Last night news broke that Boris Johnson may be preparing to impose a second national lockdown from next week.
It’s natural to feel, well, a lot of feelings about this.
You might be angry about the way coronavirus restrictions have been communicated and introduced. You might have fears about work and money as we return to lockdown. You might be anxious about returning to the isolation you felt just a few months ago.
All these feelings are to be expected. If you struggled in lockdown one, the prospect of lockdown two: the sequel is going to feel especially daunting.
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But hold on to hope, and to one glimmer of positivity: we made it through one lockdown and we can absolutely get through another. We just need to be prepared for what’s to come.
Here’s how to get yourself mentally ready for another national lockdown.
Take stock of what you learned from the last lockdown
Take a moment to reflect back on your experience of the first national lockdown. What helped you through that? What negative experiences did you have? What did you regret doing – or not doing?
You might have learned just how important it is to stay socially connected, or that daily exercise really does have an impact on your mood. On the flipside, perhaps you found yourself working overtime when your home was your office, or you stockpiled when you really, really didn’t need to.
Don’t just let those lessons fade away and do nothing with them. Take the time to actually work out what you learned, what lessons you’d like to take into a second lockdown, and how you’ll make sure this lockdown is better than the last one.
Sort out your home
Use this weekend to make your home somewhere you actually enjoy spending time.
‘Ensure that your home is in order and you have arranged it in a way that you feel proud of and comfortable in,’ says Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and clinical director of Private Therapy Clinic.
‘Having a space that you can relax in is going to be really helpful.’
It’s also worth setting up a dedicated working space, in case you’re expected to return to remote working.
‘Try to set up an area where you have a workplace that you can leave when you’ve finished your working day, even if it’s just changing to a different seat,’ says Becky. ‘This is so you can get out of work mode more easily when working from home.’
Establish a routine
Having a regular daily routine is key for adding some structure to your days in lockdown.
Try to wake up at the same time each morning and have a bedtime. Have defined working hours and schedule in time for your physical and mental health.
‘Make time for exercise, make time for relaxation and enjoyment, and make time for productivity,’ Becky says.
‘A balanced schedule will make sure you’re doing everything possible o prevent experiencing depression in a second lockdown.’
Make exercise a priority
You know it, we know it, everyone knows it: exercise is basically magic when it comes to reducing stress and improving your mental wellbeing.
Again, work out how you’re going to make exercise work for you in a second lockdown, bearing in mind that gyms will likely close again.
Work out how you can spend time outside
If you don’t have a garden, you’re likely dreading another lockdown with limited access to outdoor space.
We know that spending time outdoors in nature is good for us – so in preparation for a second lockdown, work out how you can get outside. That might mean hastily buying a bike for some outdoor cycling, looking up your nearest parks, or just committing to a daily walk outside to get some fresh air.
Make this a priority.
Ease uncertainty around work
Not knowing what’s going on is a fast track to feeling increased levels of anxiety.
Get in touch with your workplace to ask what plans are in place, whether that’ll be sending everyone back home to work or a change in working hours. It’s best to get ahead of this and ask so you’re not feeling a lingering dread of what might be happening or what your employers might be thinking. Knowledge is key.
Have some social time in place
Don’t worry, we don’t have to go as hard on Houseparty and Zoom quizzes as we did the first time around.
Hopefully we learned from the first lockdown exactly how much socialising we need to tackle loneliness. But it’s important that even if you feel reluctant to get back into the overwhelm of Zoom fatigue, you make sure you have some socialising lined up and in the diary.
We’re social creatures and we’re really not built to spend weeks without any interaction with other humans. It really is important to have that regular social connection, so make sure to schedule in a weekly phone call or an outdoors meetup.
Have something to look forward to
Lockdown can feel like an endless stretch of doom and gloom, and while the first lockdown had an end point, by very definition of it being the second one, a second lockdown feels like it won’t be over and done with quickly.
To make sure this period of time doesn’t feel completely dismal, with nothing good in sight, make sure that you always have something positive to look forward to.
That might be something small, like the prospect of picking up a fresh cinnamon bun on a Sunday morning, or something bigger, like planning out how you’re going to unwrap your presents on a family Zoom session on Christmas morning.
Whatever you choose, it just needs to be something makes you feel good and that’s a concrete plan for the near future. It’s all about keeping up your motivation to get out of bed each morning and always having something joyful to think about when lockdown life feels absolutely miserable.
Tackle the anxiety cycle
It’s easy to fall into the habit of rumination – when you can’t stop thinking about your worries.
When it comes to anxieties about looming lockdown, it’s worth going through each worry and working out if it’s actually something you have the power to deal with, or if it’s out of your control.
Becky advises: ‘Write down what the anxiety is, what is it you’re worrying about. Then ask yourself the question: Can I deal with it now or can I deal with it later?
‘If it’s now, take an action and deal with it, move on and let the worry go.
If it’s later, write down the action that you’re going to take and schedule a time when you’re going to do it. Then let the worry go, move on from it, and take your mind to focus on something else
‘If it’s a hypothetical worry, then you know that this is not helpful, and spending any time thinking about it is not going to be productive because there’s no problem-solving element that you can implement. You need to make a mental note that you should let that worry go.’
That’s easier said than done, of course. Take this time as an opportunity to break out of damaging thought patterns and get into new healthier habits – mindfulness apps can help, as well as CBT techniques such as fact-checking anxious thoughts and reframing negative thinking.
Babylon behavioural therapist Bethany Packer tells us: ‘Instead of spending our energy every day thinking ‘when will this ever end?’ or “when will things go back to normal?’ – try pausing, and reminding yourself what you are in control of versus what you are not – aka when COVID cases will decrease enough for things to open up.
‘Try reframing – taking a situation or thought and trying to restate it in a more positive direction. This may seem like a challenge at first, but does becoming easier with practice.
‘If your initial thought is something like “Being quarantined and confined to home is a major pain” try pausing then changing that thought to “Being at home has given me more time to spend with my family and take better care of myself”.’
‘Creativity shouldn’t be underestimated,’ says Becky. ‘It does wonders for people’s mental health and leads to greater fulfilment and self-esteem.
‘This can be anything, from cooking to painting to interior design – anything that you put your mind to where you’re tapping into your creative talents.
‘Try to think of one way to tap into creativity – even if you don’t think you’re a creative person.’
Fit in self-care
‘Practicing self-care is no longer optional,’ says Bethany. ‘This doesn’t need to look like two hours of meditation every day – this can look like taking your lunch break sitting on your front step instead of eating at your work desk or having your partner watch the kids for 30 minutes on Tuesday night so you can take a nice hot bath.
‘In my opinion – the best self care activities are the ones that can fit into 10-15 minute breaks during my day or week because that’s more realistic for my hectic schedule.’
Limit scrolling time
It’s easy to be overloaded with bad news when you’re constantly scrolling through social media. You don’t need to go totally cold turkey, but it is worth having a think about how you can use the internet more mindfully.
Reflect on how you feel after scrolling certain sites and work out if all this time is actually bettering your life or just making you feel rubbish.
It can help to set a time limit on how much time you spend online, or at least a curfew.
We often fill our free time with our phones – which can be a great distraction,’ says Bethany. ‘But if newsfeeds are saturated with negativity, try taking breaks from the scrolling and instead reach out to a family member or friend on the phone.’
Remember you’ve done this once – and you can do it again
Focusing on previous successes helps to tackle anxiety and stop you catastrophising (imagining the worst possible scenario).
No matter how tricky you found the first lockdown, you still managed to get through it. The bad bits are things you can learn from, but simply getting through lockdown and coming out the other side is something to be applauded – and acts as proof that you’re completely capable of getting through a second lockdown, too.
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
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