My name is Orion Talmay, a love and career coach from Orion’s Method. I work with women looking to improve their lives and relationships by focusing on the self, wellness, and breakthrough coaching.

Naturally, many of my clients are feeling the toll of the pandemic, and understandably so. With the world around us in such disarray, it’s easy to neglect our mental health.

Lockdown prevented us from seeing our friends and family or spending time outside doing activities we enjoy. Consequently, many of us are falling into a rut of despair and self-resentment.

We often feel guilty for prioritising our mental health and putting ourselves first. But now more than ever it’s important to cultivate self-love.

Starting a creative project.

Whether you’ve been in isolation, on furlough, or working from home, lockdowns have meant we’re spending a lot more time alone with our thoughts. Even if you live with your partner, family, or housemates, the lack of contact with the outside world has left us with more time on our own. Even as restrictions ease, many of us will continue to avoid spending too much time in public or travelling to see loved ones until vaccines have been provided for everyone.

If you’re predisposed to negative thinking or getting stuck in a negative thought patterns, it can feel as though there is no way out. Compounded by the pandemic, this can leave you in a perpetual state of despair.

Starting a new creative project is a great way to get you out of negative thinking patterns. Anything that requires you to think and stay alert is great for distracting you from your own negative thoughts — matchstick models, for instance, or painting.

Alternatively, you could undertake a DIY project in your home. Sanding, painting, and varnishing an old cupboard is a great project that will keep you busy for hours. Don’t feel pressured to do this every day either — just an hour or two when you can is enough to divert you from negative thought patterns.

As well as distracting you from negative thoughts, these projects give you a sense of accomplishment once completed. Even something as small as painting a stunning landscape gives you a great joy that translates into genuine self-love.

Take steps to manage your inner critic.

When it comes to good mental health, we are our own worst enemy.

For many of us, if we try to make a positive change in our life — apply for a job, learn a new skill, and so on — that critical inner voice in our head pipes up. It tells us not to bother, that we’re wasting our time, that any efforts for self-improvement are, ultimately, pointless. As we come out of lockdown, after a year of three long periods of isolation, this inner critic may well have gotten even stronger.

Naturally, this does not create a positive environment for cultivating self-love. But to treat yourself well and silence this inner critic takes time and a concerted effort.

This is one of the core tenets of my self love guidance from Orion's Method. We have two critical voices in our heads: one that reflects, repeats, and internalises criticism from other people, and one that comes from within.

While it is difficult to get rid of these voices entirely, it is possible to cope with it. Adopt a mindful approach to your critical voices. When a negative thought enters your head, acknowledge it is there and then move forward.

This takes time, naturally. But by being aware of your negative thoughts and acknowledging them for what they are, you can gradually begin to cope with your critical inner voice and build a positive environment for self-love.

Take a break from social media.

Social media, at its best, can be a unifying thing. It helps connect people with close friends, distant family members, old acquaintances, and more. Over the past year, for some it has become a place to be in contact with loved ones we would never have had the chance to see or speak to had social media not been available, for others it has become a crutch.

Social media can be a toxic platform. It encourages negative self-perception, forcing you to look at the world with a distorted perception of others. People only ever show off the best of themselves, and we often compare ourselves unfavorably.

During the lockdowns it has been easy to lose oneself on social media. Mindlessly scrolling past post after post. The phrase "doomscrolling" even got coined over this last year, to describe the activity of mindlessly scrolling through upsetting or tragic news.

Consequently, it’s worth considering taking a brief hiatus during these difficult times.

Rather than trawling Instagram or Twitter, spend that time learning a language on Duolingo instead. Or, if you’re struggling to quit it altogether, use a digital detox app to stop you using your apps for a certain amount each day.

Don't put too much pressure on yourself.

The current coronavirus is unlike anything many of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Countless businesses have closed their doors, we are unable to see any friends or family we don’t live with, or in the same city as and new measures have been placed on our day-to-day lives that we’ve never had to contend with before.

In short, the current situation is unprecedented. That’s why it’s more important than ever that you are kind to yourself.

While this is good practice at any time, it is especially crucial during the pandemic.

Many of us have felt pressured to be productive with our time in lockdown. Social media is replete with images of people baking bread, learning languages, completing new workouts, and so on.

While these are all valid, it’s also okay not to be doing these things. You shouldn’t feel guilty about your time spent slumping on the sofa watching Netflix or relaxing in the bath.

Indeed, I actively encourage you to engage in purely relaxing activities, not just those that have an outcome of self-improvement. Whether it’s lying in your garden with a good book or just watching old Friends repeats on TV, if it relaxes you, then do it — but don’t feel guilty about it.

Especially as we enter this stage of “returning to normal” and people who maybe haven’t been in the mental space over the past year, who haven’t had the ability, motivation or means to have engaged in self-improvement may feel this pressure, or feel ashamed because they haven’t achieved those things; it is important to be mindful.

Cultivating self-love is difficult at the best of times, and during a global lockdown, it can feel all but impossible. But it’s not just possible, it’s also vital that you strive for it.

Follow the tips above and slowly but surely cultivate self-love. It might take a little time, but it’s worth the investment in yourself.