wellbeing product categories in the UK.
Topping our guide to the best CBD beauty products to help you relax was the Sweet Pink turmeric and lemongrass CBD balm (£36, Sweetpinkcbd.co.uk), which is a handy multi-tasker that is laden “with potent anti-inflammatories and deeply nourishing skin-loving ingredients”.
It has an “unmistakable scent of fresh turmeric root, with a hint of zesty lemongrass”, and there are no “cloying, clogging chemicals here, which your skin will thank you for”. It can be used as a “moisturiser mid acne breakout; as a lip balm for chapped lips; a foot treatment for sore, aching bunions; a body balm for dry, itchy skin; and even as an intensive overnight scalp treatment”.
With each use, our writer was “blown away by the results,” heralding it as a “true desert island product.” What’s more, for the eco-conscious, it’s 100 per cent plastic-free.
If you’re looking to unwind at the end of the day, soaking in super strong CBD bath salts is a great solution and the Apothem unplug CBD bath salts (£65, Apothemlabs.com) wowed our tester.
“Our weary muscles simply rejoiced while being enveloped by the relieving and restorative blend of CBD, arnica, magnesium and epsom salts, complemented by a mind-clearing scent of rosemary and eucalyptus,” she praised. “And the sleep that followed was blissful. This is definitely one to save for a luxury bedtime routine,” she added.
If you are in need of mental health support, you can contact charity Mind by calling the helpline on 0300 123 3393, emailing email@example.com or texting 86463. The helpline is open Monday to Friday (except bank holidays), 9am-6pm