(Yes you can and here’s how.)
I just watched Boris announce our second national lockdown. Even though I knew it was coming I still felt that pang of anxiety to my stomach. “What will be the impact this time?” Does anyone else feel like all this has been like one giant game of “whack-a-mole” with our mental health? As soon as we pop our heads back out above ground level it feels like another bop on the head of our emotional wellbeing. Its stressful and exhausting and on top of that most of us have dependants who we feel we need to be strong for.
Remember when we were kids and we got our life-saving badge? – that bit where you had to tread water with your Pj’s on in the pool for what felt like forever, seemingly getting nowhere and constantly hoping someone will blow that whistle so it’ll all be over and it will have all somehow been worth it. As a nation we’re getting tired of keeping our head above water now, we know we have to keep swimming but man this is hard.
The reason we may be feeling like we can’t cope with the prospect of another lockdown has to do with how we process trauma. The April lockdown for many has been traumatic, it may not have been as severe as a car accident or physical attack but it felt to many like a threat to life and our livelihoods – a deeply distressing emotional experience nontheless.
What many of us tend to do in the face of trauma is kick into autopilot – our brains protective state that forces us to just get through whatever is happening at the time, not think too much about it, or get emotional or reflect on it because that won’t keep us alive. Our brains tell us to take action and just survive it, essentially shutting off our emotional brains in the process. Once we feel the coast is clear, this part of our brain that was temporarily unavailable comes back online which gives us that “What the hell just happened?” feeling. At this point our emotions can sweep in like waves, this is necessary as it helps us to process and make sense of our experience so we can move on so with this some people may temporarily feel low or anxious. However for others, they may get stuck in these feelings experiencing flashbacks and nightmares resulting in longer term mental health difficulties like Anxiety or Depression.
Whilst there is more flexibility this time, if you are worried about the prospect of a second lockdown and how you can look after yourself here are a few tips on how to get through the next 4 weeks
It sounds so simple but I cannot express how important this is yet how difficult it can be in the face of depression or anxiety when the nature of the beast is to do the very opposite and cut off from those around us. Keep talking to friends and family, don’t cut off from those you love and trust, even if you feel totally rubbish try and pick up the phone and actually have a conversation with someone. It can be a good distraction to focus less on how crap you feel and more on what someone else is up to. We all too often opt for messaging/WhatsApp but this takes away the human element of connection that we are innately drawn towards because being with people aids the release of Oxytocin which is a bonding hormone released in social situations.
Don’t dwell on the things we can’t do anything about
There’s no talking Bojo out of this, it’s happening. But as human beings, annoyingly what we tend to do is focus on the things we can’t change which leads to a sense of feeling helpless, hopeless and like there’s nothing we can do about our situation. As a result of this we just sit and wait for something to happen that will resolve our situation and make us feel better but guess what? doing nothing isn’t going to help. On the other hand if we take responsibility for how we feel and focus on what we CAN do in our immediate lives, in the short term, for ourselves, our families and in the wider context of our communities we feel more in control of our mental health, and this empowers us. Having small achievable goals will eventually begin to snowball, we will get that motivation rolling once again and get in our flow again which can be the first thing to disappear when feeling depressed.
Get a wall planner – map out your day to help give some kind of structure and set yourself small wins, then celebrate at the end of the day with something to look forward to like a nice meal, a glass of wine, a bath or a film and a bar of chocolate bigger than your head - whatever it takes!
Make an effort
Tempting as it may be in times like this to stay in our onesies all day its not always good for our mental health as its doesn’t give us definition between night and day and everything just rolls into one with not structure so we can end up feeling a bit “meh”. Having a shower, getting dressed into something that makes you feel good, and putting a bit of makeup on is an important element of self-care, if we feel good on the outside it can affect how we feel inside too – don’t underestimate this simple routine, it can set you up for the day.
Get back on Zoom!
Yeah we’re all a bit over it now but if you’re feeling lonely it keeps you connected so find new ways to have fun; step it up with the games - who can be the first to find various common objects in their house and return to the computer, get people to draw their other half with their eyes closed and judge the best attempt (Some great ideas on Celebrity Juice!)
Reflect on last time
What were you doing when you felt at your best and worst in April? Make a note of what helped and create your own toolkit. - We can read up on ideas about what might help but they will work for some and not others so take some time to really think about what works for you. Did you spend too much time on social media? if so try and set some boundaries for all the family and limit what you look at and never look at it first thing.
Look after the Basics:
Exercise and the great outdoors - (eye roll) Yes, yes we’ve heard this before but it’s a fact that both these activities help to boost our endorphins and allow us to feel a bit less fuzzy. Its simple and doesn’t need to cost anything plus it gives us a sense of achievement in what can feel like an uneventful day. So get out if you can and if you can’t, try and incorporate an online 20 minute fitness or yoga session into your morning routine, just a short burst of getting your heart rate up is enough to have a significant impact.
Diet - You know what to do - Keep it balanced, get plenty of fresh fruit and Veg and drink lots (of water!). A good diet helps increase energy levels, the tired feelings we get from being less active can exacerbate depression and its easy to fall into a viscous cycle - the less you do the less you want to do so even if you feel like you really can’t be bothered try and drag the dog out for a walk.
The basics are just as important as everything else yet we tend to overlook them when we feel low, but for a moment imagine you are a Jenga Tower, the lower blocks form your “basics” so we rely on them for strength higher up, if we remove those lower blocks the rest of the tower will wobble so look after these essentials as they will give you the foundations to deal with other areas of your life.
Not being able to predict the future is scary but we can’t change that so focus on taking care of yourself and those around you, In the words of Dory…..”just keep swimming”
You’ve got this!