With new national lockdowns coming into force across the UK, we take a look at how to cope – from staying connected to getting out in the open.
Use your daily outdoor exercise time …
Under the new rules in England you can exercise outside once a day in your local area with one person from another household. “As long as you stay two metres away it is also the chance for some social interaction,” said Neil Greenberg, professor of defence mental health at King’s College London.
While wet-weather clothing might be needed, why not take a look at Ordnance Survey maps and go on an adventure along some muddy footpaths, or explore the signs of nature amid the urban sprawl on your doorstep? And don’t forget that, unlike the first lockdown, playgrounds are open, so children can burn off their energy too.
… but remember exercise at home is unlimited
The benefits of exercise can be felt from even relatively short bouts of 15 to 30 minutes at a time, according to Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind.
“Even if you don’t have exercise equipment like treadmills at home, there are still options for most ages and abilities including cleaning, dancing, using the stairs and online classes,” he said. Yes – cleaning can make for a great workout.
Joe Wicks is bringing back his online home workouts for three days a week for lockdown 3.0, while there are plenty of online classes for yoga, dance, boxing and even – for cycling enthusiasts – “zwifting”.
Zoom possibilities are endless
The idea of yet another video call might seem unappealing, but a huge number of activities are now being run online – and getting more sophisticated all the time.
Charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support have created packs for people to host their own murder mystery, art groups are holding Zoom life drawing sessions, and there is no shortage of quizzes to try out. Pottery, embroidery, cookery and language classes are among other options, and offer the chance to develop a new skill and get to know new people.
But while many may feel the pressure to make the most of another lockdown, Greenberg says we should be wary of attempting too many things at once.
“Rather than setting yourself up to fail, try to set one realistically achievable simple goal and only once you have completed that, set another achievable one,” he said. “If you fail to achieve one of them, simply try again and focus on what you have done, not what you have not.”
Theatre, concerts and other events are also available online – and are sometimes free. Some are live while others are recordings: among them you can romp through the British Museum’s 2014 Viking exhibition, get a front-row seat to a Met Opera performance or explore the world of ice-age megafauna as part of the Natural History Museum’s series of online lectures.
Create winter routines
With the sun rising late and setting just after 4pm, the prospect of a lockdown in the dead of winter fills many of us with a sense of foreboding. “If possible, get some nature into your day,” says Buckley. “Take a walk to a nearby park, river or green space and make the most of any outside space you may have, such as a garden. Even something as simple as sitting by a window and watching the birds, or taking care of a pot plant, can be beneficial.
“If you’ve been spending a lot of time at home during the coronavirus pandemic, you may already have a routine of activities. But it may be helpful to think about how you can adapt this for the winter months.
“Trying out a new winter routine might help give you a sense of change if you’re struggling with how long the pandemic is continuing. For example, you could spend time cooking and trying some new winter recipes, or learning a new skill.”
Mental health matters
There is a lot of news. But Greenberg said while it was important to stay up to date on government rules and guidance, it was best to avoid “doom-scrolling” – searching out endless articles and comments on the pandemic.
“What you always get there are lots of different opinions on how long it might last, how bad the next virus is … What happens is you end up fuelling your uncertainty and that leads to more anxiety,” he said.
Turning off news feeds and bright screens a few hours before bed could also help with a good night’s sleep, as could avoiding caffeine and smoking before hitting the hay, said Greenberg, while Buckley added that having a set routine benefitted people.
If people experience ongoing sleep problems they should seek professional advice, Greenberg added. “If you are feeling more anxious you are less likely to sleep and if you don’t sleep as well that is more likely to make you feel more anxious,” he said.
Staying connected is also key during lockdown. “That doesn’t have to be a once-a-week telephone call with mum – it could be 20 times a day for a five-minute chat or sending out a quick email or message on Teams or however you do it,” said Greenberg.
And don’t throw in the towel on plans for the year ahead. “I think the idea of doing that little bit of exercise, finding a new pastime, and not letting yourself say ‘oh gosh, stuff dry January, I’m drinking because it is terrible’ is more important now than ever,” said Greenberg.
Coping with working, and schooling, at home
With adults working from home – and children now joining them – headphones might be a necessity. But experts say a clear work/life balance also matters.
“Make sure you take at least a 30-minute lunch break, ideally getting outside for some exercise, if you can,” said Buckley. “Try putting a reminder in your diary when you plan to finish working and communicate this to your colleagues so they know when you’re contactable. At the end of the working day, turn off your computer and any other devices so you’re not tempted to check work emails and try to take your mind off work by doing something else.”
The sentiment is echoed by the charity Young Minds, which emphasised it was also important for children to find mental space.
Buckley noted that parents might find the demand of childcare meant they ended up working late into the evening, something he said could disrupt sleep and mental health. “If your current working arrangements aren’t working for you and your family, speak to your employer about what support they can offer, including the option of working more flexibly, or working reduced hours,” he said.