Maintaining mental health during lockdown - By Robert Lock HCPC registered Clinical Psychologist)
Saturday, April 11, 2020 - 12:15
These turbulent times are deeply unsettling and can affect us in various ways. So, I wanted to share with you my ideas regarding the possible psychological impacts these might be and how we can protect ourselves from them.
Although we are all wonderfully different, the arrival of this pandemic will be causing us all to be experiencing troubled thoughts and heightened emotions such as anxiety, stress and anger. This is completely understandable and normal. We sometimes try and ignore or suppress feelings such as these when they arrive in our daily lives, but this can lead to them building up and causing difficulties for ourselves and those around us. So, accepting these emotions and being compassionate with ourselves at these moments, either by taking time out for ourselves or by seeking support, is important. When feeling strong emotions, we start to engage in emotional thinking, which is valid but rarely accurate. Emotional thinking is therefore poor at understanding situations, overcoming problems and predicting the future. So, when we experience heightened emotions the best plan is to accept them, understand the situation and thoughts that are driving them and then to explore and overcome the problem when the emotions have passed and logical thinking has taken over again.
The current government restrictions placed on us all are clearly sensible and absolutely needed. However, they are likely to cause two problems: 1) we lose a sense of control and 2) our daily and weekly rhythm is interrupted. These two changes can be incredibly de-stabilizing to our mental and physical well-being. To remedy this, I recommend that you create a timetable for everyday of your week and keep to this as closely as possible The timetable should include the following: work/school sessions, exercise, relaxing time on your own, social time with others, regular meal times, a hobby/new hobby and going to bed and getting up at good times. I have listed these in more detail on the final page of this letter. These patterns, habits and rhythms will take time to build, establish and get used to, so please allow yourself the time and space for this to happen. Simply having these goals is a massive step towards taking care of yourself despite all the difficulties and uncertainty that we are being presented with right now.
A common idea within psychology and many cultures is that a crisis can also provide an opportunity. I think this current situation does just that. We have evolved the need to connect with others, as strong relationships and communities are the best way of managing adversity and thriving. The pace of modern-day life often gets in the way or even prevents this, so with the current changes we have more time to cultivate our strength and resources, both within ourselves and with others. Many people have spoken to me about the benefit of now having more time to reflect and gain insight about themselves and all aspects of their lives. So, the enforced changes are a great chance to reconnect with ourselves and our passions, really focus on what and who is important to us, whilst also looking at what changes we might like to make to our futures. Doing these things will not only increase our happiness but are also fundamental to improving our psychological well-being and making us better able to adapt to and overcome the challenges that are coming our way.
We are all going through this together and more than ever we need social collaboration, mutual aid, warmth and compassion, especially since we must respect social distancing to protect one another. Despite the tragedies that many individuals and communities will experience, we can all come out of this stronger, not only in terms of our own personal growth but also in our relationships with others, our community and how we approach our future.
I wish you all the very best,
Rob (Dr Robert Lock - HCPC registered Clinical Psychologist)
Accept and share It is completely normal to be visited by negative thoughts and emotions during these times. When this happens, accept them, sit with the emotions and give yourself time to feel grounded again before logically thinking through the situation. Talking with others about how you feel can be of great help at these times.
Having a regular timetable Establishing a good and varied routine is crucial in finding a good rhythm, having a sense of control and protecting our mental and physical health. So, here are my recommendations of what to include:
Sleep – Go to bed and get up at a good time each day. Try and make this as consistent as possible, with a clear difference between week and weekend days if this is what you would normally do. At bedtime, the best plan is to put away all electronic devices and read a book. This will help you get off to sleep easier and also improve the quality of your sleep.
Work/School – If you are able to work from home or have schoolwork to do, then I recommend that you do this at the time you would normally, including looking at and answering emails.
Exercise – Try and do at least one hour of exercise a day. This may be a walk on your own or with someone you live with. There are many online options as well, such as aerobics, yoga, fitness led programs etc. Exercising every day will provide the physical movement and release that we all need, whilst also giving a sense of achievement, a means of releasing stress and will activate parts of our nervous system that contributes to us feeling calm and grounded.
Hobbies A hobby is really important as this can be fun and can give us a sense of both accomplishment and mastery as our new skills develop. So, this is a great time to be practicing things like learning a musical instrument, art, a language, writing or dance. There are many free online courses.
Connecting with self This may include exercise or hobbies, but also may include activities such as reading, playing computer games or practicing mindfulness. There is a daily mindfulness led meditation led by a pioneer of this area, Jon Kabat Zinn, every evening online. This can be found at: http://www.wisdom2conference.com/live
Connecting with others Make sure that we have time with others and be careful to neither neglect nor spend too much time doing this. This could be simply talking with others in your household, making video or phone calls, watching the television or films/series, cooking together, eating together, playing games or exercising and sharing shared interests or hobbies.
Connecting with the world We can enjoy and be mindful of our world when we go for walks or by being in a garden, if you are lucky enough to have one. There are also many opportunities to volunteer and so connect and contribute to the community in which you live. Whilst it is important to stay informed, I would recommend limiting the time spent watching the news each day to a short period.