So how are you coping with the lockdown?

Everyone has their own way of dealing with adversity. After three weeks of Corona virus lockdown, many of us are feeling the strain. The lack of any clear schedule for when this is likely to end is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the situation. I wanted to share my own experience of what is working well for me and also what has been less successful. I hope some of the tips below are useful, and I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts and tips on how to deal with the challenge of social distancing and self-isolation.

My top 10 tips (in no particular order) are below with one extra and a personal reminiscence thrown in:

Develop a structure to the day. Whether you are working or not, having a clear shape to your day is key. Routines are important for mental health, and help us keep a sense of purpose and motivation. For those working, getting up a few hours before you start work and having a clear end to the working day, with regular breaks in between, will help you maintain work-life balance. If you are working from home, it is easy to lose this sense of structure. For those without work, it is doubly difficult but no less necessary.

Find time to self-reflect. The Covid-19 lockdown is a new and challenging experience for all of us, no matter what one’s circumstances, no matter whether you are among the essential staff who are still required to go in to work, staff having to work from home, or among those who have been furloughed or out of work, Take a little time each day to self-reflect and to get in touch with how you are feeling. Meditation and mindfulness can be helpful, but so can writing a diary or even just having some down time in your flat or garden.

Enjoy those around you. Everyone is different so everyone will have a different way of coping with the disruption of lockdown. This situation is unprecedented and people are often unexpectedly resourceful when the chips are down. Whether it’s colleagues you’re talking with via Zoom or the people in your household, appreciate the people around you. You may find that personality traits that you didn’t particularly like about someone in “normal” life are actually valuable and helpful coping strategies. Share laughter and try to see the best in what people offer.

Don’t ignore your emotions. It’s natural to feel anxiety, depression, fear, grief, self-doubt and all the other emotions that make us human, especially during such a challenging period. Everyone has their own private concerns, and it’s important to confront these, whether or not you decide to share them with others. It might be concern about ageing or vulnerable family members who might become exposed to the virus, fears about job security and finances, or worries about mental health during the lockdown. We are all humans, and a human tragedy is unfolding as the virus progresses. Try to be honest about how this is affecting you, seek help from friends or families if it helps to discuss, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you have worries about how you are coping.

Be honest but bite your tongue! Especially if you are in a household with limited space, it’s easy for tempers to flare. It’s therefore important to be honest when you feel impatient, resentful or angry about other people’s actions, or when you feel your efforts are under appreciated and you want more recognition. But try to communicate these feelings in a sensitive way, and be aware that others are in the same boat. Flaring up when others least expect it is not helpful. It can be helpful to create a structure for having honest, open, non-judgemental dialogue with colleagues, family or friends.

Limit your screen time. Don’t spend your whole time on the mobile phone. Having worked as a journalist for many years, I know first hand the tendency for keeping in touch with events to become an obsessive activity. I certainly have a tendency to look up the latest data on Covid19 casualties or breaking news about potential vaccines as soon as I wake up in the morning, or last thing at night. Spending too much time tapping the latest news on the mobile, however, can become a way of avoiding the need to self-reflect and get in touch with emotions. Rather like alcohol it can be a stimulant that becomes compulsive. The lockdown has made it all too easy to spend most of your day on social media chats and groups and to forget the need for exercise, perspective and self-care.

Enjoy the evenings and weekends. I have found it helpful to differentiate my work and leisure time, and to ensure that they felt different, so that the days and nights didn’t all blur into one another. Having a clear routine for the day and then the evening, and having a different pattern to work days and weekends helps create a structure to your week.

Look to nature. I love walking around the garden during the day time, and I also have an allotment which is hard work but mentally soothing. Even if you are in a flat in a city environment, observing nature can be a huge comfort. If you have a garden, try to get out each day for an hour or two, even if the weather is cold. Or spend some time exercising in a nearby park, while still observing the social distancing regulations. Looking at trees and birds or even just the blueness of the sky can help take you away from any dark places inside. Even if you cannot do that, look out of the window and get in touch with the nature around you.

Sleep and eat well. I never feel right if I let my diet slip, or if I stay up late and then sleep in for most of the morning. Many people will face the Covid19 pandemic and lockdown with feelings of anxiety and fear, and this can easily affect normal sleep and dietary patterns. Here again, people are so different it’s difficult to be prescriptive about what is a right or wrong approach. Some people may overeat when they feel anxious, others tend to eat nothing at all; some people may suffer from insomnia, while others may sleep at all hours and feel stressed as a result. Try to get in soothing routines that help you east and sleep normally; it could be a family meal in the early evening or a bath before bedtime, or whatever works for you. Having time for self-reflection can also help you identify what works best.

Learn a new skill or hobby. I find that learning is one of the most motivating things I can do at any time. Whether it’s a foreign language or learning a new craft skill such as pottery, learning helps me dig myself out of the mazes of introspection and opens up a world of limitless possibilities. The number of people offering courses during the lockdown has increased exponentially, so now is a great time to try something new. Follow your gut feeling about what this should be. Now might be a great time to talk to your employer about some extra training or a qualification. But you might just try some new hobby that you’d never thought you would have time for. Bee keeping? Icelandic? Online yoga? Whatever it is, learning a new skill can be the opportunity of a lifetime and will help you make the most of the lockdown.

And finally…

Practice self-compassion. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people I know have regrets about how they are doing during the lockdown. Whether it’s having flare-ups with family members, failing to keep the pace up at work or not getting the novel written, no-one quite manages to live up to their own expectations. I am probably the worst offender I know in this category so my final recommendation is to practice self-compassion. When the lockdown started, I planned to learn computer programming, complete a Great Courses in Physics and Quantum Theory, learn German and write a book on the Energy Transition. By the end of week one of the lockdown, these ambitions had multiplied in much the same way that bindweed proliferates in an allotment. I realised that the only way to get something done would be to limit my ambitions, and even if I did not achieve these more limited goals, not to be too hard on myself. Don’t beat yourself up. Stay well!

A Personal Reminiscence

When she entered her teens my daughter became conscious of the emptiness of the universe, the void. She had had a dream that she was on her own in a space capsule, “lost in space” just like in the old movie. She asked me: but supposing we are all just on our own travelling through empty space and that nothing has any meaning?

She had always enjoyed doing her room up (at vast expense as it always seemed to need another coat of paint!) and I was struck by her image of space travel. I asked her to imagine the space capsule and what was inside. The picture of the space craft sprang readily from her vivid imagination and she described the empty ship, and the bleakness of her surroundings.

I asked her: So how would you like it to be? We spent several minutes giving the place a makeover. We painted the sides and put up decorations, and it felt like the house when she had her friends round for a party and the mess and clutter was cleared away and balloons put up.

I was reminded of this vignette when thinking about lockdown. It does feel a bit like being in a space ship in the middle of nowhere. But creativity and imagination can help transform what could be like a prison into a rich experience which expands our horizons. As William Blake said:

The mind is its own place
And of itself can make
A heaven of hell

A hell of heaven.

Best wishes to all during the lockdown. Stay safe and stick by the social distancing guidelines. Even if you’re not on the front line, you can save lives by being caring and responsible.

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