Coping with the mental health effects of lockdown

Coping with LockdownMaddy Lykourgos writes with tips of coping with the adjustments we have all had to make as a result of the current lockdown.For most of us lockdown was an unimaginable concept, and yet globally we have been united by the need to stay home to stay safe. Understandably, the virus threatens more than just our physical health. It brings uncertainty, which reaches across all domains of our lives, economic stability, employment security and even the ways in which we are allowed to grieve or support our loved ones. While everyone will be affected by the virus itself to varying degrees, everyone is experiencing its impact.For many, this lockdown means keeping away from family and friends, and having to adjust to a life almost-completely constricted to our own four walls. For others, it might allow quality time with the family unit, which may never have been possible with the pre-lockdown pace of life. Whether you have a spacious house with multiple rooms and garden area or are living in a small flat with limited space for yourself, spending the majority of your time in the same space with the same people (or with just your own company), can have a massive impact on mental health. It can feel extremely overwhelming, so here are a few tips we have on how to cope:
  • Routine can be a great way to keep structure in our days, even now when our usual schedules might be completely awry, even if you’ve been furloughed or aren’t employed. Maintaining regularity in our weeks can have a big impact on our moods. Start with something small, even sleeping at the same time or having one set time for a meal or a walk. That’s not to say everything has to be planned out, but it can be a helpful way to kickstart the day when other motivating factors like having to be at a certain place at a certain time, are no longer there.
Go at a pace that suits you. If just getting out of bed in the morning has started to become increasingly difficult, maybe staying active might be more directed at creating a morning routine: getting up at a certain time, getting showered and dressed and having breakfast. Yes, there are some people using this time to learn new skills, languages or crafts or using their time to do home fitness classes, but there will be others that find comfort in maintaining the regularity of the usual routine (or as close to it as possible), especially with all the adjustments that may come alongside working from home or having the kids home from school. 
  • Keep active! If possible, try and allocate some time for exercise. Even just going for a walk around the block can have a massive impact on mood, as well as giving a much needed change of scenery. If going out isn’t an option, a small amount of house-bound exercise can still have benefits for mood, physical health, immune response and sleep.
  • Try and stay active in other ways too. Maintain a balance of what we have to do (necessary activities) and what we actually enjoy doing (pleasurable activities). This can ensure we aren’t overwhelmed with stressful tasks and the need to get things done, but rather are able to allocate some time to ourselves as well. Self-care is as important as ever, especially with those sharing their space with lots of other people. It may be easier said than done, but even a short amount of time alone doing something that’s meaningful can help to switch off from some of the pressures around us. Keep your therapy and psychiatry appointments, if you possibly can, these could be even more important right now.
 Also, filling our time by actively doing things can reduce the amount of time we spend worrying about situations outside of our control. If you are working, this may mean trying to stick to the usual work routine, or if you’re at home and aren’t working, it can be a great opportunity to do things you may not have previously had time for, hobbies that you used to enjoy or trying new things, such as puzzles, crafting, reading, cooking. What we find is that multi-sensory activities like these are helpful to orientate our attention into something other than the worries that might be spiralling in our minds about the uncertainty around us; this enables us to just be present in the moment. 
  • For more practical worries, these may be things that are daunting but not totally uncertain, things like work rights, changes to benefits or even legalities around immigration status if you are locked down in a country in which you may not be a resident. Naturally, there will be a lot of distress associated with the consequences and financial implications of this lockdown. Knowing your rights is one way to stay informed about what may or may not be in your control to do. The same goes for anyone wanting a bit more reassurance around what the plan might be and how long we may have to continue the social-distancing measures. Do try and stick to reliable sources of information, such as Gov.uk and NHS UK websites and where possible limit how much incoming pandemic-related news we are exposed to. This reduces the amount of fake news we’re consuming plus it is really overwhelming to be constantly bombarded with information about people’s conflicting views about the pandemic.
 
  • If you are working from home and are able to, try and maintain a physical distinction between your work and living space. For example, working from your bed can break the sleep-bed association, making it difficult to then try and fall asleep, as the space has been used for activities other than sleeping. Boundaries can be easily blurred making it difficult to remain effective, and we might find everything takes a lot longer than it usually would. For some this may be avoidable by going into another room to work, for others it may just be sitting at a table but in a different chair than where you might eat dinner. Small adjustments can make a big difference.
 
  • Stay connected! Even if you are having to isolate from loved ones you would usually see, today’s technology allows us all to stay connected with ease. If you don’t have the option to video chat, a phone call or message is an equally useful means of checking in with people. As with all activities, try and maintain balance where possible. As virtual social gatherings are taking the place of physical ones, it is still important not to overcommit; remember we still need to allocate time to ourselves. It can feel even more pressurising to stay in touch with everyone, but we must remain self-compassionate, we are all adjusting to this way of living. Nonetheless, keeping in contact with people is one way to feel less alone in isolation.
 
  • Unfortunately, home is not always a space we might feel safe, so spending extra amounts of time there might be particularly daunting. If you are in a living situation in which you are at risk of being harmed, please be assured that isolation rules do not apply and your safety is the priority. In those instances you can leave your home and go to a friend or family member’s house where you feel safe, refuges are still open and accepting people at risk of domestic abuse and you can also attend a Safe Space at a number of locations across the country. More information can be found on the UK Says No More
 These are unprecedented times and there is no right way to manage in lockdown and we are all going through our own personalised version of these events. Whether we are feeling low due to being isolated, uncertain and anxious about contracting the virus or what the next few months may hold, or if you are finding it difficult to manage with the changes to your lifestyle, these are just a few ways of promoting good wellbeing. It may be that things you would usually do to cope, such as seeing friends or exercising at the gym may not be possible, so it is important to be kind and accepting of the adaptations we have to make to ensure we remain as safe and well as possible.From all of the psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and the entire team here at Blue Tree, stay at home, stay safe and to our NHS staff and key workers, we thank you!