After marking one year since the UK first entered lockdown, we wanted to explore one of the hidden consequences of the isolated lives we’ve all been leading over the past 12 months – the effect it has had on our mental health and wellbeing, and what steps we can take to ensure we continue to cope and thrive through challenging times.
It has been reported that as many as ten million people in the UK now require new or additional mental health support as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Adrian James, predicting that the lasting effects of the pandemic on our mental wellbeing will be felt for years to come.
As many of us faced uncertainty in 2020 – be it over our health, employment, living and working from home situations, or through concern for family and friends, the pandemic has understandably sparked a wave of national anxiety, as we grow increasingly eager to return to normality.
But just as we had to adjust to lockdown life, we will also have to re–adjust once again when restrictions are finally lifted. Though not an officially recognised mental health condition (yet?), Post Pandemic Stress Disorder is a term being used already.
Lockdown has presented us with some valuable learnings and opportunities too, in terms of revaluating our lives, identifying our priorities, putting things into perspective and setting new goals for ourselves.
So, what can we do to continue to remain strong through the remainder of lockdown, and get ready for returning to normality?
We’ve shared our top recommendations to help with moving forward, to ensure we’re prepared.
As many workers made the transition from the office to home during lockdown, we adapted and developed new daily routines in order to continue our work from the safety of our homes. A stressful time for businesses both large and small, as a flexible and fast response was required to keep companies running smoothly despite the upheaval that closing offices caused.
Working remotely, though challenging, has revealed some of the qualities that are needed to do it effectively. It strips away all of the other ‘stuff’ that goes along with being in an office – the commute, what you choose to wear, the vending machine chit-chat, making sure you shout loudest about how busy you are – instead, it just boils down to the work, and the quality of work, that you achieve in a day.
This change highlights the importance of a work-life balance, which has become a hot topic of discussion over the last few years, long before the pandemic hit.
Learning how to switch off at the end of the day and not worry about all the things you have to do the next day, is a real skill – and one that is vitally important to your mental health.
Little things like switching off your phone, or not checking your emails outside of office hours, will allow you to reclaim some valuable me-time that you can spend how you wish.
Reach out to loved ones
Lockdown life meant that many families were separated, unable to travel to visit one another and were reliant on telephone and Skype/Zoom calls to connect.
The isolation we’ve all experienced from friends and family members can be used as motivation to reach out to those we haven’t spoken to in a while – as a lack of social interaction can remind us how important it fundamentally is to us, as humans. We are sociable creatures, so once lockdown ends, we will all be more grateful than ever to meet up with familiar faces once again.
Since lockdown has helped to put aspects of our lives into perspective, it may also be the perfect time to reconnect with those you’ve lost touch with – school friends or estranged family members for example – or if you know anyone who has a history of mental health issues, reaching out with a simple message to see how they are doing can be a very powerful way of reminding them that they are remembered and heard.
Make time for yourself
Similar to creating a healthy work-life balance, making time for yourself will allow you to enjoy that all-important me-time.
Instead of sitting on the couch scrolling through your phone or watching your favourite streaming platform, decide to spend your time in a slightly different way. Self-care comes in many forms, and really depends on what you enjoy doing, what relaxes you and what fills you with passion.
If you have a hobby, or have something you’ve always wanted to get into, take steps to make it happen and spend some time on it each week.
If you’ve always dreamed of painting – paint, if you’ve always wanted to try pottery – take steps towards making that a reality, whether it’s purchasing a beginner’s kit, or booking a class once they’re (hopefully) open later in the year.
Set your own goals
It might not be a new year, but the plan to relax lockdown restrictions over the spring and summer months feels like a reset – a chance to start again. With that in mind, setting goals for yourself for what you’d like to achieve professionally and personally will be a great way to stay focused, work hard and look after yourself.
There is little point in creating too many goals, as you’re bound to set yourself up for disappointment (how many New Year’s resolutions do we really successfully stick to?) – instead, choose two or three things that you’d like to change or work towards.
It can be small or large – go for a walk at least once this week, spend two hours studying an online course, try a new recipe once a week, give up meat on Mondays – it’s up to you, but achieving your goals, no matter how small, is a very rewarding experience and helps you practice self-discipline.
Celebrate your resilience
The past twelve months may have taught you something new about yourself or your life – you might have realised you don’t enjoy your job; you need a new car or a new home, you want to start a family – whatever it is, using the time we’ve had in lockdown, staying at home and reflecting on what’s taking place in the world, may have helped to put some things into perspective for you.
Remember – you’ve made it this far, faced uncertainty and anxiety and that shows true strength. What would the current you say to yourself 12 months ago, having lived through lockdown? Celebrate your resilience, and with hindsight and reflection, allow yourself to realise that you’re stronger than you think.
Useful charities, helplines and websites:
- Mind – providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
- Samaritans – free confidential helpline, 24/7, offering support for anyone wishing to talk about problems or concerns they’re experiencing.
- Shout UK – free confidential texting service, 24/7, offering support for anyone in crisis.
- CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably – a leading movement against suicide, offering support and advice.
- The Mix – a leading support service for people under the age of 25 experiencing mental health problems.
- Rethink Mental Illness – helping people with mental health issues through local groups and services.