As we enter a fresh period of lockdown, many of us are finding our frustration and anxiety are peaking. Having spent several months looking forward to the end of 2020, we’ve arrived at 2021 only to find that, within days, we’re in no better position than we were before. For many of us, it might in fact feel worse.
Troubling as the next few months may seem though, there are steps that we can take to weather this storm of unpredictability and ensure that we come out the other side with our mental wellbeing intact.
Accept the situation
The first step towards getting through any challenging experience is to accept it. When things get difficult, we tend to resist or deny them, because it’s natural to not want to be in pain. The problem here is that this resistance uses a huge amount of energy, leaving little with which to actually confront the problem. That said, acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean being happy about where we are. You might feel sad; angry, even. And that’s OK. You don’t need to have it all worked out. What you do need is to acknowledge the situation at hand, so that you can take control and ask what you want the story of the next few months to be for you.
Reflect on last time
You might very well be thinking that you can’t cope with another lockdown. Try not to think in these terms – you can cope. Depending on how you were affected by the tiers, you’ve done it at least once already and come out the other side. Instead, prepare yourself for the weeks ahead by reflecting on those previous experiences. What helped you get through last time? Likewise, what ultimately proved to be determinantal? Allow yourself time for this process. Give yourself space, privacy, and try to focus on what would genuinely help you, as an individual, instead of getting hooked on everybody else’s narratives.
Get back into your routine
During the first lockdown, one of the most widely offered pieces of advice was to establish a routine. Something that gave you a sense of order purpose when we couldn’t leave the house. This need for structure will be just essential this time around, but for many of us, is likely to have slipped over Christmas. With the festive season over, and large numbers of people now back to work, albeit often still from home, consider the new year an opportunity for something of a reset. Try to rediscover the routine that kept you going before, and you’re bound to find this new lockdown a little easier.
Manage your exposure
One of the ways in which we try to take control of stressful situations is gathering data. The problem, however, with an area as broad and as intimidating as COVID-19, is that by plugging into the never-ending stream of news coverage and social media, we can easily become overwhelmed. Of course, it’s important to be informed, but there’s a balance to be found – admittedly a delicate one – between keeping yourself up to date and exposing yourself to so much that you risk stress and anxiety. Consider watching the news just once in the morning or evening, and then putting barriers in place for the rest of the day.
Take comfort from the little things
With the promise of a vaccine on the horizon, many of us are taking comfort in the knowledge that there is now an end in sight. While this is certainly no bad thing, it’s not enough to take all of our joy from the bigger picture. After all, it’s likely to be months – if not even another year – before we are all vaccinated. To maintain our mental wellbeing, we need also to zoom in on what little victories we can achieve on a daily basis. We need to flexible, and take hope from the here and now, just as much as from the future.
Be kind to yourself
Self-compassion is incredibly important. Far too often, we see parents, carers and healthcare workers neglecting their own needs in order to prioritise others. While this is admirable, it isn’t sustainable to be kind to others long-term if you aren’t kind to yourself. This isn’t always easy; self-care can actually be incredibly courageous. It’s about looking at your experience – your failures just as much as your successes – and asking what you can do next. It’s about meeting your experience, whatever it might entail, with kindness.
Recognise that you are doing enough
This is especially important for parents who are trying to oversee home-learning while also remotely holding down a full-time job. For many children, the novelty of not being in school has well and truly worn off, and they’ll be upset – possibly even angry – to suddenly be told that they’re housebound again. Parents shouldn’t dismiss these concerns. Talk to your children about how they’re feeling and keep them in a routine, but ultimately, recognise that you can only do so much. It won’t go to plan every day. If, at the end of the day your children are warm, fed and loved, you are getting it right.
We’re likely to hear a lot over the coming weeks about resilience. It’s certainly important that we be resilient during this new lockdown, but we have to understand that no matter how many courses and guides we see advertised, it isn’t something that can be prescribed from one person to another. Resilience is an individual toolbox. Some of the suggestions above will work for you, while others won’t. What’s crucial is that we don’t get hung up on other people’s stories. Reflect on what works for you and run with it. That’s how you’ll help to maintain your mental wellbeing during lockdown.
By Kirsty Lilley, mental health specialist at CABA, the wellbeing charity
For more advice, visit CABA’s dedicated coronavirus support page, which has more information on how they can help, including emotional support and financial assistance. This will be updated regularly, as the worldwide situation progresses.