My six steps to keep smiling in the face of a second wave: Max Pemberton

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I am usually pretty upbeat and positive — a glass-half-full person. But even I was knocked back by the Government’s new restrictions and the prospect of another full lockdown.

Just as we started meeting friends and venturing back into the office, boom! We seem to be careering back to square one. It’s so disheartening, I felt quite bereft.

Every patient I have seen since the new rules were announced feels the same. There has already been a rise in the number of patients visiting my clinic, and the prospect of a further lockdown is only going to make it worse, especially in winter. So what can we do to stay positive?

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) shared his advice for boosting our moods, after the Government announced new restrictions 

As a doctor, I often prescribe medication when people are low — but I am also a great believer in the power of the mind and how the small things we do in our lives can boost our mood and sense of wellbeing. So here are six things we can all do to beat the blues…

Shop local

I live in Central London and have been shocked to walk around once-bustling streets that are now dead. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with anxiety about the prospect of a recession.

But one of the key lessons of CBT — cognitive behavioural therapy — is to focus on what we can change, not what we can’t. So, rather than worrying about the death of the British High Street, I’ve promised myself I’ll ‘shop local’.

Dr Max said he has been buying his lunch from a local deli to give them a boost and is reminded that he's doing what he can whenever he hears about the economy (file image)

Dr Max said he has been buying his lunch from a local deli to give them a boost and is reminded that he’s doing what he can whenever he hears about the economy (file image)

I have started buying my lunch from a small deli round the corner and my morning coffee from a small independent shop on the way to work.

I also told the owners I was doing this, which gave them (and me) a little boost.

Now, every time I hear about the economy, I remind myself that I’m not the Chancellor but I’m doing what I can.

Limit social media

Dr Max recommends limiting how much time you spend online and unfollowing those who post negative material (file image)

Dr Max recommends limiting how much time you spend online and unfollowing those who post negative material (file image) 

It has been dubbed ‘doom scrolling’ — when people look through social media for bad news. And that’s understandable from a psychological perspective — when we are worried, we tend to seek out negative stories as a way to validate our feelings. In fact, we just make ourselves even more anxious.

So limit how much you are online and mute or unfollow people who post negative material. Try to find light-hearted things that make you smile. You are more in control of your mood than you think.

Binge on a writer

The NHS psychiatrist said he's often recommended to his patients that they immerse themselves in a book (file image)

The NHS psychiatrist said he’s often recommended to his patients that they immerse themselves in a book (file image)

The amazing thing about the mind is that, while it can trap us with negative thoughts, we can also use it to escape. The fashion for bingeing on box sets is passive and doesn’t use the brain to its full extent. Instead, I’ve often recommended to patients that they immerse themselves in a writer’s world by reading everything they have written. I’m currently doing all of Dickens — reading everything someone has written is quite different from just picking up their books occasionally. You really start to know the writer and inhabit their world. By the end, they feel like a friend.

Get a pot plant

Dr Max said one of the occupational therapists at his work has suggested those who live in a flat should fill their lounge with plants (file image)

Dr Max said one of the occupational therapists at his work has suggested those who live in a flat should fill their lounge with plants (file image) 

There is something incredibly relaxing and therapeutic about looking after another living thing.

While several of my patients got pets during the pandemic in order to have a bit of company and, in the case of dogs, a reason to leave the house each day, that is not practical for everyone.

One of the occupational therapists at work suggested to a patient who lived in a flat that they should fill their lounge with plants, and it struck me what a good idea this was.

Seeing a plant grow and looking after it is immensely rewarding. If they flourish, take cuttings and send them to friends, which will boost your mood even further.

Dr Max revealed he's a great fan of writing lists and believes they can be helpful when you're feeling overwhelmed (file image)

Dr Max revealed he’s a great fan of writing lists and believes they can be helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed (file image)

Compile a list

My heart swelled with pride to see Brits volunteering in the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine challenge trial. While they receive medical monitoring, this is still an experimental treatment and could have serious health implications, not least from the virus itself. Each deserves a medal. 

I’m a great fan of writing lists, as it helps stop thoughts or worries whirring round your mind. If ever you feel overwhelmed, make a list, then an action plan for how you’re going to tackle things — but turn this into something special by investing in a lovely notebook.

The additional benefit of writing things down is that you can look back a few months later and see how most of the things you were worried about never happened.

If you are unsure how to go about tackling your list, there are some good notebooks and work books that take you through this step by step. MyndMap is good (myndmap.co), while MindJournal (mindjournals.com) is especially designed for men.

Several of my patients have given them to husbands who find it hard to talk about how they are feeling.

Small things matter

Dr Max said joy is all around us but we have to learn to look for it, one of his pleasures has been treating himself to a luxury liquid soap (file image)

Dr Max said joy is all around us but we have to learn to look for it, one of his pleasures has been treating himself to a luxury liquid soap (file image)

Joy is all around us, sitting in the everyday and mundane, if we only learn to look for it.

A few things have brought me particular pleasure over the past week, and the first was treating myself to some lovely luxury liquid soap — it makes continually washing my hands a delight.

I’ve found an amazing one from Noble Isle that smells of rhubarb and is so good, I can’t wait to use it each time.

You’re so vain — but  men are, too

It’s long been assumed women worry more about their clothes and appearance, while a man’s ‘beauty routine’ involves little more than giving himself a squirt of aftershave. Of course, this is complete nonsense. I’ve often thought men are far more vain than women — they are just better at hiding it. Last week, research showed that a huge proportion of men believe they aged more in lockdown — and almost two million of them are considering having a cosmetic procedure. Some may see this as men taking pride in themselves but I’m not so sure.

Underpinning it is a lack of self-esteem and self-worth that I don’t think we should be celebrating. Men are taking on the insecurities about appearance that have dogged women for years. It might be equality but it’s not progress.

Research showes that a huge proportion of men believe they aged more in lockdown and are now considering cosmetic surgery (file image)

Research showes that a huge proportion of men believe they aged more in lockdown and are now considering cosmetic surgery (file image)

Researchers have warned MPs that the country is letting down white working-class children. White pupils eligible for free school meals are half as likely as their peers from ethnic minority backgrounds to achieve strong GCSE passes and this group, particularly boys, are routinely left behind. Why?

I think it’s because they are unfashionable — it is seen as nationalistic to stand up for them. If any other group had to struggle in this way, there would be an outcry. How grotesque that they are ignored because they fail at the identity politics gripping our education system.

Dr Max prescribes… the worry (less ) book 

Dr Max recommends this cartoon book for helping children to tackle stress

Dr Max recommends this cartoon book for helping children to tackle stress 

 Perfect for children who are predisposed to anxiety, this cartoon book explains anxiety in an accessible, straightforward way and gives simple, evidence-based techniques for tackling stress. I particularly like how it differentiates between normal worries and anxiety. I gave this to my godson who was worked up about going back to school. It worked a treat.

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