Olivia's tips for mental wellbeing

26 May 2020

Interview with 

Olivia Remes, Cambridge University

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Cambridge University mental health researcher Olivia Remes shares her tips for looking after ourselves during lockdown...

Olivia - There are some things that we can do to help ourselves during this time and to improve our mental health during the time of the pandemic.

#1: One of the things is knowing that knowledge is power. So right now, all sorts of worries are going through our mind, worrying about if we're going to get sick, or if somebody in our family is going to get sick. And oftentimes, we think that worrying can help us arrive at a better solution, or we're being proactive about a situation. But worrying, for even a short amount of time, predisposes to even more worrying. And before you know it, you're stuck in a vicious cycle out of what you can't get out. It really is a myth that worrying helps you arrive at a better solution. If anything, it only makes you feel worse. It makes you feel more anxious and stressed and that's especially the case if the worrying becomes excessive and uncontrollable.

Knowing this is really helpful because it can help you take steps forward. If you cut the worrying, then you won't fare worse for doing so. In fact, you will fare better, your mental health will improve and the anxiety will subside.

#2: Now something else that can really help during this difficult time is to develop mastery, to take charge of your life. Now what do I mean by that? Well, the world around us is changing and we're living in chaotic times. A good way to maintain our mental health and to take charge of our lives is to schedule and monitor positive activities. This is really important. Positive activities like going for short walks, trying that new spicy curry recipe or anything else that you might enjoy! And it's not only important to just schedule them, but also to monitor them, to make sure that you're doing them on a consistent basis.

When we take time to engage in pleasant activities, research shows that we not only begin to feel pleasure but also mastery. When you have mastery, you start to feel satisfied with your life and your sense of control comes back. And if you suffer from depression, which a lot of people during this pandemic are suffering from, this technique is particularly useful. It's basically like a crane that can help lift you out of a low state.

#3: Another thing that is really important for anybody really, you know, for people that are really sick, for those who are taking care of sick people during this pandemic, or if you're at home, you know and you're wondering what you can do for your mental health? Well get rid of defensive pessimism. If you do this, it means that you're on the road to building a more positive mood state. Now to some people trying to become happy or trying to do things to make them feel better can be scary or even aversive. Scheduling things into your life that make you feel happy can be frightening or a totally new experience, especially if depression has been a part of your for a long time. The rollercoaster of emotions that we've been experiencing throughout this pandemic might make us cautious of being too happy too quickly, because what if it doesn't last? What if it doesn't work out and we get hurt? Isn't it better to not expect anything? Not get too excited and maintain a position of defensive pessimism? But the answer is no, because when we do this, our lives become a flat line. And isn't it better to experience a life with ups and downs like a wave with crests and troughs?

#4: And the very last thing, which is important for anybody really, and especially for people that still have to stay inside for the vulnerable, for those who are sick for elderly people, you know when you're inside your house and you don't have people surrounding you, you are tempted to start daydreaming, thinking of better times or thinking about how your situation is so bad. In other words, your mind starts wandering. But according to research, mind wandering is tied to depression. And what's interesting is that even thinking about positive things, daydreaming, is also not very good. It's best to focus on the present moment. And again, if we're going back to the science, there's this whole research field on savouring techniques. So basically you're doing something in the moment, focusing on a task, and thinking about the positive aspects of that task that can really help lift your mood. 

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