Like a lot of you, I have read much in recent weeks about how to look after myself and my mental health in lockdown. And lots of the advice has been wise and valid but it didn’t always allow me to sit with the reality, accept it, and find some ways to learn to live with it in the way the piece I am sharing does.
I wrote to a good friend of mine and of the Cork Life Centre in recent days to formally cancel our upcoming 20th Anniversary Celebrations which he was due to be part of. Another small disappointment among many but they build up don’t they and get inside you!
What I received in response was the warmth, encouragement and generosity I’ve come to expect from Tony Bates-he shared this article he had written to send to our students which I did-it was all the advice I wanted to give them but for which I didn’t have the words.
And then he gave me permission to share it further via this blog.
Thank you Tony….
Minding your Mental Health in Lockdown Tony Bates | April 9 2020
‘ I didn’t ask for this. I hate being stuck at home. Living with people I don’t particularly get on with. I really miss my friends. When will this all be over? ’
‘My plans are all messed up. Trips, concerts, parties and celebrations have been cancelled. A graduation I wanted to celebrate may never happen. I may just get an email to tell me I’ve passed and to get on with my life .’
‘I’m meant to make the most of this time; to study, attend online classes , stay in touch with my teachers. But it’s hard to concentrate when my mind is wandering all over the place, when my anxiety spills over into panic attacks, when I’m worried about people I love.’
I don’t know if any of the above sounds familiar to you, but the texts and emails I’ve read from students living in lockdown suggest that these feelings and emotions are widely shared. It’s understandable that any of us might feel this way.
We’ve been given very clear medical guidelines on how to care for our physical health and stay safe. But there is less clarity around our mental health. This article will help you manage the emotional stresses and strains of living in lockdown. When it comes to looking after our physical health, we do the same things. Minding our mental health is different. It’s important that you adapt any general advice you hear to your own particular style of living.
Your resilience, your inner strength, comes from what you believe in. The strength you need to make it through these strange times, will come mainly from your belief in yourself. You need to trust that your quirky personality, with all its faults and failings, can cope with what’s happening, even if it takes you a while to get there.
Your inner strength also comes from your belief in others -‐ your friends and family, your school, your favourite team, a loving God, Nature, the people we rely on to get us through this crisis.
Let’s remember what you’re dealing with first: In one sudden, shocking moment your daily routine was stolen. Schools and colleges are closed, the people you shared time with are gone. They made you laugh, you let off steam with them. You may even miss those teachers that bored you! What you’d give now to be able to listen to someone speaking about a subject that means something to you in the company of friends. Instead you’re under house arrest, possibly with good people, but like Anne Frank, you’re finding that even the company of loved ones can grate on you. The lack of your own space can feel suffocating.
Some days you manage better than others. But on other days, time slips through your fingers like sand, you can’t sleep, and you have very little to show for all your loose time.
Reality, right now, is hard for all of us. But here’s the thing. Resenting reality, wishing things could be different, will only add to your feelings of helplessness. To cope, you need to roll with it rather than allow it to overwhelm you. Facing things the way they are, being real, will kick start your creativity.
While you are in lockdown, you can choose to get to know yourself a little more, without making this something uncomfortable or forced. You can take a moment to think about how you live your life, and what, if anything, you’d like to change.
Writing for five minutes a day is one way to get to know things about yourself that may surprise you. Writing about hurtful things you’d rather forget may surprise you even more. Our identity is something we piece together over time from our lived experience. Bad times teach us a lot about ourselves. What hurts us can show us what matters to us. We discover where we are most sensitive, we begin to see that even the strongest people we know are also vulnerable.
We do much better when we feel we have some control over our lives. This is exactly what you may be missing these days. But making it through each day will be a lot easier if you can put some shape on it.
Take a few minutes each morning to make a list. Identify two or three achievable goals. Don’t aim too high. Make sure to include activities that give you energy. For example, design a simple exercise routine; find a yoga or mindfulness class online; play or learn to play a musical instrument; make something with your hands; complete a jigsaw; rearrange your college notes, plant seeds in the garden. Write a letter or card to someone you care about. Don’t be afraid to tell them what they mean to you.
At the end of each day, give yourself credit for having survived. Think about what worked well and what you learned about yourself. Be kind to yourself for what you hoped to achieve, but didn’t get done. You may have lots of time, but you have a limited amount of energy. And there will always be a tomorrow.
Don’t give fearful and negative thoughts free run in your mind. They will wreck your head. Same with sadness. It’s fine to feel sad and there is a lot to be sad about. This is not what you planned for your life. What’s happening is not your fault. But don’t allow your sadness to take over the whole dance floor. Write about how you feel, talk about how you feel and then do something that will give your mind a break. Focusing on the present moment, on whatever we are doing right now -‐ washing your hands, making something to eat -‐is the best vaccine for negative thoughts.
It’s hard to think about anybody but yourself when you’re feeling sad or afraid. But thinking about others can help us to see ourselves in a different way. You can look out your window with frustration and resentment or you can look out and think about people the world over who won’t be looking out their windows anymore. They’ve become part of the nightly body count in this viral war.
You can look out your window and think about people you now see in a whole new way. Health care workers, food producers, postal staff, Gardaí, cleaners and shelf stackers. A new respect and gratitude is taking hold.
Maybe when this is over, we will think of ourselves as a society who depend on each other, rather than an economy where we live off each other.
Resilience comes from accepting reality, believing in yourself and not allowing the bad stuff that is happening to make you forget what is good in your life. When you can be honest about what is real, you feel grounded. Even when hard things happen, you may feel emotional, but your mental health will be stronger. You can be more honest with others. You can make real connections with people who care about you.
Stay safe. Stay human. This ‘House arrest’ will be over sooner than you expect.
Tony Bates, Founder of Jigsaw: The National Centre for Youth Mental Health (April 9, 2020)