February 6, 2024

Learnings from Lockdown: How our mental health was impacted last time and what we can do differently now

A second lockdown is the last thing many of us will want right now, but similar restrictions don’t necessarily mean similar moods, similar behaviours or similar ways of thinking.

Make no mistake, there are no magic solutions. No single approach to ‘handling’ lockdown will work for everyone, and the vast majority of us will undoubtedly find at least some aspects of it to be challenging.

However, we now have a key benefit of having experienced this once before. We can reflect on how our mental health was impacted, what helped us cope, and what actions we took that were less helpful.

By reflecting on and talking about our experiences, it is more likely that we can identify strategies that might help us to experience this lockdown differently.

How did the last lockdown impact mental health?

When the second lockdown was announced on the 31st October many of us will have been understandably hit with the thought of ‘not this again’. Feelings may have varied from anger, dread, anxiety, through to apathy or for some, relief.

We know that the last lockdown took its toll on mental health. 69% of adults in the UK reported feeling at least somewhat worried about the effect Covid19 was having on their life, and some studies showed that mental health had worsened by an average of 8.1% in UK adults this year.

More upsettingly, one in three adults that experienced poorer mental health did not access any form of support during lockdown as they didn’t feel that their needs deserved it.

Unsurprisingly, unhelpful coping mechanisms began to rise. The charity Mind reported that over half of adults and young people were either undereating or overeating, and a third of adults and young people were using alcohol or illegal drugs to help them get through.

This was, of course, not the case for everyone. Some people enjoyed being able to spend more time on themselves and their family, with fewer work and social commitments to attend. Others found themselves catching up with people they do not often see and re-establishing old friendships.

As a general trend, however, lockdown posed challenges to our mental health and it was not always easy for us to find, or feel able to access, helpful solutions. So what can we do differently this time round?

Learning from others

One of the best ways to prepare for this lockdown is to listen to what other people found useful. The BBC Podcast ‘Unusual Times’ released an episode earlier this year in which people spoke about how lockdown, and the pandemic more generally, was affecting their mental health and what had helped them.

One interviewee talked about their depression becoming worse during the beginning of lockdown but two things giving her a boost - taking up roller-skating and dying her hair blue.

Exercise, learning a new skill, engaging our brain, encouraging natural endorphin release and taking control of our actions when we are feeling restricted in other ways are all excellent ways to promote positive mental health. Learning to roller-skate and changing her external appearance were choices that did just that.

Even relatively small changes such as this can make us feel calmer about the state of the world as we are showing ourselves that not all aspects of our lives are out of our hands.

A second interviewee spoke about their joy in joining an online poetry group, saying “Having someone say that they connected with a poem that you wrote is a really amazing feeling”.

Again, this is an example of learning a new skill which our brains are always thankful for, but it’s also a way to socially interact with others, in a pretty meaningful way, during a time in which doing that in person is not possible. Communicating with others, even those we don’t know, helps us to keep looking ‘outwards’ and not get so readily hooked by difficult thoughts and feelings and taken ‘inwards’ - something which can happen so easily during lockdown.

As a final example, one interviewee spoke about experiencing burnout. A musician who usually worked in other industries part-time felt that not using all of his newly available time to write music would be a waste.

Whilst wanting to make the most of your time is definitely a positive goal, you need to be realistic. As the musician realised, having more time to create does not equate to having to create more. It’s important to be easy on ourselves when we have ‘lazy days’. These are strange times. There’s no single way that you’re expected to behave. Slowing down, doing activities that bring us contentment and being kinder to ourselves are all the more important.

These are just a small selection of things that have helped others, but the important takeaway is to keep talking. It doesn’t have to be with a therapist or a doctor, speaking with a good friend or family member can enable you to see things differently and try new approaches.

However, if you think speaking with a therapist would be useful, improving your understanding of your relationship to your thoughts and feelings and developing strategies for coping with challenges, we can of course help. Don’t hesitate to email hello@helloself.com and we can explain how it all works.

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