For many the latest lockdown has been harder to deal with than the previous ones and psychologists are reporting a rise in people experiencing the symptoms of sustained stress similar to burnout at work, including problems with sleep and concentration.
However, there are ways to help deal with current uncertainty, and below are a selection of expert tips from psychologists and those with experience of extreme isolation.
Give yourself small goals
We are in an uncontrollable environment and we need some sense of control to feel healthy, so give yourself small achievable goals to regain a sense of control. If I am working I am dressed because it gives me a sense of control and a sense that I have gone to work and it also gives me that sense of identity.
The other thing that really came out from my research as one of the most powerful coping mechanisms is looking for the good in the environment.
If we train brains to focus on a positive it changes how we interact with the world cognitively. Encouraging ourselves to go out into the word encourages the prefrontal cortex to work more effectively, which is good for creativity and attention encourages better function.
Be kind to yourself
What we are going through now is part of our human experience and we only have the capacity to experience joy because we experience pain. This is the shadow side of so many gorgeous things and anyone who has gone through grief or sexual trauma or health problems will know that sometimes what you are going through is hard and can be long. There is something about being as kind to ourselves as possible and not looking for the quick fix and easy solution, looking for hope – where it is there – and contact. Yes, at the moment it feels unstable and at those moments, some people will adopt conspiracy theories and so forth, but lots of others will be asking big questions about how to live life and what is important. That is such a gift and answers to those questions will serve you well in the future – 2020 promised us clearer vision but never told us we would like what we see.
Deploy known stress management techniques
People should be on the lookout for red flags or warning signs that they’re excessively stressed out. These include sleeping difficulties, increases in irritability or moodiness, and overeating or abusing drugs or alcohol. If you notice these warning signs then it’s important to try various forms of stress management. These include reaching out to friends and family and developing a healthy lifestyle – for example, regular sleep, healthy diet and physical exercise. You can also deploy various forms of relaxation exercises such as meditation and yoga. If the forms of self-help aren’t sufficient, then you should consult your family doctor. There are also some very good internet self-help programmes and phone apps available, which can be useful.
Think about what you can do rather than what you cannot
At the age of 30, I moved to a remote cottage with no services in the hills of mid-Wales and lived there alone with no vehicle and no phone … I began to find this life suited me and I remained there for five years.
You might say that I was uniquely suited for the unexpected arrival of lockdown, even though I am a single parent living in a council flat in town, and unable to head out to the wilder parts of the country as I am used to.
I have, however, made a point of going out walking every day, and resetting my expectations of what I am likely to experience. I have refocused my attention on to the smaller things – wildflowers and butterflies and fungi, learning as I go. I think that a lot of people have found that a locked-down life has given them a much greater appreciation of the natural world, and I hope that many people will find that this new interest endures. I find myself, and trying to find the positives in any given situation, concentrating less on what I have lost than on what still remains to me and thinking about what I can do today rather than what I can’t.
Use this time to explore your creativity and live in the moment
What you have to do in lockdown is to keep mentally alive. In my own situation [when I was taken hostage] years ago I was kept in very strict solitary confinement with no books, papers or natural light and that lasted for five years. It was a long experience without companionship.
I wrote my first book in my head. I used my imagination to write stories and kept my mind going. The other thing to do is to learn to live for the moment – you cannot think too far ahead.
It is easy to become depressed and when you are isolated and faced with yourself there is a tendency to become very introspective – and anyone who is introspective will find they look inside with two sides of their personality, the light and dark. If you dwell too much on the negative side you can fall into a deep depression. The answer to that is to recognise we are all the same, we all have two sides of our character and work for a degree of inner harmony.
My life changed greatly after I came out of captivity and I thought time in captivity was a waste of time, but it was not. I was discovering creative abilities I had that I did not know I had. This current situation may seem a waste of time but is not if you can draw on it at a later stage.