Already experiencing pandemic fatigue, many of us feel ill-prepared for another lockdown. Yet this is what we must do, and maybe not for the last time.
The problem is, the pervasive effects of the pandemic and the restrictions imposed as a way of containing it seem designed to harm our mental health, cutting us off from the things that give our lives meaning and bring us pleasure. With no clear end in sight, coronavirus is having a significant negative effect on mental health with many of us experiencing stress, anxiety and insomnia.
So what can we do in the face of another lockdown? We need to take proactive steps to protect our psychological wellbeing. Here’s what can help.
Our most comprehensive understanding of mental wellbeing comes from American psychologist and resilience expert Carol Ryff. According to Ryff’s model, in order to experience psychological wellbeing:
- You need to believe that your life has purpose and meaning
- You should feel that you have autonomy
- You should be experiencing personal growth
- You should feel that you are managing your life well
- You should have positive relationships
- You should know yourself well
In normal circumstances, everyday occurrences can often allow us to maintain your psychological wellbeing without much intentional effort: chance encounters with colleagues; the boost of energy from meeting new people; the sense of awe when visiting a beautiful place; the excitement of a night out with friends; the warm feeling of going to the cinema with a loved one; the anticipation of a holiday abroad.
Lockdowns prevent us from experiencing many of these things. When our activities are restricted, our lives are diminished. That is why we must be more intentional about protecting our psychological wellbeing.
One way of doing this is to create a wellbeing plan that addresses your psychological needs. Below are some ideas that may be useful as you develop your own plan, based on your needs and circumstances.
1. Explore purpose and meaning
Dedicate time to think about what gives our life meaning. What is most important for you? If you are religious, how can you leverage your faith to get you through these challenging times? Otherwise, what opportunities are there for you to reflect on or discuss what is meaningful about life? Just finding time to talk this through with someone else can make a big difference.
2. Retain your autonomy
Find ways to retain a sense of autonomy in spite of lockdown restrictions. How can you continue to live according to your principles? What aspects of your life do you have control over? For example, you have control of how much time you spend watching the news, how tidy you are going to be and what to eat. Avoid the inclination to just wait it out. Take charge of how you will spend your time by writing our weekly plans and daily schedules: when you will wake up; how you will spend your days off; amount of time you’ll for exercise; when to stop working.
3. Experience personal growth
No, you don’t have to master a whole new language in lockdown, but do make sure that you allow time for learning and personal growth. Include opportunities to learn something new or to achieve health goals. When setting your learning or fitness goals, set achievable targets so that you can monitor progress and celebrate successes. Rather than having just one long-term goal, set yourself sub-goals and weekly targets.
4. Manage your life well
Make sure there is variety in your activities and avoid the temptation to get complacent. It’s a good idea to wake up at a consistent time and get dressed, even if you’re not going to be leaving your home. If you are no longer able to maintain your usual routine, think about creating a new schedule that has a good balance of leisure, work, learning and physical activities.
5. Invest in positive relationships
In spite of restrictions that prevent you from meeting other people in person, invest in personal relationships through email, social media, telephone or video chat applications. Yes, we are all sick of Zoom, but don’t use that as an excuse to avoid connecting with loved ones. Take an active interest in the welfare of others, especially those who are vulnerable within your community. If there is a safe way to volunteer to help those in need, consider signing up with a local charity.
6. Learn about yourself
Take advantage of lockdown by getting to know yourself better. Identify your own strengths and take time to appreciate them. One way of doing this is to complete a reputable online survey that helps you work out what your strong points are. Rely on your strengths to get through the lockdown and think of ways of using them more broadly when this pandemic is over.
Adopting a proactive approach to protecting your mental health by creating a wellbeing plan will have immediate benefits. It will also reduce the likelihood of experiencing mental ill-health as we continue to grapple with the far-reaching consequences and implications of COVID-19.
Most importantly, we must acknowledge that these are challenging times for us globally – whether we or our loved ones are directly affected by the virus or indirectly impacted by the implications of the pandemic. Everyone, in their own way, is doing their best to cope with the enormous challenge of COVID-19. The most positive and human way that we can respond is with compassion and kindness to ourselves and others.