A Beginner’s Guide to Mental Health during Lockdown

Here’s something we can all agree on: this has been a really strange five weeks.

The UK is in the midst of a nationwide lockdown that has uprooted lives the country over. Speaking for us in the Gathford camp, our lives have completely changed and we’re still trying to get used to what is widely being referred to as ‘the new normal’. For me, I’ve found the shift in my life especially disrupting to my mental health. Stress and anxiety have become on and off companions as I try to find ways to fill the day.

Two things have influenced me to write this post. Firstly, the fact that I feel like after five weeks, I have finally found the techniques that are working to keep my stress levels down. Secondly, there has been a post making the rounds on social media. The post disputes the infamous phrase ‘we’re all in the same boat’. The truth is, as the post points out, we’re all in the same storm. We’re all experiencing the coronavirus and the lockdown measures put in place. We’re not, however, in the same boat. Each person’s boat could look wildly different to the next based on their personal circumstances. The notion that we should all be kind to each other is now more important than ever. Your dingy may look like a cruise liner next to the person bobbing along in the barrel.

Before I get carried away by the notion that the world can somehow find a way not to be buttholes to each other through a screen, I thought of a third reason for writing this post: the weather here is rubbish. I don’t know about you, but I definitely feel worse when the weather is rubbish.

I’d like to put it out into the world now that I am not a mental health specialist. I don’t have the authority to tell you that the following ideas are the miracle cure for the stress you’re experiencing right now. Nor do I have the monopoly on mental health. I do, however, know that these work for me.

Ways of dealing with stress and anxiety in lockdown

Number 1: Keep a routine

It’s so tempting to spend the day under the duvet eating oreos. Believe me, I was there a week ago. Keeping to a schedule is way easier when you’re working from home. Once you’re not working, sometimes it feels like there’s not much to get up for in the mornings. The routine has to be created from scratch.

I’ve decided to build a routine that’s flexible. If I get up at 8am, great. If I get up at 9:30am, that’s great too. The key to all of this is being kind – even to yourself.

I’ve found to do lists can be really helpful. Some days there’s a whole load on there, sometimes there’s not much. I know that the action of checking things off makes me feel like I’ve achieved.

Number 2: Clean something

Clean anything. Just one thing. This week I cleaned the whole bathroom. Yesterday I only folded a bit of laundry. Each day I find just one thing that I feel like I can clean up. It’s another step to feeling like I’ve achieved something with the day.

Number 3: Take a deep breath (or five)

This is a simple one. I read somewhere a while ago about the benefits of deep breathing. For some people counting to 10 works. For other people it’s belly breathing. For me, it’s sighing. I don’t mean the exasperated type that comes right after you’ve dropped a plate or looked at the state of the bedroom floor. I mean the ‘aaah’ kind of sigh that comes when you slip into a warm bath or put your feet up. Intentionally sighing with a smile tricks my brain into thinking that now is the time to relax. I follow the steps below

  • Find a quiet space away from other people – at a pinch I use the bathroom (I don’t lock the door as I have epilepsy, but Jon’s very good at knowing when I’m in there)
  • Take three deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose for the count four through your nose and then out through the mouth for an eight count. On the out breath I pretend I’m blowing out candles on a birthday cake. It helps to imagine the cake, sprinkles make everything better
  • Sigh twice. Breathe in through the nose for the count of three and breath out making an audible sighing sound.
  • Sometimes I sigh three to five times. Whatever I need for the stress to go away

Number 4: Exercise

I have one word. Yoga. It’s easy on the joints and gets me to slow down at the end of the day. Below is a link to a youtube video that’s been my favorite for a while now.

I especially like this video because there’s a clear indication that precision is not the aim. I like being able to explore the movement without worrying if my down dog is the most perfect it could be.

I know that Youtube yoga can be particularly annoying with the instructor spewing positive affirmations every so often as if the only care in your world is whether your avocado will be a brown mush when you cut into it. I don’t get that with this video. I have actually found a new appreciation for the affirmations in this video. It was released around Christmas time, so the instructor talks about taking your mind off the stress of your surroundings. My favorite, which has become more fitting than ever, is when the instructor talks about feeling lonely: ‘Just think about how many people are practicing along to this video. You’re not alone’

I also use this time to connect with God. I’ve done this video so often that I know it by heart. Instead of the video, I dim the lights, light a candle and spend some time connecting and praying. During yoga practice, participants are asked to focus on their inner self – instead, I focus on listening to what God is trying to say to me. Focusing on the movement helps me to not start talking at God or make the meditative time into an internal monologue. Putting worship music on helps.

Number 5: Keep in touch

We’re all in a weird situation where, despite not being able to see friends and family, we seem more connected than ever. Here at the Gathford household we have video calls and quizzes coming out of our ears. It can be super overwhelming.

A few of my friends and I have started to connect in a different way. Rather than a constant connection throughout the day, checking in on Whatsapp every few hours, we send one voice note to a group chat at 8pm. This one voice note must be less than 20 seconds and includes 1 good thing about our day and one bad thing. With so many group chats, it’s nice to have a chance to connect without being bogged down by constant messages.

It’s okay not to be okay

This is a weird time for everyone. Not one person in the UK is unaffected by the Coronavirus. It’s okay to take your time, it’s okay to have a day under the duvet, and it’s okay not to be okay. Remember: same storm, different boats. You don’t have to have it together every second of every day.

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, please let it be this: Your life right now is not measurable on the same scale that it was 2 months ago. The scale has shifted. The amount you can achieve in one day today will not be the same as it was before lockdown.

And now, my final piece of advice, one that is as true now as it has ever been. This is real life, not Instagram. You can achieve all the things on your list but not shower. You can shower and not achieve anything else. It’s all just fine. We have more time to scroll now. Don’t let it make you feel like you’re not doing okay. You’re here, you’re surviving this, you’re okay, we’ve got this.

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