From lockdown to relaxation of covid rules: tips on looking after your mental health
This article has been amended from an article on the Migrant Information Hub and was first viewed 16th April 2021. The information has been put together by The Mental Health Foundation, which is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. The original article has been translated into Arabic, French, Farsi, Somali, Tigrinya, Urdu, and Welsh
For many of us, the gradual easing of lockdown brings longed-for opportunities (even if at a social distance) – to see friends, play sports, resume contact with family in ‘real space’ or get back to work that we value. But for many of us, even the happy, much anticipated changes and re-adjustment can be difficult for our mental health. And for many others the prospect of coming out of lockdown when debate is still live about the science supporting it can be a real worry. This may especially apply to those more vulnerable to the virus and those of us with mental health concerns.
What are the mental health challenges, and what can we do?
We should be prepared for the fact that the end of lockdown might be as hard for us as the start was. Just as it took us time to find ways of coping during lockdown, we should also expect that it will take time to find our way back, and to reconnect with life. Things may not be the same as they were before.
Our mental health tips: about finding routines, staying connected, eating well, and taking exercise apply just as much now as they did at the start of lockdown – arguably even more so as we remain in a period of high stress but with more demands on us.
Because our situations are unique to us, it is really important to try not to judge ourselves harshly based on what other people are doing. Everybody is facing uncertainty and challenge – and we have no choice but to move through it as best we can with our own coping mechanisms.
Fear and anxiety
Fear and anxiety are possibly the most common emotional responses any of us will feel as we approach the release from lockdown. Finding a way to pull ourselves through lockdown took a lot of our emotional energy and we may have found a place that lets us cope, and that we don’t want to leave behind just yet.
It’s important to acknowledge that these feelings are reasonable, and to expect them. It’s only by building up tolerance gently that we can move through these fears.
If possible, take things at your own pace – but try and challenge yourself to try something different each day or every couple of days. It’s very easy to allow the seclusion that was necessary in lockdown to become deliberate isolation as lockdown ends. Celebrate small wins (and big wins) and try and keep a note of what you are achieving.
Tips on coping with fear and anxiety
Control what can be controlled – there are a lot of things you can’t control that cause you fear and anxiety – but there are some things you can manage or plan for. Having an action plan for managing things you might find difficult can help.
Pace yourself – recognising that you need to go at the right pace for you is important. Don’t let others bully or pressure you into doing things you don’t want to – but try not to let that be an excuse not to push yourself, especially when it comes to reconnecting with friends safely, outside your home, when rules allow and the time is also right for you. It can be hard to let others move forward without you – maybe your child wants to see friends or needs to return to work, but you can’t. It’s important to discuss concerns with those close to you, but also to allow other people space to move at their own pace.
Build up tolerance – try doing something that challenges you every day, or every few days. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t go well but keep at it. Keep a note of things you’ve achieved, enjoyed or surprised yourself doing.
Vary your routines – try and vary your routines so that you see different people and encounter different situations. If one supermarket makes you nervous, try another. If a walk at one time of the day is very busy, try mixing walks at busy times with walks at quieter times.
Talk to work – Many workplaces are allowing more flexible working even if people need to return. If you are finding it hard to get to work, or do particular shifts or activities because of anxiety or fear, speak to your manager or a colleague you trust if that feels right. If you have or have had longer term mental health problems, you may be entitled to reasonable adjustments as a disabled person under the Equality Act. Even if you haven’t disclosed before, if it feels safe to do so now you might be able to benefit from doing so.
Coping with uncertainty
Focus on the present – you can only do your best with what you have today. With regulations changing frequently, and lots of conflicting media discussions, try and keep a focus on the moment. Mindfulness meditation is one way of bringing your mind back to the present moment.
Bring things that are certain back into focus – whilst a lot of things are uncertain at the moment, there are also things to be hopeful about. Try to record and appreciate good things as they happen. Try and take opportunities to reset and relax.
Talk to people you trust – it’s important to talk about how you feel. Don’t dismiss your concerns or judge yourself too harshly. You may also be able to find your tribe online, but try and get outside perspectives too.
To read the full article which also covers picking up social lives, looking after children and family, and grief, click here.