While the Coronavirus has been a truly testing time for us all, we have been blessed with some unusually lovely weather for a long period of time during this period. Full lockdown in the UK officially began on the 23rd March, with the Prime Minister announcing the news of a 3 week lockdown initially in a national TV address.
We were all thrust into a new way of being- under strict instructions to go out only when necessary; for food, medicine, or exercise. It also meant that no one was able to see friends or family, and shops, restaurants, bars and offices across the country were closed until further notice. Then lockdown was extended for a further 3 weeks, and now 3 months later, we are beginning to see the easing of lockdown. For many of us, this may be a very daunting and difficult time.
Perhaps some of us have lost loved ones during this time, and many of us won’t have had a garden to enjoy during this nice weather with limits on access to nice public parks and open spaces, meaning we have really struggled inside and alone isolated from family members for a long time.
The Beginning of Lifting of Restrictions
The government has started to implement a tentative plan to get us out of lockdown measures. However, we may not all feel sudden joy at the thought of ‘resuming of normality’ albeit a limited version of what our ‘normal’ used to be. Many of us may be left feeling scared to go out, and still worried about catching the virus.
With a long summer ahead, before the children begin to return to schooling, it is important for our health and wellbeing to be able to enjoy the outdoors and make the very most of the good weather while we can, while still being really responsible and keeping mindful of what you’re doing. If you do go out, you should take extra care to minimise contact with others by keeping 2 metres apart and washing your hands regularly when you come back inside.
It is also useful to remember that while restrictions are lifting, as we know there is always the possibility that lockdown will be implemented again in areas where there are new cases of coronavirus. So while we can, it is important to enjoy getting outdoors, safely and sensibly.
Here are a few reasons why getting outdoors as lockdown begins to ease is good for you:
Getting Outdoors Increases Your Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. In the UK we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight exposure from March or April to the end of September. It is important to get enough sun without risking sun damage. We need vitamin D to help our bodies absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
A lack of vitamin D, known as vitamin D deficiency, can cause bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities. In children, for example, a lack of vitamin D can lead to rickets. In adults, it can lead to osteomalacia, which causes bone pain and tenderness.
Most people can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods of time with their forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen. But you should be careful not to burn in the sun, so take care to cover up or protect your skin with sunscreen and wear suitable clothing like a hat, sunglasses, and if you have pale skin, some light long sleeve top and long skirt.
The longer you stay in the sun, especially for prolonged periods without sun protection, the greater your risk of skin cancer. If you plan to be out in the sun for long, cover up with suitable clothing, wrap-around sunglasses, seeking shade and applying at least SPF15 sunscreen.
Exercise Outside is Beneficial to Your Health
Getting outside and enjoying the good weather, also means that you can benefit from some more gentle exercise. There are many types of exercise you can enjoy outside including running, jogging, walking and dancing, and cycling to name a few. Exercise improves your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. Exercise will also help you to manage your weight- you may have gained a few extra pounds during the lockdown period, either because of boredom, or due to inactivity. Even beginning with a gentle walk, or more regular exercise throughout the day will help.
As well as managing your weight, exercise plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones.
Getting Outside Makes You Feel Happier
Getting outside will no doubt increase your happiness. Have you been making the most of your daily exercise and enjoyed exploring new routes near your home during lockdown? Or if you haven’t been going out, perhaps you have been working from home and home schooling, or are shielding, or simply haven’t felt like going out. Getting outdoors in the open air can give your brain a much needed break and energy boost.
Sometimes exercising outside seems easier- seeing nature while walking or running for example, can be very relaxing, and a distraction from exercising- the blue skies, the green leafy trees, pretty flowers- enjoying the smell of the freshly cut grass, or flowers. Watching and smelling the sea can help you to feel calmer and more relaxed.
It is great to notice the world around you. Try and be conscious of this, and give our Wow walk a go. Put on your ‘WOW glasses’, and really be aware of your surroundings when you go outside and see just how amazing the world is when we open our eyes and really look.
If you have been working from home, perhaps you haven’t been taking the breaks outside you normally would- a walk for a coffee or for lunch, the journey home. Leaving your workspace for a few minutes to go stroll in a nearby park can really help restore your focus and energise you.
I am Shielding and I am Worried About Returning Outside
People who are shielding remain vulnerable and should continue to take precautions, but in England you can now leave your home, as long as you are able to maintain strict social distancing.
If you choose to spend time outdoors, this should be with members of your own household. If you live alone, you can spend time outdoors with one person from another household. Ideally, this should be the same person each time. If you do go out, you should take extra care to minimise contact with others by keeping 2 metres apart.
If you are shielding for health reasons in Scotland, it is advised at the moment to continue to do so, and not leave your home, maintaining 2 metres away from everyone, even those you live with, avoiding as much face to face contact as you can. While it is up to individuals whether or not to follow these measures, it is advised that you do. Therefore it is very important to utilise your support network, for food and supplies, and staying in touch with family and friends.
Make a Plan to Get Outside
All of the above is easily said, however many people may be feeling very anxious about spending more time outside, after weeks of watching the news and listening to the rolling death count. Despite never having agoraphobia before, the mantra of ‘Stay at Home, Save Lives’ has been engraved in our minds and lots of people will be anxious to venture out. Our world has become smaller, and much more sterile, with hand washing and cleaning of surfaces at the forefront of our minds, our new normal, life at home in a ‘safe bubble.’
Those with pre-existing anxiety disorders may have found that their fear of leaving the house may have increased- those who already found everyday life a challenge, managing your mental health means ensuring that you get out, and get used to being around people again, and not sitting in the house all day.
So if you’ve been dealing with increased anxiety when leaving the house, it is important to take small steps to make little changes and get you used to getting back outside into the sights, the sounds and smells of the outside world.
Our Living Life to the Full free courses and resources can help you to get started on making effective plans and tackling tasks like going outside which may seem daunting and you will gain knowledge and the skills to change your life. You will learn how to feel happier, stop worrying so much and learn simple systems to fix the things that go wrong in your life, meanwhile making you stronger, calmer and more confident.
Stuck in a Vicious Cycle?
When things look black or difficult, we might wonder why we are feeling so bad, it is good to remember that we can feel good again, and get used to going outside without worrying. Perhaps you don’t know where to start and feel stuck in a vicious cycle? It’s important to remember that when we face any difficulties that might feel like an enormous task, it might feel like climbing a huge wall. How would we climb a huge wall? We would take it one step at a time.
If you feel you have lost motivation during lockdown, take a look at ‘I can’t be bothered doing anything’ (link) to help you stop the vicious cycle and change the way your cycle is spinning and start doing things you want to do.
You might want to remind yourself of the things you used to do that made you feel happier- have you stopped doing them? Complete My Happy List, to remind you of the things you used to enjoy but haven’t felt like doing lately, and complete the checklist of things you have stopped doing that you used to enjoy and make a plan to start doing things you enjoy again.
Create a Virtuous Cycle
It is easy to get stuck in a vicious cycle and downward spiral; how we think, effects how we feel and what we do and you know what happens then, the cycle spins and spins. However with a bit of effort, it is possible to take control and stop the vicious cycle by changing just one thing – you’re thinking, your diet, your activities – almost anything, because the cycle spins both ways.
Complete your happy list to remind yourself of the times when you felt really good, or things you enjoy. You can start implementing some of the good things back into your life, you will stop the cycle from spinning and these positive events will spins the cycle the other way which can quickly reinforce itself creating a virtuous cycle. When a positive result happens from an event or something you do, this often leads to another positive result, strengthening your ‘virtuous cycle’. Go for it – Make a Plan!
If you are not sure of where to start, try our ‘Write All Over Your Bathroom Mirror’ to get you going. The principles contained in this little book can be used to help you use other self-help resources such as the Living Life to the Full website.
While life has changed for us all recently, it is really important to remember that by working things out and taking small steps towards going outside again you will gain more and more control of how you feel. Try to think of a series of plans that will help you getting out and about more, meanwhile valuing important things like relationships, sharing, and community, and using your support network around you to ease back into life after lockdown.
The Living Life to the Full Team.