How are you feeling about lockdown? Are you like the woman in the queue ahead of me at my local coffee shop yesterday brimming with excitement about the idea of hunkering down for four weeks? Or are you feeling anxious about the isolation and the boredom? Or are you just resigned to getting through it?
Lockdown can mess with our heads. And while there are a lot of things about it that we have no control over, here are some things that you can do over the next four weeks to reduce the risk of feeling exhausted by Christmas.
Reflect on your last lockdown experience
If you’ve experienced lockdown before, you know how to do it this time around. You just might not know it yet.
Because unlike last time when we all went into it wide eyed and unknowing, this time you have information about how to create a lockdown that works for you.
Ask yourself these questions about your last lockdown:
What worked well?
Knowing this, what do I want to do differently?
It’s really important that you ask these questions with kindness and compassion towards yourself. This is not the time to start haranguing yourself about whatever you did “wrong” last time.
These questions can be applied to any area of your life from work to your mental or physical health, and from friendships to your relationship. If you want to, you can also ask them to help you reflect at the end of every day.
Choose your thoughts
Our thoughts (which we’re often not conscious of) shape our feelings and if your overwhelming thought about lockdown is: “Lockdown is going to be miserable” or “My boss is going to be a nightmare,” then you’re probably not going to feel great about the next four weeks.
This bias towards gloominess is an unfortunate part of being human. Our brains are weighted towards negativity and are constantly scanning for threats. We can’t help it.
Do not beat yourself up about having these negative thoughts – it’s not helpful.
Instead be really thoughtful about how you speak to yourself. Think “supportive, gentle friend” rather than “tough sergeant major”.
Once you’ve identified the most prevalent thought you have about this lockdown, (there might be several) ask yourself: Is this thought serving me?
If it isn’t see if you can try and change the negative thought to a coping thought instead.
Choose a coping thought that feels right for you, and which is also believable and realistic. If you’re having a tough time, it’s probably more helpful to choose a neutral thought, rather than an overly positive one. And again, tone of voice is important. Mine at the moment is “I can do this” and I try and say it in a calm, supportive tone, rather than barking at myself.
Once you’ve decided your coping thought, write it down. And keep reviewing it. You’re aiming for something that makes you feel like someone has wrapped their arms around you rather than pointed their finger at you. We want to calm our bodies and quieten down our minds a bit – which creates a buffer against stress.
This time around, we can meet one person outside to exercise. If you can, find someone to exercise with, and as close to nature as possible. That way you get the benefits of being outside and of human contact. If you find exercise a struggle, start off small. A five-minute walk round the block away from your desk is a good start. Notice how you feel afterwards.
Build your resilience by doing something you love.
What do you love doing that you can still do during lockdown? Going for a run? Being outside? Painting? Dancing? Cooking? Whatever you can do that makes you feel alive. (It’s often something that we loved doing when we were young). Do that thing and while you are doing it, try and get really present in your body and notice what your body feels like at that very moment. Try and imagine your nerve endings sizzling. This practice can help build our mental resilience.
Have a cold shower.
I know it sounds like something from a 1950s boarding school. And it is horrible to begin with – but there is a lot of evidence to show that cold showers can improve your mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Dr Rangan Chatterjee interviewed Wim Hoff for his Feel Better Live More podcast, and was very clear about its benefits. Listen here.
Be selective about what you consume
TV was a complete saviour during the last lockdown. And with good reason as it can be relaxing, engaging and create brilliant connections between us. It can also be comforting – particularly if you live alone. That said, it helps to be selective about how and when you watch it and what you watch. Notice how your TV habits (or YouTube/TikTok/Instagram) influence your mood and adjust accordingly. And try and put your phone down. We may think we’re experts at it, but our brains don’t actually like us multi-tasking. There’s evidence to show that even the presence of your phone (even if it is turned the wrong way up) will have a negative impact on your experience of whatever else it is you’re doing.
And if you want to end lockdown happier than when you started it, a great place to start is the Happiness Lab podcast. Dr Laurie Santos is a Yale professor and her mission is to debunk all the wrong ideas we have about happiness and share scientific evidence about the things we can do to help ourselves.
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