How are you managing your mental health during lockdown?

How are you managing your mental health during lockdown? | Kimberly Hetherington | Art Therapy with Kimberly

A month ago, the world was operating like a well oiled machine. All of us running around in the busyness of pre-COVID life. The hustle and bustle kept us busy to never really get a good enough chance to look at ourselves and our life.

Then a pandemic happened, and just like that, the entire world stopped.

As all of us remain #TogetherAtHome, we are forced to learn new ways to adjust, for better and for worse. A new world is about to be born, and I’m curious about how the world will evolve through this. It’s an unprecedented historical event that we are living through right now, isn’t it kinda cool to be alive during it?

However, this post is not about the ‘new world’ post-COVID. It’s about all the inner going on’s of the people who are suddenly at home, without the normal day to day distractions that kept them ‘sane.’ Let’s be honest, a lockdown is not exactly the best for anyone’s mental health.

Isolation, uncertainty, and financial insecurity? That’s a mixture of ingredients that can be lethal to anyone, let alone on a global scale. Professor Patrick McGorry, a mental health advocate, discussed the consequences of the lockdown as a ‘second wave of the epidemic’.
 
“A significant minority will not bounce back, and we already know that our mental health system was seriously under-resourced and overwhelmed even prior to this. This is the second wave of the epidemic in a sense, and it’s going to have a much deeper and longer trough to it.’’ 

It’s not surprising that the turn of events has trigged all of us in varying ways and degrees. We can go from acceptance to panic in a matter of seconds, triggered by a news headline or a social media post. None of us are immune (unless you’re someone like Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Chopra – if only!). It’s human nature to react to something that threatens our very survival, and all of us have been affected in some way or another. I personally had moments of depression that plummeted to the darkest depths of myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there and I have to admit, it’s a really scary place to be.

It took a few days of despair and self-pity to emerge. I asked a few friends how they were coping, and explained that I wanted to write this blog post for other people out there struggling. The replies I got were so honest and humbling. It felt like it bounded me back to the human race, snapping me out of my own rigid mind. We’re all trying to find a way through this, and it’s hard on all of us. Anxiety and depression forces us into tunnel thinking, focusing purely on ourselves, forgetting the trials and tribulations of others. It’s like sinking in quicksand, and the more we resist, the more we get pulled in.

I realise it’s hard, if not impossible, to reach out for help if you are anxious or depressed.  Especially under these unbelievable, apocalyptic circumstances. So, with the proper social distancing measures in place, I’m bringing you something that I hope will give you some respite during these difficult times.

Here are some honest words from other people just like you, who are fighting their minds in varying ways. This is how they are staying mentally healthy:

1. Finding calm in nature

“I find the lowest of lows can come with no surprise and they usually hit the hardest. It’s easier to have a coping mechanism in place when you’re prepared or tend to know what’s coming. I’ve learned and am still learning how to deal with the uncomfortable emotions and negative thoughts that arise in these situations. That means not looking for ways in which to avoid these emotions by quickly looking for a quick fix out of emotional turmoil which can sometimes be the bigger enemy. As the saying goes sometimes the hardest path is through.

I’m an extrovert by nature but interestingly as I get older, I tend to crave time alone as a coping strategy in hardships or stressful times. It can be quite trying as sometimes the hardest thing is to sit and be with your own thoughts, as its at moments like this we truly feel what the human mind is capable of for better or for worse. It’s also through these times however that have stemmed often the most profound moments of clarity, inner guidance and strangely comfort that have shaped my path in life and my understanding of it. 

One of my favourite things that I always feel compelled towards in dark times is going for a run or a walk in nature. I can let my mind wander free under the open sky and not feel suffocated by walls closing in and the heavy constraints of the past, present or the uncertainty of the future. It’s this escape back to the reality of nature’s presence that  reassures me in a sense that I am not truly alone in difficult times.”

– H.C.

2. Acknowledge that everyone is doing their best 

“I was fired from my job. My dad was also let go from his, and my mum has gone down to only three days a week. Her wage is just covering the mortgage and some expenses for the family. Needless to say, this was a huge shock to the system for our entire family and has left stains in our relationship with some family members.

I’ve found that even with so much spare time to catch up on my usual self care rituals like journaling, creative writing, yoga – I don’t have the motivation to do any of them. I’m trying my best to keep my feet grounded and logical with my thought process, not getting carried away with emotions.

This time is a struggle for everybody, whether they realise it or not. It’s a historical point in time that we are involved in – it’s going to affect us permanently. Self care is hard to achieve at this time for most, given the emotional burden of this pandemic at the back of everyones minds. We are all in the middle of processing it. It’s okay not to feel motivated to work efficiently from home or to not exercise or have a creative outlet. There is a feeling of doubt in the air, not a sense of freedom of expression. Rather, there is a lack of freedom and that is why some of us are feeling unable to express ourselves and find healing in this time of uncertainty.

In this somewhat panic, as much as I hate to admit it, I have found a new appreciation for the relationships I have with my family specifically but also with the people I am surrounded with. Everyone around me is really doing their best for their loved ones.”

– K.C.

3. Stay (virtually) connected to loved ones

“It’s a really weird, stressful time. I sometimes wake up and think, is this even real? I think it really hit me when I visited my aunt whilst she was in quarantine, speaking to her from the end of the driveway while she sat on her 1st level balcony. It felt so wonderful to see someone I was related to & laugh about silly things.

As soon as I left the emotion hit and I just sat in my car and cried. It was unexpected and made me realise how important that family connection was. I love living alone but an extrovert in isolation has challenged me more than I expected. Since then I speak to her, my family in South Africa, my siblings in the UK almost daily. Keeping that connection, even if only for a few minutes a day has lifted me up. I have tried avoiding the news except for a PM address or the 6pm live news where I am seeing real information and not peoples opinions. I exercise at the same time everyday and I have scheduled that into my calendar. But mostly I am speaking up if I feel sad or strange. I don’t expect a solution but it helps to just say it out loud to someone you love, because almost always, they are feeling it too.”

– C.W.

4. You aren’t alone

“For someone who struggles with anxiety my whole life is about managing it. And like everyone is this is proving a tough time. Isolation isn’t healthy for anyone especially anxiety sufferers. I’m having good days and average days. But just keep up my routine. I do miss the gym and sweating it out. That’s a big outlet for me. Lots of walking and being in the moment with my baby. And talking with mates. I’m lucky that as a writer/filmmaker I’m very used to solitude and not being in control work wise. But writing and losing myself in my creative outlet is a godsend. Also checking in with others helps. Trying not to think about yourself all the time. And reminding yourself that you’re not alone. The entire world is dealing with the same issues.

– H.D.

5. Have an action plan

“When the COVID-19 pandemic was still in its infancy, I began to get a knot in my stomach that was telling me that all was not right in the world. I remember feeling anxious about my job future and sure enough, I had a discussion with my employer regarding the future. This was the day that the world started to change. I went home that night and did not sleep more than a couple of hours. I met with my employer again the next day and we came up with a plan that would enable me to keep my job, at least for the short term.

The following night, I woke up extremely anxious, on the verge of hyperventilating – I’m usually a pretty chilled sort of person so this was a completely foreign experience for me and knew something was wrong. I was awake for the rest of the morning with all sorts of thoughts running through my head, trying to figure out why I was so worked up – I still had income, we had a plan, it was all going to be okay, that’s what my head was telling me but my gut, my intuition was telling me something else. At about 5 am, I realised that a decision had to be made, it was the only way forward.

Getting on the front foot and driving my own destiny was how I needed to handle it, reduce my expenses, feel more in control, take action and not sit back worrying without doing anything. I decided to move out of the apartment that I had lived in for many years, my much-loved home and sanctuary. Whilst this was emotionally a massive decision for me, once that decision was made, a huge weight was off my shoulders and I could breathe again. With my mind in gear, had a plan and could move forward.

My advice to anyone who is struggling with anxiety or depression during this difficult time is: share your feelings with people that you trust. Come up with a plan to help you focus on moving forward – if you don’t have a plan, you remain stuck. Stay in contact with your friends virtually. I’ve started playing virtual pub trivia on Monday nights which allows me to connect with my friends during isolation. Try to eat well, get some exercise and stay as positive as you can. I am personally looking at the current situation as a catalyst for change and have an expectation that things will ultimately be better for me in the long run.”

– M.V.H.

6. Allow yourself to feel

“When I feel depressed or anxious I remind myself that I have every reason to feel the way I do. I breathe deeply and rhythmically in order to soothe the physical tension resulting from those stressful mental states. I make sure I’m eating whole foods, getting enough sleep and taking the time to groom myself out of love. I’ve found that finding ways to help other people uplifts me from a state of depression because I am needed and therefore have a reason to face my own weakness.

If your mental health is struggling don’t distract yourself from the feelings associated with your struggle. Nourish your body and your body will nourish your mind. As your body becomes stronger and healthier, your mind will have more space to deal with the philosophical and spiritual aspect of your life. Take part in activities that bring you joy, don’t let the inner cruel voice tell you theres any reason you shouldn’t explore the activities that bring you joy. Stay away from drugs, you need to be in waking life when you make major life decisions and overcoming depression is fundamentally about making major changes. There is nothing more sobering than death, so, familiarise yourself with who you are in a sober waking state. Use classical music to raise your vibrational frequency. Drink lots of water with fresh lemon.”

– A.S.

7. Create your own SOS list for desperate moments

“Through this whole strange situation I have felt many different emotions. Some that make sense in the moment – panic when finding out I would both be without an income and also not eligible for stimulus, gratitude for my puppies’ kisses and irritability from spending far too many hours in a confined space with my husband.

But the feelings that wash over me from out of nowhere are the ones that feel most overwhelming – a burst of teariness walking my dogs down a quiet street or the feeling of pounding anxiety as I’m falling asleep. I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions which are changing by the day and sometimes it’s hard to keep up.

To help cope, I have a list of 3 SOS actions that I take when I feel at grips of anxiety. You could try it too, it could be something from this list or a list of your own self care rituals:

  • Take 3 deep, slow breaths. Let the exhale be especially slow; like you’re just barely allowing the air the drift out.
  • Have some sort of purpose. For me, this has been continuing to teach yoga and meditation.Connecting and sharing with others is always something that lights me up and this helps tremendously.
  • Go for a walk. Do yoga/exercise with friends via zoom. Move your body – it is built to move and will feel better for it!
  • Spend some downtime away from screens.
  • Sometimes it helps to bring curiosity to the feelings as they arise. Emotions are signals from our body. What do yours feel like?
  • Remind yourself that you aren’t alone.”

– K.D.

8. Reframing uncertainty with hope

“I consider myself very fortunate to be living out these new conditions well myself, but I have been thinking about the struggles and anxiety of my friends and family. I know that there is a lot of disappointment and uncertainty. 

If you are feeling a sense of helplessness and uncertainty about what the future holds, try and use your imagination to think about what you would want your life to look like once the crisis subsides. What kind of things would you be doing?

Although you may not be able to control the outcomes as yet, choosing to focus on these positive intentions can help your overall motivation and morale.”

– A.T.

9. The only constant in life is change

“For me it all feels like a break. Especially since my regular anxieties are usually brought on by the hustle and bustle of daily life. I’m enjoying the calmness I can feel now with everyone close to home. It’s like the world has gone quiet.

I know that many people are freaking out, though. There is a lot of fear and panic out there, but I just try to stay focused on what I can do.

Life is all about change, anyway. So much is out of our control and we have to adjust ourselves to every situation life throws at us.”

– V.W.

Now, I ask you, what has helped you during this time? How are you managing?

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