According to a recent report by the mental health charity, Mind, 60% of adults and 68% of young people reported that their mental health worsened during lockdown. On the 23rd March this year, the UK marked one whole year of national lockdowns, prompting some much-needed reflection, along with remembrance for those we’ve lost to the Covid-19 pandemic – all while we’re still subject to strict social-distancing guidelines. For many, the true gravity of this year and the many losses endured, both big and small, have not yet sunk in. The national vaccination programme brings with it a welcome glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel but looking ahead to some definitive endpoint is an exercise in futility. The hard truth is that pandemics don’t end with a bang but a whimper; we must accept that we are living through something out of our control and, rather than waiting to celebrate at some unforeseeable future date, we should celebrate and nurture the life we have today. So, read on for some practical ideas on how to not only manage your mental health during lockdown but actively improve it, using a Mind, Body & Soul approach.
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Let’s start with the obvious: your mind is important. Did you know, for example, that your brain uses approximately 20% of your body’s energy resources? If you’ve ever spent a day on the sofa watching tv and still felt exhausted by the end of it, now you know one reason why. Just existing gives our brain a workout! The pandemic has increased our baseline level of stress, too, and that kind of constant low-high level stress can have a serious impact on everything from our ability to concentrate on our emotional resilience. Simply put: the pandemic has made it harder to deal with life’s everyday challenges. This makes taking care of our mental health even more important. So how can we keep our mind healthy?
Firstly, ask yourself (or a trusted person) how you’re doing really. ‘I’m fine’, is not enough. Dig deep and identify what’s troubling you. Are you missing loved ones, feeling frustrated with the same four-walls, struggling to sleep, or feeling persistently low? Whatever it is, the most important thing is not to keep it a secret. I believe any storm can be weathered if you don’t face it alone. Check up on your friends and look after each other, we all need that support. Of course, if you’re feeling stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Whether that’s a long chat over the phone with a friend or professional counselling, there’s no shame in asking for help. And if you find yourself comparing your lockdown productivity to others, remember that everyone copes in their own way. Someone else throwing themselves into projects is just as much a coping mechanism as you skipping the weekly zoom quiz. They can both alleviate feelings of anxiety in the short-term, and they can both become detrimental to our mental health if taken too far. Trust me, no one is expecting you to write your magnum opus in lockdown, no matter how often you see that quote about Shakespeare writing King Lear during the Bubonic Plague.
All in all, care for your mind based on your personal needs. If you’re feeling isolated, don’t hide away from the weekly call (or start one!), likewise, if you’re in several video calls a day and are feeling the burn, make sure to schedule some alone time.
It’s so important, too, to cultivate interests outside of your degree or work, you’re worth more than the qualifications on your cv! Developing skills, whether it’s learning an instrument or cooking something new, will inspire a sense of competency and achievement. Make sure to change-up your workspace sometimes, too. Never underestimate the power of a change of scenery. Try working in the kitchen, or even outside (weather permitting). If nothing else, make sure to crack the window and make use of some of YouTube’s virtual study spaces (noise optional but, personally, I like the comforting chatter of a virtual café).
When anyone tells me I should exercise, I can’t help but roll my eyes. It’s Pavlovian at this point. But I will grudgingly admit, they have a point. Reluctance to put on a pair of running shoes and start marathon prep runs deep for some, so my advice is not to fight it. You don’t have to run a marathon if you don’t want to, you don’t even have to run around the block! Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. For example, I recently invested in a pair of starter skates. Before lockdown, I discovered that Roller Derby is a real thing, and it’s amazing. I may not be able to play derby right now, but I can put in time on roller skates that I simply don’t want to at the gym. Exercise could also include rolling out your mat in front of a Chloe Ting workout (‘no pain no gain’ has never been more apt), walking a neighbour’s dog, or spending a good hour in the garden (Bangor healing garden anyone?). As Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t!” One more thing: remember to respect your body by going at your own pace and making sure to stretch. You’ll thank yourself later.
It’s useful to remember, too, that meditation does not have to mean sitting still with anything but your thoughts for company. Walking in nature, letting sights, smells, sounds, and thoughts simply wash over you can be just as beneficial. Bonus point if you can take your shoes off, and triple bonus points if you can walk along the beach. There’s nothing else quite like it. Even if you can’t get to the beach right now, try paying attention to your senses. This simple grounding exercise will empower you to ground yourself and reconnect with the present moment. After all, it’s the only moment that matters.
Finally, we delve into the mysterious world of the soul. Or have we been there all along? It’s all connected, after all. Soul, or spirit, means something a little bit different to everyone based on culture, religion, and worldview, but for the purpose of this article, it refers to an internal sense of self, that voice in your head that runs on a loop. You spend a lot of time with that voice, it only makes sense to befriend it. Maybe you haven’t examined your inner world much, but there’s no time like a government-enforced lockdown for some soul searching. It doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds either. For me, it’s closely intertwined with the idea of creativity. Do you love to draw, paint, sing, fix cars, or do just about anything that isn’t paperwork? We are all creative in some way and that creativity has the potential to greatly enriches our lives.
The Russians like to say that they do certain things “for the soul”, and I think that’s a useful way to look at it: what do you do in life for your soul? For some, it will be strongly associated with faith, prayer, or meditation, for others it may bring to mind nature, art, or family. However you approach it, we all know that life is full of ups and downs, and I believe that by developing a better relationship with ourselves (and others!) we can all achieve better mental health, no matter what’s happening in the world around us.
Resources (because you don’t need to go it alone):