With England set to go into another lockdown from Thursday, combined with the gloomy predictions from scientists about Covid-related deaths in the forthcoming months and Christmas festivities all hanging in the balance, there’s very little left to feel cheerful about.

However, rather than going into hibernation for the next few months and burying myself under a duvet I’ve decided not to feel defeated. Instead, I’ve put together a personal winter self-care plan and toolkit to keep both my physical and mental health in good shape whilst being stuck indoors.

Create boundaries

During the first lockdown, boundaries or rather a lack of them, were a recurring theme for so many of my friends and business contacts. After the Government ordered most of us to work from home, I really struggled to keep home life and work separate. Though I have a dedicated home office, during the early stages of lockdown I started logging in from the sofa with BBC News 24 playing in the background and it became almost impossible to switch-off. Eventually, after seeing sense, I retreated back to my desk and it is now definitely easier for me to create a physical barrier between work and my home life. What’s more, my productivity levels have also significantly improved.

Meanwhile, having a routine and sticking to it has helped me to create a mental boundary. As has making an effort with my appearance and resisting the temptation to stay in my PJs all day. Indeed, personally, I find the process of donning a nice outfit and applying some make-up really helps me to prepare mentally for work. Similarly, slipping into my comfy loungewear at the day’s end aids the process of switching off.

Breathing and mindfulness

I’m quite new to this sort of stuff and still finding my way around it all. But as someone who has really struggled with stress and anxiety in the past, some of the basic techniques I’ve already taught myself have been an absolute game-changer.

Breathing exercises in particular have proven to be really helpful when I’ve been feeling stressed. The NHS website has a very basic version, which involves breathing in through your nose whilst counting to five, holding your breath and again counting to five, before finally breathing out through your mouth and you got it – counting to five.

Just like breathing, you can practice mindfulness at any time of the day and from any room (or outdoors, even if it’s just sitting out on a balcony). Again, I’m quite new to meditation so have turned to the Headspace app for help and guidance. If your budget stretches far enough, it’s definitely worth subscribing to as the content also includes courses covering everything from anxiety, self-acceptance and managing difficult relationships. I also find the content for shutting down and preparing for sleep really helpful.

I’ve also downloaded the Calm app and receive daily emails, with mindfulness tips that are a great way to start each new day on a positive note. Though not an obvious choice, I’d also recommend the BBC Sounds app for access to some free mindful music.

Move / Exercise

As some of you reading my blog will already know, I’ve had severe Rheumatoid Arthritis since childhood meaning as well as my mobility being severely restricted, I also regularly suffer from significant pain. But I’ve not allowed this to stop me. I’ve taught myself basic tai chi and when I’m after something a bit more fast-paced I’ll bop around our lounge with the Fitness Marshall. My dance moves are nothing short of embarrassing but that’s the beauty of working out at home – nobody else can see me and to be honest, even if they did, I’ve stopped caring.

Whatever home exercise routine you opt for, my top tip is to avoid leaving it until after you’ve finished work for the day because by then it’s far too easy to talk yourself out of it. I prepare most of our evening meals meaning my excuse has always been getting dinner on the hob. As such, I’ve moved my exercise routine to the mornings (obviously, this is now simpler minus my commute into London) or on some days I find it easier splitting it into morning and lunchtime stints.

Drink plenty of water and eat well 

Granola pots

My homemade granola pots

Historically, I’ve been guilty of not drinking enough water so now to give myself a head start I aim to down a large glass of the good stuff as soon as I get out of bed. Drinking plenty of water is just as important during the winter months because having the heating on can easily make you feel dehydrated as well as make your skin feel dry.

And again, by cutting out my commute, I use the time I’ve gained in the mornings to eat a healthy breakfast. Hot porridge (or if you prefer overnight oats) topped with plenty of fruit and a small dollop of honey or homemade granola pots with yoghurt and blueberries (these can also be prepared the night before) are my favourite for keeping hunger pangs at bay and stop me raiding the biscuit cupboard at 11am.

For lunch and dinner, meal planning and bulk cooking means that I’m not having to rely on the unhealthy processed stuff. I’ve also recently invested in a slow cooker so with just 20 mins prep during my lunch break I have a hot, delicious and wholesome meal waiting for me. My slow cooker essentials are spaghetti bolognese (what else?) and for vegans I’d recommend mushroom and pearl barley risotto. An alternative to slow cooking are my tried and tested one tray bakes, which leave my oven to do all the work.

My other must-have kitchen aid is a hand blender for knocking up homemade soups. I always try to make six portions of soup and freeze a few to save time in the future. My favourite flavours are carrot and corridor and butternut squash with ginger. I add red lentils to both soups as this makes them go further and fill me up without eating bread on top.

Incidentally, for more top tips and advice on healthy winter diets please join our associate nutritionist Elle Kelly for a live Zoom Q&A on 3 December. Click here to register for your free place.

Get creative

homemade Hamper

My sister’s homemade hamper

I’ve always loved arts and crafts and at the moment I can’t live without my colouring book. What I love about it is the simplicity of not having to worry about setting up tonnes of equipment or gadgets, making a mess and then having to clear up afterwards. FYI – the two messiest crafts I’ve ever tried are flower arranging and making candles!. If colouring doesn’t grab you then how about making homemade Christmas cards, decorations or my sister’s favourite – hampers (this is also a fantastic way of getting rid of miniature toiletries!) to give away as gifts.

Alternatively, a few of my friends and contacts have tried journaling but I’ve not managed to get into it. That’s fine because I obviously have blogging to fulfil my writing urges. Indeed, if you fancy getting creative and want to write for us then email: team@cheekylittlecareers.com.

My winter self-care toolkit

As well as the stuff I’ve already mentioned above, I’d also recommend a hot water bottle, plenty of blankets, mood lighting, some scented candles (I love Diptyque candles, although they are quite pricey so add them to your Christmas list!) and if you’re lucky enough to be able to get in and out of a bath (sadly, this isn’t an option for me) some good quality essential oils or bath foam.

Husnara Begum, Associate Coach & Contributing Editor

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