Lockdown has been an extreme strain on mental health and wellbeing of all of us. While many of the restrictions have been lifted for now, the world remains a profoundly altered place, and we are facing a long time ahead of us with uncertainty and worry. To mark World Suicide Prevention Day therefore, we wanted to share some of the strategies we’ve found helpful to cope with these stressful times, particularly as lockdown lifts.
These are, of course, just our personal tips, but there’s also a lot of expert advice and support out there, so we’ve included links to a few which we find particularly helpful at the bottom of this blog.
Routines do help, unfortunately
Yes, we are told endlessly how important it is to have a routine. But it’s so much easier to say that than actually stick to it. I struggle to get up in the morning at the best of times, and knowing that no one will notice if I start work late really doesn’t help to motivate me into wrenching myself out of bed. I find it so easy to slip out of my regular routine and so so hard to force myself back into one, which can make me feel rubbish as a result.
I’ve now instituted a triple-lock system to try to get me up in the morning. Step 1: my boyfriend pulls open the curtain when he leaves for work, so that I can’t go back into too deep a sleep. Step 2: I have set several of the most annoying alarms on my phone to go off at different intervals. Step 3: I’ve told my (early-riser) flatmate to come and shout at me if she doesn’t see me by a certain time. It works pretty well – even though I’m still pretty grumpy until I have some tea.
If you want to get more into more of a routine and have people around you who you can recruit into nudging you towards one, I’d strongly recommend using them.
Find what makes you want to move
During lockdown, I, to my total surprise and slight horror, became a runner. It started back in those early days when we were only allowed to go out for exercise once a day. I kept on putting off going out for a walk till later on in the day, because I knew once I came back, I wouldn’t be able to go out again, and that meant I would be even more trapped than I was already. This, of course, meant that quite often I ended up not going out at all, which made me feel progressively worse. I took up running because I reasoned that by the time I finished a run I would probably hate the outside so much that I would be very happy to not go out again till tomorrow. That was honestly the motivation I needed to get started.
I downloaded the Couch to 5k app and, in pyjama shorts and some rather manky old trainers, started running. Quite quickly, I found running regularly had a really great effect on me. I came back sweaty and tired but happier and less worried about things. It also made me feel like I was achieving something each time I went out, and that I really was slowly improving.
Despite knowing how good running made me feel, both emotionally and physically, I’ve struggled to keep it up consistently since finishing Couch to 5k – the little bits of validation the app gave me every time really were a great motivator for me to actually go for my run. I’ve now gone full on Primary School and made myself a wall chart where I can give myself a sticker each time I go running. It seems a little silly, but finding that thing that can help you stick to your plans to get moving can make all the difference.
Try to disconnect from all the noise
Sometimes, we need to find ways to block out the world. Ever since the cinemas have reopened, I have gone to film after film because, for me anyway, it’s a way to forget about everything else and just lose myself in a film. I’ve gotten to watch or rewatch some of the greatest films of all time – Inception, The Matrix, Jurassic Park and, of course, Twilight. Like with running, when I leave the cinema, I feel more relaxed and less worried about the world because I’ve been forced not to think about it for a couple of hours.
I’ve also blocked all the social media apps on my phone till late in the morning, because I was finding I was going on them a lot first thing in the morning and it was bumming me out, because the news was always bad. By the time I’m able to access these apps at 11am now, I find I’m better able to control the urge to endlessly scroll through my phone, and more able to engage productively where it’s actually worthwhile to.
Find the help you need
All these are, of course, just based on our own experiences. They might not be right for you or what you’re facing. Mental health is such an important issue and we’re very aware we’re not even scratching the surface here. There is, however, lots of great resources out there. You can get lots of really great advice and tips from places like the Black Dog Institute. You can also get support both from national organisations like the Samaritans and the Campaign Against Living Miserably, as well as local organisations, such as Breathing Space in Scotland.