Looking after your mental health in lockdown by James Cooke

Looking after your mental health in lockdown

‘These uncertain times’ – a phrase we hear on almost every newscast these days. Not exactly reassuring as we all stay home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect the NHS, without a clue as to when we’ll be allowed to see our friends and family again. Anxiety levels are surely rising, not only as we worry about the impact Covid-19 is going to have on the world, but also as we’ve all been torn away from our regular lives and daily routines. As humans, we tend to be creatures of habit and being dragged out of our figurative comfort zones can take its toll, even if we’re all confined to the literal comfort zones of our homes.

Life at the start of the lockdown became a cycle of childcare, work, childcare, work, sleep, repeat. It’s taken a month to get into a better pattern – one in which I feel less drained – and the key was finding some alone time. The half an hour I spent at either side of the workday commuting and a break at lunch were just two of the things I’d lost under lockdown. While it’s great to spend more time with my wife and little one, I no longer had any time to myself and that can have a detrimental effect on all of us. Most of us need moments of solitude; whether it’s the chance to gather our thoughts or to enjoy some personal leisure time.

While I don’t get the chance during the week due to work schedules clashing with the childcare of a toddler, I’ve been starting every Saturday and Sunday (plus bank holidays) by going out for a 5K run to get the endorphins flowing. This is also important as life has been a lot less active since lockdown came into effect. It’s a struggle to reach 10,000 steps a day when you can’t leave the house, so taking the time to get some serious exercise in is more important for our physical health than ever, in addition to helping clear the cobwebs by giving us a mental boost.

Running’s my go-to for some peace and quiet. I stick some headphones in and either listen to some music or a podcast and tune out the rest of the world (well, not quite – I’m making sure to keep my social distance from other joggers and pedestrians). If running’s not your cuppa tea, find something active that suits you. Maybe it’s walking 5K instead of running it. Perhaps it’s lifting weights or practicing yoga. Or maybe taking part in Joe Wicks’ PE lessons is more your thing. Either way, physical activity has always been important to our health and wellbeing, and we need it now more than ever.

In the evenings, after Little Beans has gone to bed, I was finding myself restless in front of the TV. Once we’d binged Tiger King in a few crazy nights and caught up on The Mandalorian, TV started to serve as a reminder that we were trapped indoors. Over the last week though, I’ve picked up a new book and have been spending a couple of hours each night transported away to the world in Stephen King’s head (I’m currently reading Hearts in Atlantis and enjoying it thoroughly, in case you were looking for any recommendations). My typical daily routine would see me reading on the train to and from work, as well as in bed before drifting off to sleep. The ‘new normal’ wasn’t affording me as much time for reading, which provides several benefits when it comes to our mental health. Reading a book can help us relax, reducing stress and giving our brains a workout to improve our memory. Books provide an escape from the real world in a way that television can’t quite emulate, as reading delivers the ultimate form of immersion while your mind takes you away to another place.

It’s not all been about drowning out the real world by diving into books or running away with earphones in though. My wife and I have also made arguably more of an effort to socialise than we have in recent years thanks to the technology available. Using Facebook Messenger or Zoom, we’ve been getting together with family and friends for virtual pub quizzes and games nights. The quizzes have been great and something we might not otherwise have ever tried. Each week, it is the turn of a different household to write the questions and host the quiz for everyone else. It’s a great excuse to also just have a proper conversation with others outside of you own house, while seeing their faces.

Five, six, seven weeks into lockdown? I lost count a while ago. While it will still be nice to have lockdown lifted once it’s safe to do so, I feel like I’ve personally found a kind of balance while living life exclusively at home. My top tips would be to avoid keeping constant tabs on the news (five minutes taking a look at the key points once a day is enough before the rolling coverage starts getting you down) and to remember what social media was originally intended for; maybe send a text to some old friends to strike up a conversation instead of scrolling through a bottomless pit of status updates.

One final thing to remember is that this may be a once in a lifetime occurrence for many of us, so savour and enjoy any extra time you may be getting to have with your kids. Odds are you’ll look back rather fondly on this time one day. And make sure to keep them as stimulated and happy as best as you can while living under lockdown. We’re all in this together and need to keep each other’s chins up.

Written by James Cooke

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