Living through periods of lockdown here in the UK has been a completely novel experience for everyone and it has presented many psychological and interpersonal challenges for many. This was especially the case during the first lockdown following the surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations – this lockdown, like in many other countries, lasted for months, and was most definitely a shock to the system.
Lockdown felt like a different situation at different times. In the beginning, I felt some dread about how long this would all last, then that went away, and I managed to actually enjoy the slow rhythms and simple routines of the day, and I think not having a sense of missing out on anything helped. But after some time, isolation really did make an indelible mark – the deprivation of real-life social contact and physical touch was difficult. So it was a relief when the first lockdown was over. The second lockdown was much shorter, just a month, and getting used to the normality of the first one made it less daunting. Being in a good place anyway meant I could enjoy – and relax into – this period of slowness and alone time, which I found valuable.
The lockdowns have been at times a negative experience and a psychological struggle, and at other times a positive and meaningful experience. Part of me is grateful for the challenges presented, but I don’t wish to say that with the attitude that I was glad lockdowns happened; I understand that they reflect the severity of the pandemic, and many others have suffered greatly with their physical and mental health and with loss.
What I’m partly grateful for is some of the lessons on coping that lockdown has provided. The writer and practical philosopher Jules Evans wrote an insightful piece on all the ways people coped during lockdown. These coping mechanisms are evidence-based ways to protect one’s mental health when life has to be put on hold – and they are all worth keeping in mind should another lockdown occur.
Instead of just repeating all of the fascinating research and stories that Evans mentions in his piece, I’d like to offer an account of how I personally coped during lockdown. I found that I needed to adopt many different habits in order to try and stay sane and resilient.
Something I had to absolutely make sure I did every day was have at least one conversation with someone. An in-person (distanced) conversation was ideal but often connecting with others meant talking on the phone or on Zoom. If I went a day without speaking to anyone, I could really notice this feeling of unease and discomfort at the end of the day. Maintaining a regular connection with family and friends helped to keep the worst of the isolation at bay.
I was already speaking to a therapist and participating in a men’s support group before the lockdown began, so I didn’t seek out support specifically because of lockdown-related struggles. But still, having that weekly support there was incredibly helpful, and a lot of that just had to do with being able to have completely honest and open conversations. Normal conversations I’d have with other people would dry up pretty quickly as there wasn’t much to update each other with. I wrote about the challenges of online therapy, which also apply to online support groups, but despite in-person therapy and support being vastly better, the online versions are still beneficial and mood-enhancing.
Daily Contact With Nature
I’m very lucky with the number of green spaces around me. During lockdown, I decided to try and discover some new natural surroundings, and I found a small wooded nature reserve connected to a park not too far from me, as well as countryside surroundings that involved a bit more walking. I think without lockdown, I might not have bothered to look for new local places to go walking. Whether I felt distinctly low, average, or positive, being in the woods – even for just a short amount of time – noticeably improved the day.
Making sure to go outside and walk at least once a day was something else I needed to stay sane. Like with not talking to anyone all day, if I don’t walk (for at least half an hour), then at the end of the day, cabin fever will set in. I’ll feel restless and agitated. Walking to the park, the woods, or the countryside each day was enough, I think, to stave off the dreaded feeling of cabin fever.
I’m personally not a fan of running (especially not in public, as I can’t be bothered to deal with the human obstacles), so I didn’t join the influx of joggers and runners during lockdown. I used to rely on the gym as the place I’d go to workout and it was part of my routine, something I felt I depended on to stay sane pre-lockdown. So I was a bit worried about the prospect of gym access being put on hold for months. But I found by using two dumbbells with removable weights meant I could do a decent workout at home. Even though I find it difficult to feel motivated to workout at home, I tried to get into the habit of doing some exercise, in addition to walking, each day.
I know that there are many other ways to improve home workouts, though, and that’s something I want to keep in mind. For example, there are mirror home gyms. These function both as a mirror, so you can see yourself working out, and an interactive screen with a virtual personal trainer who guides you through your workout. InfomotionSports has provided some useful information about these innovative replacements for the gym.
Rediscovering Things I Used to Enjoy
Part of the reason I was able to enjoy lockdown was that all the alone time led me to rediscover things I used to enjoy. This included writing about topics for this blog that I hadn’t covered in a while, especially related to philosophy, and I also rediscovered how much I enjoyed writing long-form content, spending multiple days working on an article, reading widely, and tackling challenging topics and concepts. Due to the extra free time due to lockdown and the lull in work, this was made possible.
I also managed, at times, to overcome my struggles with finishing books, which I mostly blame on effects of the internet on attention. Being able to take the time to focus on reading again was a small win, as I’ve often felt a bit dispirited when thinking about how much I used to love reading and how much I used to read when compared to recent years.
I reignited my hobby of drawing; well, I sat down and spent significant time on one drawing, but this was enough to motivate me to continue with it. I used to spend hours on drawings many years ago and I forgot how much of a calming, meditative, and fulfilling experience it was. Another thing I rediscovered that I used to enjoy doing was seeking out the best films of my favourite genres and watching as many as I could find. And I watched a lot during the lockdowns.
When your social interactions and closest relationships are put on hold – or made distanced – as a result of lockdown, this is tough, not just because of the isolation it causes but also due to the loss of meaning. It’s through the many close, in-person interactions we have that we can feel connected, challenged, purposeful, helpful and helped, and more like ourselves.
As well as trying to have meaningful virtual interactions, I felt I needed to do other meaningful activities. For me, this mostly consisted of trying to focus on writing that I found most meaningful, which involved learning about new and complex ideas, challenging my beliefs and opinions through my writing, and trying to provide in-depth and original content that readers would find genuinely interesting and helpful. This, I think, has made me feel motivated to write for this blog whenever I get time, as I’ve realised that one of the most rewarding aspects of it is creating content and conversations that others appreciate or which make a positive impact, however small that impact might be. During the lockdowns, I’ve had many ideas for new articles and essays, so I’m now trying to flesh out as many as I can.
A Practice of Gratitude
In terms of practices that have helped me feel positive and resilient during lockdown, gratitude is up there high on the list. I’ve tried to appreciate all the things I normally take for granted, ranging from my basic needs being met to all the small enjoyable things throughout the day, like good weather, being out in nature, talking to friends and family, and being able to make my favourite meals. I tried to practise gratitude by writing a list of all the things I’m grateful for (which filled up several pages). I’d practise gratitude as more of an inner practice, making a mental note of something positive and recognising this as valuable and something I get to enjoy many times a day or many days in the week.
I also experienced gratitude through the Stoic practice of negative visualisation, whereby you remind yourself of how much worse your personal situation could be, which can instil gratitude for the good fortune you have. Negative visualisation, however, may not be best if you’re going through a period of anxiety, as it’s easy to see how imagining the worst happening to you can be more of a negative mental experience than a positive one.