The daily dose of calm: Look up at the night 

Our resident psychologist is here to offer a daily idea that will help you cope during the coronavirus epidemic

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Our daily dose of calm will help you cope during the epidemic
Our daily dose of calm will help you cope during the epidemic

Truly, these are unprecedented times. As our interconnected world goes into physical lockdown, it's easy to feel a rising sense of anxiety, even panic. Lives are changing beyond recognition and livelihoods are being threatened. We're in the coronavirus tunnel and it's hard to see the glimmer of light at the end.

But it is there. Coronavirus will pass; and in the meantime, organisations like The Telegraph are here to help you manage the disruption of daily life. As part of our You Are Not Alone platform, which is designed to help readers through this testing time, Linda Blair's is offering a daily tip to increase your sense of wellbeing. It might be a positive thought, or a useful technique to help deal with the stress we are all feeling.

You can read today's tip - and Linda's previous suggestions - below...

Linda Blair is a clinical psychologist and the author of The Telegraph's weekly Mind Healing column

Look up at the night - Tuesday April 7

There will, no doubt, be times during this crisis when everything feels overwhelming. During those moments, it can help to think about something much bigger than any of us, something unchanging and calming.

Looking up at the night sky can help re-anchor you. The sky is particularly beautiful at the moment, with spring arriving and pollution levels decreasing.

Tonight, once darkness falls, step into your garden or, if that’s not possible right now, look out of your window. Study the stars; some bright, some faint, all giving out steady light.

Breathe in the night air and enjoy the quiet. You can increase your enjoyment if you learn to identify some of the constellations.

My daughter always loved the night sky: when she was small we put a map of the constellations above her bed so she could look at them at bedtime. She always fell asleep easily. 

Make an upbeat playlist - Monday April 6

We use language when we want to communicate information. But the most effective way to communicate emotion is through music.

Music helps us feel better even in the darkest times, and a familiar piece may call up a specific memory so clearly it’s as if we’re reliving the moment. Whether you choose to sing, play an instrument, compose, or listen to someone else’s creation, music calms and soothes.

Music is personal to each of us. Think back to happy occasions – that in itself will lift your spirits. Think about not just  what you see, but what you hear as well. Keep recalling such memories until you have between six and 12 pieces. Then find them online or in your collection, and use them to create your own “mood lift playlist”. Keep it ready to do its magic. 

Balance each day - Thursday April 2

There’s almost nothing more calming than creating a balance when you plan your daily activities. It only takes a few moments of forethought – the night before or first thing on rising – but it will repay you richly. Life will seem more purposeful and organised. 

You can create balance in any number of ways: physical activity followed by relaxation, talking to a friend followed by down time. But to ensure a sense of accomplishment each day, prioritise two areas.

First, be sure to do something you already do well – playing the piano, solving a Sudoku. Then balance that with a challenge, for example learning to cook the perfect omelette (if you want to know how, arrange a virtual film party with friends and watch *The Hundred Foot Journey*).

Second, do something entirely for your own satisfaction, then balance it with an act of giving such as calling someone you know is feeling lonely

Harness the power of rituals - Wednesday April 1

Rituals are a counterpoint to the constant changes in our lives. They provide predictability and continuity, and create feelings of safety and calm.

Right now, we need them more than ever.

Fortunately, rituals don’t need to be grand affairs – there are numerous daily opportunities to create them. How you get up in the morning and the way you prepare for sleep – each occasion provides the chance to turn a hurried, unthinking behaviour into a soothing practice.

Perhaps the most English opportunity of all is when you make a cup of tea.

The next time you reach for the nearest mug and teabag, stop. Find a cup and saucer. Pour some milk into a jug. Get out a teapot, and whether you use teabags or loose tea, make your tea in the teapot. Settle into your favourite spot, and when the temperature and colour are just right, pour yourself a cup of tea.

Savour every sip.

Hold your tongue - Tuesday March 31

The public shaming of those who defy the Government’s lockdown criteria has been trending on social media over the past few days.

Although social psychologists acknowledge this can be an effective way to get people to comply, is it the best way to do so? Shaming may release pent up anger or anxiety and offer a temporary feeling of superiority, but it doesn’t necessarily encourage positive behaviour in others.

Pointing out examples of desirable behaviour, on the other hand, makes us all feel better and suggests a way we can all help each other.

Instead of shaming, how much more affirming it would be to post a photo of a solitary walker warmly acknowledging a self-isolated person as they pass by their window, or to share a picture of someone leaving a bag full of fresh produce at a quarantined person’s door?

Thinking positive makes everyone feel better.

Take advantage of your empty diary - Saturday March 28

Just after the lockdown was announced, an overly busy friend rang me in distress. “I’ve just had to clear my diary! I don’t know what to do now.”

An empty diary is an incredible opportunity. How many appointments in your diary are merely ingrained habits, things you do out of obligation, rather than something that’s necessary or fulfilling?

Why not take this chance to decide which ones you can forget about, not just today but also once the crisis is over? Now that you have some free space, try scheduling activities you always meant to do ‘one day’ – that art class, regular times for exercise, a weekly catch-up with an elderly relative.

This is a unique opportunity to change your life for the better. Seize it. 

Stay positive and don't shame others - Friday March 27

Public shaming of those who defy the Government’s lockdown criteria is trending on social media. Although social psychologists acknowledge this can be an effective way to get people to comply, is it the best way to do so? Shaming may release pent up anger or anxiety and offer a temporary feeling of superiority, but it doesn’t necessarily encourage positive behaviour.

Pointing out examples of desirable behaviour, on the other hand, makes us all feel better and suggests a way we can all help each other.

Instead of shaming, how much more affirming it would be to post a photo of a solitary walker warmly acknowledging a quarantined person as they pass by their window, or to post a picture of someone leaving a bag full of fresh produce at a quarantined person’s door. 

Thinking positive makes everyone feel better.

Micro-dose on exercise - Thursday March 26

One positive thing to come out of the current restrictions is that we have to rethink how we exercise.

Cramming in one daily workout, then sitting for the rest of the day, isn’t what happens in places where people tend to live long, happy lives such as Okinawa and Ikaria. Instead, people in these communities take exercise all day long, gently and in small doses.

Now is an excellent time to change your attitude to exercise. If you’re able, enjoy 20-30 minutes exercising aerobically, for example taking a walk. But then throughout the rest of your day, microdose on exercise.

If you have stairs, take them – twice per trip.

Put small weights or bags of flour/sugar in various rooms, and lift ten times whenever you pass by.

Do ten sit-ups every time you go into the lounge.

And of course, there’s always the cleaning or tidying up! 

Tune in to the rhythm of nature - Wednesday March 25

Back when we hurried through our busy days, we rarely took time to notice how nature marks time. Now we have the chance to be aware of how things change at the beginning and end of each day, particularly as we’re lucky to be in the middle of a spell of settled weather.

The sun will set tonight at about 18.25, and it rises the next morning at around 5.50. Depending on whether you’re a lark or an owl, why not stop whatever you’re doing just before sunrise or sunset. If you can, step outside—otherwise, look out from your window. Simply watch and listen. Notice the changes in colour in the sky, the way birdsong quickens or diminishes, how a sense of energy slowly rises with the sun or how it settles into quiet as darkness falls.

Find new ways to stay connected - Tuesday March 24

It can be really difficult to adjust to the fact that the people we relied on to share our workload, our concerns, and our hobbies are suddenly hard to contact. It’s even more challenging to arrange to be in touch with more than one person at a time.

But in the face of this, people are coming up with truly creative ways to get around their feelings of isolation and feel connected again to those who matter so much. 

Film lovers are arranging online film parties: everyone watches the same film at the same time, then exchanges comments. In fact, you can join Robbie Collin, The Telegraph's own film critic, to do just that.

One woman I know cooks lunch together with her elderly father each day on Skype.

But perhaps the best example comes from the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Take four minutes to watch them on YouTube, and celebrate the ingenuity of the human spirit:

Renew energy with a power nap - Monday March 23

It’s not surprising many of us are feeling tired and distractible right now, even after a night of apparently good sleep. Huge amounts of energy are required to adjust to so many changes.

The quickest and most effective way to renew energy and restore wellbeing is to enjoy a power nap. It won’t take long - 10 minutes is enough; 20 minutes is ideal. Find a quiet space on a floor or bed with enough room to lie down. Set an alert on your phone or ask someone to tell you when 10 to 20 minutes have passed.

Lie on your back, head supported by a book or firm pillow. Bend your knees, hip width apart. Allow your arms to fall comfortably to your sides. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and evenly, in for a count of 3, out for 6. Don’t address any thoughts, just let them drift away.

When time’s up, roll gently to one side and sit up slowly. Now back to whatever you need to do, refreshed, calmer and much more focused. 

Share a memory with your mother - Sunday March 22 

Mother’s Day is a precious opportunity to honour Mum. But think how we’ve done that in recent years—we give perfume, flowers, and other gifts—all created by others. Even the cards we offer already come with a printed greeting. That’s lovely, and I’m sure all mothers appreciate the gesture. But what mothers really hope to know, especially mothers whose children are now adults, is that they’ve made a positive contribution to their child’s life.

This Mother’s Day it probably won’t be possible to spend time directly with your mother, and ready-made gifts and cards may be hard to source. Take that as the chance to make this Mother’s Day truly special. Ring and remind your mother of something she once said or did that has made your life so much richer and better. Share some of your happiest childhood memories with her. It will mean so much.

 

Feed the birds - Saturday March 21

Today is the first day of Spring. That means the birds in your area are nesting, breeding, and beginning to feed their young. 

Most of us assume garden birds may need us to scatter some food for them during the Winter months, but not once Spring arrives. Not so, according to the RSPB. Food shortages can occur at any time. However, what you choose to give them should be slightly different now. Avoid loose peanuts, dry hard food, large chunks of bread, or fats. Instead, select a spot that’s out of reach from predators, and offer them a bit of grated mild cheese or some soaked sultanas or raisins. Or cut up and soften a few chunks of an apple or a pear for them to enjoy.

Sharing makes us feel happier. And your reward—more birdsong—will not only lift your mood, but give all around you the added pleasure of more birdsong. 

 

How to go back to sleep if you keep waking at night - Friday March 20

Are you suffering disturbed sleep. You're not alone. Either we can’t fall asleep because our mind is racing with worries, or we wake up in the middle of the night agitated and uncomfortable.

Take heart. There is a way to settle back and enjoy a refreshing sleep—but you need to do a bit of preparation first.

Start by creating your own special comfort spot. Choose the place you like best at home. Place your favourite chair in that space, and put a small table or tray beside it. Add a notebook and pen, a book you’ve been meaning to read, and anything that to you spells comfort—hot water bottle, blanket, warm socks, kettle and mug plus herb tea and honey.

Go to bed as usual tonight. If after about 25 minutes you’re still awake, or if you wake later in the night, get up (hard I know, but worth it) and go to your special spot. 

Pick up the notebook and write down everything that’s on your mind, in any order (it’s important to write by hand because the effect is stronger). Keep going until you’ve emptied out absolutely every thought.

Next, put the notebook down and get comfortable. Fix some tea, heat the hot water bottle—whatever. Read until you feel tired.

Now back to bed—and sweet dreams!

Have a six-point plan for your kids - Thursday March 19

Just when you may have found your new footing regarding work and self-care, you learn your children will be at home 24/7 with you.

A sense of calm can only come if you operate with one rule: prioritise structure.

Structure allows us to feel confident about what to do when. Working hours, train schedules, school runs — they’ve all created a meaningful framework for your efforts. Now you must recreate that framework.

Start by choosing six daily focus points. For the first two, I suggest a set waking and bed time for everyone in the family. This will frame your day. 

Now select four times within that frame, and choose an activity for each child at each time. For example, if they have work from school, they’ll do that between 10am and Noon. You could bake a cake together at 2pm and share it at tea time. Or everyone could do something to help prepare supper at 6.30pm.

Play around with the tasks, but stick to the same time points each day to encourage a feeling of security and purpose.

Breathe away your anxiety - Wednesday March 18

Most of us, when told to pay attention to the breath, focus on inhalation. But inhalation is concerned with action. Inhalation stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which in turn raises heart rate and blood pressure and increases muscle tension.

Focus instead on exhalation, which stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system. This will settle your heart rate, lower blood pressure, encourage muscle relaxation, and create a sense of calm. 

Here’s how.

Breathing in and out through your nose, take a big in-breath. Now exhale, as slowly as you can – not to the point where you’re forcing breath out, just until your lungs feel emptied. Then simply allow air to flow back into your lungs effortlessly. Repeat ten times.

Aim for an exhalation that’s twice as long as your inhalation. You can achieve this by counting slowly – or follow the suggestion of neuroscientist and keen tennis player Richard Bergland: exhale for as long as it takes to bounce a tennis ball four times before serving.

Try this whenever you notice your stress barometer rising.