Back in March, most of us were too busy hunting for toilet paper to worry about boredom. But as the months have passed, “lockdown fever” has set in, with each day becoming depressingly similar to the one before. While few people miss being nose-to-armpit with strangers on a busy commuter train, many find that long-term home working leaves them feeling isolated from managers and colleagues. And this is assuming you’re still lucky enough to have a job. Zoom fatigue is rife, and there’s only so many times you can shout: “I think you’re on mute, Alison!” before you’re ready to throw your laptop out of the window.
Meanwhile, our social lives have been hit by social distancing and restrictions on group meetings. Holidays have been cancelled or cut short as a result of quarantines. The only bright spot is that if you have school-age kids, at least they on the way back to class rather than under your feet.
With summer fast coming to an end, the “old normal” is still nowhere in sight. So here are 25 tips to break the monotony and escape your groundhog life.
Play exercise bingo
Fed up of the same workout day in, day out? Personal trainer Eliza Flynn suggests gamifying your usual routine with an exercise “bingo card”, ticking off activities in whatever timescale suits you. Activities on her card range from running in the rain to brushing your teeth standing on one leg. “To get out of a rut you need to embrace your inner child,” Flynn says.
Or what about fitness roulette? Using scraps of paper, write down exercises that you can do easily in your local area, such as going for a bike ride, a swim, a jog or a long walk. Put all your ideas into a hat and pick one to do each day. You can apply the same principle to high-intensity training, by listing shorter activities such as 45 seconds of jumping jacks or a minute of squats or push-ups. Though it’s unlikely to make burpees less excruciating, at least you won’t know when to expect them.
Leave your house
If you’re not expected to go to the office any more, why not take the opportunity to change the scenery? “You could live abroad for a few months or take some time out in the countryside,” the careers coach Susan Grossman says. “Changing your environment can help to recharge and refocus you.” As long as you have an internet connection and you have checked the coronavirus restrictions in your destination of choice, the world is your digital oyster. If tropical paradise takes your fancy, Barbados is introducing a new 12-month welcome stamp, which will allow visitors to live and work there for up to a year.
Write a love letter
Embrace your inner Lord Byron and write a love letter to your date or long-distance partner. “We’re all struggling with digital overload right now,” says Stefan Walters, a relationship therapist. “It can be nice to send each other letters, poems, pictures or packages instead to keep the spark going.” You could also post letters and gifts to friends, family and neighbours to brighten their day.
Arrange a hiking date
This is the perfect time to break out of your dating comfort zone and try something new, says Walters. “Before the pandemic, people would limit themselves to meeting for drinks after work with someone who lived in the same city or even the same part of it. Remote working means greater flexibility. If you live in London, say, you can easily visit someone in Surrey and go hiking or for a picnic. Try expanding your horizons for both dating locations and activities.”
If you’re reluctant or unable to leave home, you can at least put a new spin on the video date. Rather than an awkward chat on Zoom, Walters recommends trying an online cinema date where you both watch the same movie while using headphones and discuss it afterwards. Alternatively, sign up to an online activity together, such as a cooking class or game. “It gives you more to talk about and helps to break the ice.”
Teach your old dog new tricks
Animal therapy is a good way to bring your attention back into the moment and boost serotonin, the “happiness hormone”, according to the clinical hypnotherapist Geraldine Joaquim. “You can use YouTube videos to teach your dog a new trick, or set out a bird feeder in the garden if you don’t have your own pet,” she says. Other options include petting zoos and cat cafes, now reopening across the UK. If you love dogs but can’t commit to ownership, download the Borrow My Doggy app to meet people in your local area and walk their pets.
Many of us have experienced disrupted sleep or vivid dreams in the past six months, leading to exhaustion during the day. Joaquim suggests practising self-hypnosis to calm the mind and encourage a better night’s rest. “While lying in bed, imagine your favourite place or experience. Walk yourself through it, imagining the details of the scene and things you can do there,” she says. “It will help you go to sleep with happier and more peaceful images in your mind.”
Practise focused breathing
“In the same way you brush your teeth for two minutes a day, you should make space for focused breathing,” says Joaquim, who explains this will help to clear the mind. “Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and breathe in through the nose counting to seven. Breathe out through the mouth as you count to 11, then pause. Repeat this six or seven times for around two minutes.” Meditation apps such as Headspace and My Life can help make mindful breathing part of your daily routine.
Take an improv class
Many of us have lost confidence during the pandemic, either through lack of social contact or reduced support and feedback in the workplace. Sarah Wheeler, a leadership and mindset coach, suggests taking a one-off improv class with an organisation such as Hoopla to improve your creativity and help you break out of a rut. “It also gives you the chance to meet new people.” Classes are available online or socially distanced in parks.
Join a community choir
“Singing in a choir is a great way to meet new people,” says the life coach Naomi Empowers. “The mental health benefits of choral singing include enhanced brain function, strengthened feelings of togetherness and the release of endorphins and oxytocin, resulting in reduced stress and depression.” Since lockdown began, choirs such as London City Voices, Shared Harmonies and the Voice Project have gone virtual, running community singing-based activities online.
Connect your family
With the possibility of winter lockdowns looming, the entertainment manager Dan Collins suggests making sure your family is digitally connected. “From virtual cheese and wine tasting to online chess, there are lots of activities to keep families together during the colder months, even if we can’t meet up. But you’ll need to make sure everyone has the right technology to get involved.” For those who don’t have the time or skills to help older relatives, Age UK offers support and training, while the charitable initiative Connect the Love has been donating tablets to help care home residents to get digitally connected.
Get a light box
“Light affects the brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep,” says Laura Fulcher, the founder of the cancer charity Mission Remission. “Using a lightbox has been proven to reduce fatigue and boost your mood. It’s also a helpful tool if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder in the autumn and winter.” If you’re taking any medication make sure you check with your GP first, as some drugs can make you more sensitive to light.
Build new support bubbles
Some friendships may have crumbled under lockdown, but the pandemic doesn’t have to mean the end of your social life. Fulcher recommends using the downtime as an opportunity to meet people who are more like-minded. “For example, if you’re isolating at home with a long-term condition, try joining an online forum or support group to meet others in the same boat. Or if you love something like paddleboarding or writing, consider starting a group locally to connect with new people in your community.” You can also try Meet Up to find out which groups already exist, or check out Next Door to find out what’s happening locally.
Combine volunteering with exercise
If you are picking up groceries for someone or helping an elderly person in your town to clear their garden, consider running or cycling to your destination instead of driving. If you would rather volunteer as part of a team, you can join Good Gym, a group of runners who organise regular volunteering missions. Operating in 58 areas across the UK, they will give you the chance to do good while improving your fitness and meeting new people.
Start an energy diary
While it’s great to keep track of how you are using your time, it’s even more important to understand how much energy you are using. Make a list of all your daily activities and score them based on their priority and how much physical and emotional energy they take up. “A diary might help you to analyse your behaviour and from there make positive decisions about how best to spend your time,” says Fulcher. “It can also show you that some activities, such as browsing social media, might be using up a lot of your emotional energy without really adding any value or happiness to your life.”
Join your local Mutual Aid group
Volunteering not only breaks your own rut, it connects you to others. Mutual Aid groups were set up at the start of the pandemic to connect volunteers with people who needed help and support in their area. Join by typing in your postcode and adding yourself to your local group. These support networks are still operating in many areas across the UK and are a great way to meet your neighbours. Alternatively, visit your local council’s website to look for volunteering opportunities that suit your skills and interests.
Go on an artist’s date
If you are feeling uninspired, bored or burned out, switch off your laptop, leave your phone behind and take yourself out on a creativity date. Heidi Scrimgeour and Hazel Davis of the Muse Flash consultancy tell clients to go alone to somewhere calm and inspiring such as a river, forest, art shop, museum or gallery. There is no need to bring a notebook or set deadlines – it’s just a chance to restore and reflect. The concept was devised by the American author Julia Cameron, who says artist’s dates fire up the imagination and encourage new ideas.
Try out fascial bounce
The Pilates teacher Emmeline Kemp has created a YouTube tutorial for fascial bounce, an exercise that helps to repair fascia, the connective tissue that attaches and separates muscles and other internal organs. “Lie down on a firm surface with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor,” she says. “Press your feet repeatedly into the floor as if you are trying to slide them away but instead feel your pelvis and ribs rock while your head gently nods. Try to sustain a regular rhythm of 100 to 120 beats a minute and continue for a minute or longer.” Kemp says the exercise can help to calm the mind and improve concentration. “It’s especially good for calming the 3am jitters.”
Bring out the fancy plates
We know that snacking on fruit and nuts will give us more energy than a doughnut in the long run, but it’s rarely as tempting. The nutritional therapist Alice Godfrey suggests swapping your everyday bowls for something special to give you an extra nudge. “Putting healthy food or snacks on to a pretty china plate is far more appetising than eating out of Tupperware. It will feel like a treat and encourage you to eat the kind of snacks that will give you sustained energy.”
Splurge on the herbs
Liven up your meals by adding a spoonful of different herbs to everything you make. “It will give you the flavour boost to make your meals more interesting, and adds nutrients. A single teaspoon of dried oregano added to a bowl of pasta will double the number of antioxidants,” says Godfrey. If you don’t want to buy dried herbs, consider growing your own on the windowsill. It will give you something new to do in your routine and brighten up your kitchen.
Take an online life drawing class
Throughout lockdown, the newsletter platform Cheapskate London has been distributing weekly emails with the best free live-streamed events. From online life drawing to drag queen workouts, there are plenty of new options to try. “Virtual events get a bad reputation,” says the newsletter’s founder, Kate Samuelson. “But they’re amazing for people who are isolating, shielding or living alone. As well as offering entertainment, they help people to find more structure in their lives.” Brixton Life Drawing is offering classes every Tuesday and Thursday in exchange for donations.
Play a socially distanced board game
It’s not easy to find activities to do while you stay two metres apart from your friends and family. A socially distanced board game means each person gets their own scorecard and dice, rather than sharing a central board. It’s a way to meet up without getting too close, and offers an alternative to a picnic or BBQ. For those who don’t feel ready to see others or are still in isolation, there are also Zoom options.
Break up your home
Eating, working and sleeping in the same spot are likely to increase cabin fever. If you don’t have enough rooms to have separate spaces for dining, sleeping, working and exercising, try using screens to section off different areas.
Take a new route
If you always find yourself taking the same route to work, the shops or your child’s school, shake it up and choose a different path. According to the motherhood coach Ivanu Poku, small disruptions to your usual routine can have a big impact on your mood. “Doing something slightly new engages the brain in a different way and helps to fight that feeling of groundhog day. You can also try getting dressed in a different way, or getting up from the other side of the bed. Try to do something that’s new every day.”
Organise a play-based workshop with colleagues
Working remotely has left many of us feeling disconnected from our team. Large work events may be off the table for a while, but you can try play-based workshops online from the likes of Pact Creative. The sessions incorporate imagination-based games where participants help to create a story, along with drawing and drama activities. Available for friends and family members as well as corporate groups, they aim to support wellbeing, confidence and creativity.
Go whitewater rafting
If there’s one way to break out of a rut, it’s abseiling down a cliff or snowboarding down an indoor ski slope. Most “adrenaline sports” are now operating throughout the UK, albeit with a few Covid restrictions in place. Depending where you’re based, you could try whitewater rafting in Snowdonia, kayaking on the Scottish coast or racing-car driving at Silverstone. Try VisitBritain for more extreme sport inspiration and ideas.