There have been many articles circulating about how and why this lockdown differs from the other two (if you can really count the one in November, that is).
Other writers and content creators have cited the weather, the lack of vitamin D from the sun, and the fact that we have already suffered the effects of isolation for so long, leading to widespread fatigue. I think all of these factors are having a major impact on people's lives and mental health, but I also have my own thoughts as to why this feels so different.
Firstly, as ever I must emphasize that I, along with many other people I know are very lucky to have remained largely healthy throughout this period because as we know, many thousands of people have not been so lucky. For this, we must all be grateful but that doesn't take away from the fact that every day each of us is having to run a constant battle with our own mind to stay balanced, fulfilled, and functioning. After all, for all the grand narratives of helping the NHS, saving people's lives, etc, on a micro level we must all look after ourselves first and foremost and protect our mental and physical health. This has become even tougher in lockdown 3, with the short, dark, and cold days not helping! The snow was a brief respite and brightened up the landscape a bit, but the severe cold, colder than is usual in England at this time, also made it unpleasant to be outside for too long, thus cutting down our daily exercise routines!
We have effectively become used to quite a simple existence, getting up, working from home, doing some exercise, eating, and then going to bed. This was quite refreshing for many in the first lockdown after years of commuting to work in overcrowded and uncomfortable trains, or spending hours a day travelling around to earn their crust. As a freelancer, I had been on the move almost constantly for around 6 years as I made my living in music, playing gigs, events and networking so the March - July period was quite relaxing and good for the soul. Sadly, this novelty has worn off now, and for many who are working from home under increased stress, or homeschooling their kids, the end cannot come soon enough.
One key difference I have noticed in this lockdown, apart from the obvious physical effects of being in winter is the lack of enjoyment I have got out of the small things, which helped to keep morale up during the initial period of isolation. Back then Zoom was a relatively new phenomenon, quizzes were a welcome distraction, and walking in the countryside was something we all wondered why we hadn't been doing before. Now all of these things have become part of the norm, and to be fair, there are only so many times you can tread the same path day after day before it wears thin!
I still get enjoyment out of walking, but it is not the same now that all of the places local to me have already been discovered. I have also lost the momentum for live streaming. A weekly live stream was something that kept me going during 2020 as it provided a window to the world and an opportunity to socialize with people, albeit through Facebook or Youtube. It also allowed me to sing of course, which I love. I also had a weekly podcast with Isolation Gigs and this was a great social element too, meeting and interviewing new people. I have replaced this with a new series where I interview a different songwriter every week, and that is exciting. You can find our first two episodes here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duqQX9Da1C8&t=39s
Excitement has been a rare commodity to come across during these times, and that is why I believe the lack of enjoyable life in this period we find ourselves in now has led to a lack of context. An exciting opportunity doesn't feel the same if you can't go and celebrate in the pub or go and tell your friends or family in person. Everyday work feels like more of a drag without the opportunity to go out afterwards (or to the gym if you're a healthy type!). I am also missing coffee shops. Yes, ok you can still go in them, but you can't sit inside, and for me, as a freelance writer and musician, that small change of scene for 3-4 hours a day was often the difference between me having a productive working day or being inspired to create something new. As an example, I secured a couple of new assignments the other day and they just did not seem as exciting as they normally would because I had no context for my success. I had nowhere to go to add context and no one to see. This will come back of course in time but for now, the energy of life has been stifled. I am now starting to miss that constant buzz of moving around, of meeting people and getting to the end of the day, feeling weary, but as if something had been achieved and I had been enriched in some way. Now, everything has become a bit beige and bereft of colour.
During this time, no one should feel bad for being unproductive at times, and feeling a general sense of fatigue - it is completely understandable. In a survey by the Imperial College, London, it has been found that 42% of people reported feeling anxious every day during lockdown - a staggeringly high, but understandable number.
Until we get some kind of certainty as to how society is going to open up again, planning anything is very difficult, and naturally, there is nothing overly exciting to look forward to on a weekly or monthly basis. These are prime conditions for anxiety to prosper. The main trick to deal with boredom and anxiety I learned during the first lockdown was to look day to day, not week to week or month to month. This was a lot easier in the initial lockdown as we had nice sunny days to go walking, and the fresh energy that a new and novel situation brought. There was a sense of being in something altogether as a nation, and this sadly seems to have been lost somewhat. There was also a hope that within 6 months, we would be further down the line, and lockdowns would be behind us. Almost a year on and we are now in the midst of what could be our longest lockdown yet, on the back of months of living in restrictive tier systems and another brief (and quite pointless) lockdown in November. It is natural that mentally this would be more challenging. Lockdown burnout has become a real danger for many, as indicated by this story below:
Lockdown Burnout is on the rise:
So what can we do?
There are a few things that still apply from our gained experience that we can utilise:
- Regular walks in nature
- Checking in with friends and family via Zoom/video platforms
- Eating well
- Trying not to drink too much alone, this will never help mental health
- Delving into a hobby you haven't had time for
- Writing your feelings down, it can be very therapeutic
- Using music to brighten your mood, even if you don't play an instrument
- Doing Yoga or something along those lines to soothe your brain
- Taking regular breaks away from your screen
- Not watching too much news or getting dragged into social media (there are so many negative things going on, try and go towards things that enrich your brain)
- Avoiding passive scrolling on social media - this has been proven to contribute to deteriorating mental health
- Learning something new if you feel like it
- Just doing nothing, when you want to do nothing!
A lot of these are very vague and generalised, but they are all things that have helped me at times as I live through this period as a single occupant. I am lucky to have a family bubble I can join too, and I know many are not that fortunate. The main overall point here is to do what feels best for you, and don't be alone.
The social media point is also one which I would emphasise. I have already modified my use of social media during this time, as I noticed myself slipping into some habits that I know a lot of people will find familiar; mindlessly scrolling Facebook feeds or Instagram pictures, going down a Youtube loophole that feels like it will never end. It occurred to me, that unless I was using my social media channels for something productive; either to post about my business, engage in conversation or upload a music video then what was I using it for the rest of the time? The answer was nothing useful! A little scroll now and then will do no one any harm, and it's good to see what's going on, but constantly scrolling through swathes of negativity, worldwide problems and corona-related content would only logically lead to increased anxiety I thought. So I resolved to turn my phone off when I wanted to get work done, not have my Facebook tab constantly open and try to only engage with social media positively, which seems to be having a good effect. I was then pleased to see that a BBC programme fronted by ex-Arsenal footballer Alex Scott explored this very subject, and they found that 'passive' use of social media was a big contributor to anxiety and depletion of mental health, whereas 'active' use was, in fact, a healthy thing, improving mood. You can watch the full documentary here, I would certainly recommend it:
This lockdown seems very hard mentally, and I think we have to accept that it is for everyone. Without seeing anything certain in the future, it's easy to be dismayed, but if we carry on living day to day and building ourselves up, we can come out of this in a strong position. We should not be afraid to voice our concerns, yes, they are probably the same as everyone else's but that doesn't matter when it comes to your mind, do what you have to, to stay afloat. Go and talk to a family member, a friend, or someone online, just a small glint of hope can make a day, and make the next day somewhat more bearable.
Overall I believe we will come out of this stronger, and more resilient, so it's time to get through the next month which could well be the hardest yet, and grab the opportunities as they start to slowly come back.
Right.... what time is the pub open?
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