By Danielle Rooke - 22nd May 2020
It’s no secret that lockdown has put a considerable extra strain on everyone’s mental wellbeing. But at the same time, it’s great to see the pressures of this ’new normal‘ being openly acknowledged on social media and beyond. I’ve attended more mental health talks and webinars over the past few months than ever before, and it’s uplifting to know that even though normal life has been put on pause, the conversation about mental health keeps going!
Right now, everyone is experiencing challenges, big and small, new and old, that are putting pressure on their mental health. But with the loss of our everyday support structures, it’s more important than ever that we share these with each other – if only to take comfort in the fact that, even though we’re isolated, we aren’t alone.
In the spirit of conversation, here are a few things I’ve struggled with during lockdown, as well as a few things I’ve learned:
I never thought I’d miss my daily commute – it was busy, slow, and it cost money. But like it or not, travelling to work each day gave my week a clear structure. Without it, taking time to get ready each morning can become more of an option than a necessity, and before you know it, it’s 5pm and you’re still wearing pyjamas.
My appearances at the gym were hardly frequent before lockdown, but it’s definitely harder to find the motivation to exercise now the options are so much more limited. The weeks of being told not to go outside also didn’t help – they just gave my brain another excuse to be a bit lazy.
I put a lot of work into developing some healthy habits after New Year (didn’t we all!), but with the changes and restrictions that have come with lockdown, it’s been nearly impossible to keep these habits going, or even find the motivation to do so.
As marketing adjusted to the “new normal”, I found myself surrounded by messaging telling me to “make the most of lockdown”. Whether that was gaining a qualification, learning a new skill, or exercising more, I felt a lot of pressure to accomplish something – and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.
While I’ve been for a few runs, baked a cake or two, and dabbled in some painting, I haven’t changed the world during lockdown. With some of the messaging that’s being put out there, that can make you feel like a bit of a failure.
I was always grateful that when it came to the end of the day, I could leave work behind and head home to relax. Even after a good day, I felt the benefits of physically walking away from work.
Working from home, my desk and laptop are ever-present, a constant reminder of my to-do list and any pressures I may be feeling at work. It’s harder than ever to switch off from work, especially when you can see your workspace from the comfort of your bed or sofa. As a result, I’ve found myself thinking about work far more in the evenings and at the weekends.
Lockdown has certainly brought its challenges, but it’s also offered an opportunity for us to learn more about ourselves and the way our minds work – even if we don’t realise it. In my case, I’ve learned at least two clear lessons that will help me to look after my mental health in the future:
If I tell myself that I’m going to go for a 10km run on Sunday, the chances are that it won’t happen. Similarly, if I say that I’m going to learn Spanish by the end of lockdown, it probably won’t happen. Huge goals like this can seem overwhelming, and we put off starting them out of a fear that we’ll fail anyway.
But if we can break those huge goals down into quicker, more achievable tasks, they no longer seem as intimidating, as we can give ourselves lots of little rewards along the way.
The fact is, anything is better than nothing. So while going for a 10km run is amazing, so is running for 2km, because it’s further than you would have gone if you kept putting it off.
Following this rule, I’ve definitely run more than 10km during lockdown, by going for smaller runs more regularly.
With all the pressure being placed on us to achieve something during lockdown, we can begin to feel really guilty for our downtime. But we need to recognise that placing an expectation on ourselves to be constantly doing something is unfair and unhealthy.
Downtime is important; it always has been. While it seems like this was being more openly acknowledged before lockdown, I’ve found that – even with a much greater reason now to not be doing anything – I feel more guilty about it than ever.
After all, if we spend all of our energy punishing ourselves for relaxing, not only are we not really relaxing, but we also won’t have the energy to eventually get up and start doing something.
Ultimately, and in the true spirit of this Mental Health Awareness Week, I’m learning to be a little bit kinder to myself – by rewarding myself regularly for what I AM doing, and not punishing myself for the things that I don’t manage to do.
With the extra challenges that everyone is facing, there’s an added timeliness and importance to this Mental Health Awareness Week. Webinars and blog posts aren’t enough to address mental health issues on their own, but they at least represent a healthy openness and acknowledgement of these invisible challenges. They are a way to keep the conversation growing, at a time of limited contact and communication. For the sake of ourselves and others, it’s important that we recognise this, and keep sharing our struggles and successes when we can.
It’s the first of many kindnesses that we can offer each other this week.