Lockdown - You're Not Alone

Lockdown has many of us feeling like we're alone - not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. We're questioning whether our experiences are normal, if we're the only ones not learning three new languages and mastering a new craft, all whilst homeschooling. The reality is, however you're handling the lockdown of COVID-19, you're not the only one feeling that way.

Over the past few weeks, whilst the UK has been in lockdown due to COVID-19 in order to save lives and protect the NHS, I've spoken with many clients who are feeling like they're the only one who is struggling in their particular way. It's a common feeling when we have mental ill health - to feel alone, like we're the only one. This is only exacerbated in the current situation, where we can't even sit with a friend and talk it out. 


However, I as a therapist am yet to see someone who has a lockdown-related issue that isn't echoed by someone else I speak to that same week. Although we're further apart physically, we're all still human. 


One of the things that really struck me was the progression of what people were reporting - it was uncanny how the change in perspective seemed to follow the same typical timeline:


Week One - many people were quite enjoying the break from work, or experiencing relief from the anxiety of possible infection (or other anxieties whose triggers were typically outside the home). 


Week Two - a wave of people painting the garden fence. 


Weeks Three and Four - DIY tasks were becoming thin on the ground, and boredom and missing friends and family started to kick in more strongly. 


Weeks Five and Six - moods tended to drop more significantly. The initial change of pace that had, for some people, been enjoyed in week one was now just the new normal pace, and came with its own challenges: pressures of homeschooling; isolation from loved ones (or colleagues); lack of activities outside the home either reinforcing depression or making people with anxiety wonder if they'd be able to return to 'normal' life once lockdown was over...


So, if our challenges are common, what can we do about them?


PRODUCTIVITY

Staying productive is important for our mental health, but this has to be reasonable within our current limits. These vary for all of us, not just from person to person, but from day to day as well. You don't need to be learning Latin and Greek or becoming the next crafty online sensation.


Keeping a routine is helpful. This may involve just taking care of the essentials right now - showering in the morning, getting dressed, going for a walk, and eating regular meals, for example. If you're working at home, trying to have defined start and, perhaps more importantly, end times to your working day can be helpful, whilst ensuring you have time for adequate breaks to refresh yourself. 


When motivation is low, try the 'five minute rule' - agree to try the activity for at least five minutes. If, after five minutes, you still really don't want to do it, that's fine. You can stop. At least you gave it a shot. But if, after five minutes, you find you wish to continue, all the better and keep going. (Incidentally, this technique is the only reason my kitchen ever gets a proper clean.) Often, it is the beginning of a task that's the hardest part - once we've gotten started, we can find the motivation to keep going. 


Posture is also important here - if you're procrastinating something, check if you're slumped. It's nearly impossible to begin anything from a slumped, heavy posture - this signals to the brain that we're defeated. Begin by straightening the spine, one vertebra on top of the next, and move the shoulders back to open up the chest. See how that feels? Then, consider the next task - what is the next small piece of that task that you can do? Whether it's answer a single email, reply to a message, spend five minutes cleaning, get dressed... Break it into a smaller chunk, and deal with that chunk. Then see if another chunk is doable.


PLEASURE AND LEISURE

Try to find at least one thing each day you're doing to enjoy yourself, to unwind or to engage with a passion. Many people are now having extra time freed up by not having to commute, and this can be an excellent time for a little extra self-care, especially at a time when we really need it. Amidst the stresses and strains of COVID-19, it's important to have this recharge time. 


If you live with others and share responsibilities, having a discussion to agree some 'protected time' for yourself within the week can be invaluable - time where you only need to look after yourself, and do something you enjoy. Negotiating with the others in your household can help you ensure that this time works for everyone, and can be enjoyed and savoured without interruption. 


LIMIT EXPOSURE TO THE NEWS

It's tempting to remain glued to the news websites. Our amygdalas, the threat centres of our brains, love to devour anything that spikes our anxiety (flight) or anger (fight). When the threat is immediate and short-term, this is effective - it lets us run away or fight to defend ourselves. But for chronic issues over which we have little control, the body can't resolve a 'threat response' - so it keeps going, and we stay anxious, irritable or angry. We can't run from COVID-19, and we can't punch it. Without these two options, the body doesn't know what to do instead. 


Consciously choosing where we put our attention is therefore essential. Watching the news all day won't keep us, or our loved ones, any safer, but it will make us feel worse. Once a day, at most, is sufficient. The rest of the day is time better spent looking after yourself, and connecting with passions and those you care about. 


SELF-COMPASSION

This one is hugely important. Remember, if you are working at home, you're trying to do so during a crisis without all the usual resources you'd normally have to hand. If you're homeschooling, you're trying to take on the job of someone who would have gone through two years of intensive training before leading a classroom, yet you're trying it with less than a month's notice (whilst trying to still do all your own usual duties). If you're struggling with your mental health, remember that you're trying to take care of yourself during a pandemic - we aren't living in the usual run of things right now. 


Many of us are worried about loved ones, or grieving lost opportunities. You do not need to play the Pain Olympics to be allowed to feel upset - if you've had to postpone a dream holiday, a wedding, have job worries, have lost someone you love... All of these are valid causes of pain, and others suffering does not mean you are invalid. Your pains are allowed to exist side by side, and do not cancel each other out. 


KEEP TO WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

There are many things to worry about right now - and many of them are neither solvable nor controllable. We cannot control how long the pandemic will last, or how long lockdown will impact daily life (or even in what ways). However, we can control our response to this situation. 


We can choose to look after ourselves as best we can. We can choose to identify what really matters to us - to reflect on those key things that are of true value, like family, friends, and our passions. We can choose to be kind to one another, and connect in safe and socially distant ways, such as emails or video calls. We can choose to appreciate those who work tirelessly to help us all, both physically and mentally. We can choose to take this one day at a time, and adapt to what those days bring. 


If you need support during the lockdown, you are welcome to reach out and book an appointment. To ensure safe practice, I am currently offering sessions via video call and phone. 

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