How to Take Care of Your Mental Health (and Relationships) During Lockdown

How to Take Care of Your Mental Health (and Relationships) During Lockdown

The recent lockdown has inevitably caused a series of emotional side effects with anxiety and stress being the two main culprits for people in the wider population.

And with experts predicting that ‘the psychological impact could be deep and long-term’ I think it’s imperative that mental health professionals (like myself) continue to spread the message around the importance of wellbeing and how people can manage themselves (and their relationships) during the lockdown period.

In the following podcast, I will be discussing the many positive ways in which people can take care of themselves emotionally while continuing to thrive in their relationships.

Reflecting on my experience as a psychotherapist, I will also discuss the therapeutic work I do at both my London and Bali clinics where I help clients to overcome a variety of life challenges.

I believe the key to maintaining healthy relationships is by practising kindness and understanding, which is something we should all be conscious of now more than ever.

In recent weeks, it seems that people have adjusted to a new way of living, like working remotely and homeschooling their children. But a despairing tone still permeates, is this down to a lack of understanding around issues related to mental health and anxiety that might be exacerbated during this uncertain time?

As a therapist, I believe it’s important for people to continue prioritising social connection as a means of survival.

If we were to look at this from an evolutionary perspective, ordinarily relationships are developed through tight frameworks and social norms, and this is how people learn “how to be”. Recently, what was once ‘ordinary’ has been replaced with ‘extraordinary’, and as a result, many of us are being forced to think about our behaviour. 

Since most of us have little to no experience on how to handle the current climate, it’s proving to be quite the challenge to bend our minds around the circumstance (such as staying at home all the time and constantly being around family members without reprieve). In addition to this, there seems to be no ending in sight, and this in itself can be anxiety-provoking.

It’s been at least 75 years’ since human survival was brought into question, and with this in mind, we have so little to draw on. Many of us have no recollection, experience or examples on how to deal with what can only be described as quite an unnerving time.

Most of us are simply “feeling our way in the dark” and to top it off; many are having to live without any genuine connection at all.

Unfortunately, there is no “how-to” manual on how to cope amid a global pandemic. And this lack of information has unfortunately seen a rise in anxiety.

In my eyes, this is where therapy can be very useful. And there are so many positive things at our disposal – such as online therapy sessions, yoga classes and many other virtual therapies. The key is to utilise all this wherever possible.

It seems a lot of people are complaining of feeling exhausted and lethargic since the lockdown restrictions were imposed. Why is this?

stay home covid 19 and stress

The daily reality is that we’re having to constantly re-jig both on a physical and mental level, and this in itself is a whole reorganisation of one’s life.

It can also be very challenging trying to keep a family occupied all the time! Because of this emotional upheaval, people are fast becoming mentally exhausted.

Many people (myself included) are experiencing a roller coaster of emotions where one minute everything feels fine, and the next it’s back to being difficult again. Is this because most of us are having to constantly recalibrate?

If I were to use a hostage scenario as an example (an intense situation if there ever was one!) even in this predicament, the human mind still tends to run along a ‘hopeful’ parallel. That is until our internal dialogue comes into play which usually works in opposition.

Our inner voice is there to protect us and looking at the current conditions – it seems the volume on this dialogue has been turned up a notch. And with the current theme being “We mustn’t go out” and “Going out is unsafe” it’s not all that surprising.

The most important thing to remember is that emotions are fluid. They are forever changing.

One thing I always ask my clients, especially when they’re experiencing those down moments (and even in the good moments) is to take a sheet of paper and write down all the good things they have going on in their lives. Almost like a gratitude list if you will. 

This can be extremely helpful when people find themselves arriving in those darker moments. Gratitude lists allow people the opportunity to reflect on all the great things happening around them and gives them something to look back on when the going gets tough. 

Do you think this fluctuation of emotions is simply an everyday reality for people now, almost like another thing we have to get used to?

distancing covid19 and isolation

I think in recent months our ‘voice of connection’ has been broken in so many ways.

It’s become somewhat of a challenge for people to know what to do with themselves and everything seems so infinitely boundless. Most of us are constantly wondering: “When will this all end?” and “When will life go back to normal again?”.

It’s important that we challenge this inner dialogue by asking ourselves: “What is normal?” Isn’t it interesting that pre-Covid19, most of us were complaining that there weren’t enough hours in the day?

Essentially, it’s the human condition to always want the opposite of what we have.

What is it with humans that possess “The grass is always greener on the other side” sentiment?

At times, it can prove challenging for humans to connect authentically with themselves while maintaining a sense of gratitude. It seems there’s always some kind of compensation going on which operates largely on a subconscious level. In mindful practice, we’re taught that if we live in the past or the future, we are likely to feel anxious. The secret is to live wholly in the present.

The lockdown (although it can feel unpleasant at times) is an amazing opportunity to simply be with ourselves.

At our retreats in London and Bali, we invite people to ‘sit’ with their emotions, and once they get past those negative feelings, they soon realise things are not as bad as they previously thought.

What is meant by “sitting with our emotions”? I’m guessing this means riding out any unpleasant feelings that come up?

As I mentioned before, emotions never stay still. If you think about animals for, example, they tend to shake quite vigorously when they experience unpleasant emotions – this ‘shaking’ is the equivalent to human crying. If a gazelle is chased by a lion and it survived the ordeal, it usually shakes as a way of release.

At the other end of the spectrum, some people can’t feel anything at all. There are no absolutes.

For those in this situation, it might be useful for them to look up grieving techniques to induce the ‘shaking’. This technique can be wonderfully cathartic, and there are plenty of videos on Youtube that coach people through this process.

What can those living alone do to manage their stress and feelings of loneliness during this time?

If you were to ask a prisoner what they think the worst punishment is, they would likely say solitary confinement. And for people living alone right now, they might be feeling a lot like confined prisoners.

Isolation and a lack of social contact are known to increase feelings of anxiety and depression over time. Those living with others are fortunate enough to have an outlet for their frustrations, and this ‘offloading’ induces feelings of connectedness and emotional wellbeing. 

For people living in lockdown on their own, I would ask them to maintain that human connection as much as possible. People must not abandon their connection to friends and family. During these unprecedented times, it’s important to acknowledge that while we may not all be in the same boat, we are in the same storm.

I suggest that people make a ‘contact list’ much like the gratitude list I mentioned earlier.

Remaining socially active is the best thing we can do for ourselves right now. And having some kind of ‘contact’ schedule is extremely useful for when those lonely feelings begin to creep in.

What about people who feel lonely even though they’re surrounded by others and even those in healthy relationships that are still feeling the disconnect?

This is an extraordinary time and anything coming up in the present moment, might not be there at all in 3, 4 or even 6 weeks from now. Essentially, when people complain of loneliness, there is always a misalignment of some kind taking place, and it’s usually within themselves.

stress and anxiety covid19

In my eyes, this is a wonderful season for us to try out various things and to reconnect with our true selves again. If we feel the urge to “get back out there” we will always be beholden to that even after lockdown has ended.

This is an opportunity to go inwards rather than outwards.

Another helpful suggestion for those who might be feeling isolated is to ask themselves the question: “What would I do for a friend in a similar situation?” and whatever the answer is – go and do it for yourself.

For those who find solace through music and exercise, there are plenty of DJ’s providing free online music sessions right now, and it’s the same with fitness classes. My suggestion is that you allow yourself those pleasures.

When it comes to teenagers, it’s often their friends that make up their worlds (and perhaps even their romantic relationships). What can parents do to help them cope and what should they be aware of?

I think we need to step back a little and ask why our teenagers want to be with their peers.

Looking at the educational system and how we raise our children, it seems the focus is always on ‘reward’ rather than ‘connectivity’. There’s this silent power dynamic between parent and child (and it’s the same with the education system).

A child’s self-worth is measured on how well they do at school and how well they behave, and this tends to chip away at the connection element of their relationships. 

Looking at this from a humane standpoint, the reason teenagers tend to gravitate more towards their peers is because of a shared connection. And it’s usually during this exchange, that the child can disconnect from the power dynamic that exists both at school and at home.

My advice would be for parents to get out of ‘parent mode’ and away from the power dynamic to connect more with their children. Perhaps then, parents will find that teenagers won’t miss their peer groups as much. 

The lockdown is a wonderful opportunity for parents to connect with their children, which in turn will make them feel safe and more willing to express their emotions without fear of reprimand. Unfortunately, if parents decide to use the power dynamic to get compliance from their children, things could go majorly wrong. The key is to encourage positive emotions while providing a safe space for that to happen. 

At The Place we encourage people to cultivate kindness and positivity towards others (and to themselves) and allow that inner connection to radiate from within. After all, they owe themselves that gift.