What do you enjoy doing? How to focus on rewarding activities that will get you through the next six months

Last reviewed on 6 December 2021

Even though COVID-19 restrictions have been eased, you might still be feeling worried, stressed or sad. These are difficult times for everyone and it’s perfectly normal to feel this way. But it’s also important that you have some techniques at hand to help you stay positive and that you focus on the progress that has been made. After all, getting through this is a marathon not a sprint.

To help you combat any feelings of helplessness, it’s a good idea to remind yourself that we're in a much stronger position than we were 18 months ago. Scientists have provided valuable insights into COVID-19. Healthcare professionals have a better understanding of treatment options. The vaccine rollout is progressing well in the UK. And, on a personal level, you know what you can do to help protect yourself and others.

As well as acknowledging the progress already made, it's important to focus on productive and rewarding activities that help to lift you up. The UCL COVID-19 Social Study has revealed that time spent on hobbies and personal interests (e.g. listening to music and reading for pleasure) helped to improve many people's wellbeing during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK and outdoor activities (e.g. exercise and gardening) were particularly associated with good mental health during this time.

We recommend you follow these five steps to help you bolster your mental health over the next six months. They are inspired by a form of therapy called Behavioural Activation – in other words, it's time to prescribe yourself some fun.

Take a moment to ask yourself: What matters to me? What kind of life do I want to have? Then make a list of activities that give you pleasure or purpose. Don’t think about what you should do, think about what you want to do as this will help to motivate you.

Mix up activities from different areas of your life and focus on the ones that you enjoy (e.g. music, cooking, TV), that keep you active (e.g. walking, cycling, gardening) and that help you to progress (e.g. doing a course). Perhaps there’s something you’ve always wanted to have a go at or a new way you can do a favourite activity? Try to strike a balance between online/offline and indoor/outdoor activities. Back from the Bluez’ Fun Activities Catalogue should give you lots of ideas.

Check out Good Thinking’s advice about How to develop a new healthy habit, How to connect with nature and Supporting a healthy screen/life balance.

Having personal goals is a great way to boost your mental wellbeing but they should always be specific and easy to measure. For example, instead of saying “I want to get fit”, say “I will do 10,000 steps every day this week”.

Write out your goals and list them from easiest to hardest. It’s usually good to start with just a few goals and build from there. Simple goals could be e.g. “Cook a healthy meal this evening” or “Call my friend at the weekend”; more difficult goals could be e.g. “Go cycling with the kids at least twice a week” or “Learn to play the guitar by next summer”. Make the goal challenging enough to keep you interested but not too challenging as to set yourself up for disappointment.

If you’d like help setting goals and developing healthy habits, download the tomo app, which is available for free if you live or work in London. tomo provides suggestions, prompts and feedback to help you build achievable change over time. You can also post photos of your achievements in the tomo app to reward and motivate yourself and inspire others to do the same.

This worksheet by the Centre for Clinical Interventions is a useful tool for rating how you feel before and after each activity. You might also like to download the tomo app, which is free for Good Thinking users.

It’s much easier to achieve your goals when you have the support of family and friends. Let them know how you’re feeling and what activities you’re going to be focusing on to lift your mood. Perhaps they could do the activity with you? Check in regularly to see how it’s going? Or simply cheer you on from the sidelines? You might even like to join an online community where you can get additional support from your peers.

If your low mood is frequent and is interfering with your daily life, there is lots of professional support available. You might find it useful to take the Good Thinking self-assessment and try some of the free apps we recommend, such as MyCognition PRO and My Possible Self. If you’d prefer to talk to someone in confidence, you could contact Samaritans or Shout.

Recognising which activities make you feel better and doing them more often is a great way to boost your mood. Some of these will be related to how you look after yourself.

Most importantly, try to get enough sleep – if you’re tired, it’s harder to stick to the goals you’ve set yourself. Prioritise exercise too as this has an enormous impact on your self-esteem and ability to stay motivated. You might also like to take some practical steps, such as downloading a mindfulness app or creating a self-care box that contains your favourite books, some photos, a blanket and other things that relax you.

Read Good Thinking’s articles about sleep and healthy eating – if you're having trouble sleeping, you might find our sleep workbook useful. Listen to our podcasts about mindfulness, retaining hope and connecting with nature. You can also download the Be Mindful app for free if you live or work in London.

Finally, make sure you recognise what you’ve achieved as this will help you to reinforce any new habits that make you feel better. For example, if you’ve stuck to your goal of 10,000 steps a day for a few weeks, why not reward yourself with a pamper day at home? You might even like to celebrate with your support network when you tick a major goal off your list.

According to many experts, it is possible to turn the vicious cycle of low mood and depression around by using behavioural strategies. As we learn to live with COVID-19 and start to get back to our normal daily routines, it will be even more important to do things that give you pleasure or purpose.

Good Thinking is here to support Londoners who are experiencing anxiety, stress, low mood or sleep problems. Visit our home page to access all our content, apps and other tools. You might also like to watch our video mini-series in which members of the Speakers Collective talk about how they dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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