Challenges in Mental Health During Covid Lockdowns
Are you over it?
Lockdown, I mean. And the threat of Covid generally?
I know I am.
Covid has been this spectre that I recall sensing in early 2020. My awareness of it began increasing as the virus hit our shores. Then there was quite a bit of anxiety waiting for a lockdown to happen – we could see it happening overseas, so we knew it was coming.
Then, when lockdowns set in, I felt a little relief as we cosseted ourselves away.
The Impact of Covid Lockdowns on Mental Health
My relief was short-lived.
I was soon aware that many people were really struggling with mental health during Covid lockdowns, especially around my area – Bondi – where the world-famous beach was closed and many lost their stress-buster swim or surf.
Just like in the current Sydney lockdown, I was able to continue to work through 2020 (albeit via videolink) and I feel very lucky to be able to continue to support my lovely clients through this time.
Covid Lockdowns in New South Wales
Following that first lockdown in 2020, we were pretty okay here in NSW. We watched our southern counterparts in Melbourne suffer through a very long lockdown along with shocking numbers of deaths. It was awful to see, but I felt a little removed.
Just as many of us were starting to think things were getting back to “normal”, just before Christmas 2020 we had an outbreak in Sydney’s Northern Beaches area. This meant many states closed their borders to NSW, and it was the festive season!
Many of us could not celebrate Christmas or New Year with our extended families. It felt different. For some it was really, really hard. My friend who lives on the Northern Beaches spent Christmas alone as she let her kids go with their dad (who lives elsewhere) so that they weren’t in lockdown for festive season. So lonely for her.
I had to stay in Sydney and couldn’t see my extended family, which was difficult, but I had my own little family at least.
NSW Lockdown 2.0 in 2021
And now, here we are in a very uncertain lockdown with changing dates and rules as our government and health officials try to get a handle on this new Covid Delta variant.
There is so much uncertainty right now.
One thing I am sure of is that this is having some effect on all of us. Not just in my state, but all across Australia, where most of us are under some form of restrictions and states have closed their borders to other states.
For some, the impact is huge, for others not as big. But it is for sure impacting us all. The unease never fully went away – as cases eased in Australia the anxiety and concern became a quieter hum.
Right now though, it’s big and being felt by all.
Strategies to Maintain Mental Health During Covid Lockdowns
So, what do we do? How do we get by in Covid lockdowns?
Sadly, I am not going to tell you to eat all the doughnuts and watch all the TV (these things are okay in moderation!).
But I am going to STRONGLY suggest some other, research-verified ways to relieve or lessen the symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, or just general over-it-ness (I am self-diagnosed as having the latter).
Exercise: Move YOUR Way
Move MOST days.
Doesn’t have to be every day, doesn’t have to be intense, just has to happen more days than not.
If you can, get some exercise outdoors. If you can’t, exercise inside.
The benefits of outdoor exercise are many and well documented:
- increase in dopamine
- greater groundedness (you can’t be unaware of your surroundings or you will trip over)
- longer workout times (because we are distracted – it is less boring)
- therefore we burn more calories and we get stronger! WINNING!
Simple outdoor activities totally count: Walking for 20 minutes. Surfing for an hour. Riding a bike to the shop. Cleaning the house to some music (I loathe housework but it does feel good when it is done!).
For the rainy days (or days you just can’t face people), there are PLENTY of online fitness offerings. Many of these have free trial periods so you can try before you buy. These range from Yoga (there’s even a blanket yoga session for the really cold days!) and Pilates to full on workouts with high intensity.
Diet: Healthier Treats
Yeah, I know. We have all heard about how important diet is for mood.
Some of you hear about this from me (a lot) – BORING!
It is boring because we keep repeating it and we keep repeating it because we humans are not great at eschewing the foods that belong in the “sometimes” pile, and embracing the foods that fall into the “always” pile.
Being mindful of your diet doesn’t mean you need to eat a spartan diet of skinless chicken and green veggies all the time. But it does mean that you need to consider not eating the foods containing preservatives and other nasties – keep these as a treat.
Homemade Protein Balls
Like most humans, I love a sweet treat. However, I can’t seem to “get away” with a chocolate or slice of cake each day (by get away with, I mean avoid weight gain, breakouts, and feeling “bleurgh”), so I make protein balls.
I adapted a vegan brownie* recipe to include my pea protein powder, reduced the amount of dates, and et voila! A treat to feel a little less guilty about.
There are loads of recipes out there in cyber land. Here is one that landed in my inbox recently for Chocolate Protein Balls (substitute the brand’s protein for any protein you like). I haven’t made this particular recipe yet, but when I do I will let you know and please tell me if you try it.
* I am not suggesting you be vegan – it just happens that the recipe I use is vegan and my protein powder too because my body doesn’t love dairy.
Alcohol: Mindful Consumption
Along with diet, we have alcohol consumption to consider.
If you are a drinker, can you drink one drink less this week? Or add in one more alcohol-free day? Or are you already white-knuckling it through Dry July – if so, I salute you!
Alcohol adds to our stress, makes us feel more anxious and encourages low mood. It is not our friend (but it sure can feel like it is when you take that first sip!) in the long term, unless we reduce our consumption habits to just a drink or two each week. There are some great tips for reducing (or quitting) alcohol intake with Hello Sunday Morning. The same people have developed an app called Daybreak.
Uh huh. Yep. I know. You KNOW how to breathe. You’re doing it right now without thinking about it (“Gah, now I am thinking about it!”).
But did you know about all the ways your CONSCIOUS breath can help you to relax?
When we breathe deeply, into our diaphragm, we activate our vagus nerve (the what, now?), which starts in our brain stem and goes all the way down through the neck and thorax, to the abdomen. It stimulates our Parasympathetic Nervous System – the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system that tells us to down-shift in gear, relax, and be calm (the opposite of the “fight or flight” response). It allows us to sleep well, to digest our food, and to generally feel safe and stress free. Sounds great right?
Breathing training is relatively new, but the evidence is clear – it is a great stress buster.
Here are some breathing techniques you can try. See which ones you like. I particularly like the Belly Breathing one but they are all pretty terrific.
Yes, this again. BECAUSE. IT. WORKS.
One 20 minute meditation can reduce your brain’s stress waves (Beta) and increase the calm, relaxed waves (Delta) for around two weeks! Imagine if you did it every day! Or even every other day!
My top tip for meditation is to not be too hard on yourself. You can focus on your breath, then, when your mind wanders (and it will) to today’s to-do list, or a tropical holiday fantasy, when you notice that, bring yourself back to the breath. No biggie, right?
There are a number of apps out there – most have free trials. I have heard good things about Calm and Headspace. Gabby Bernstein is about to start a 21 Day Meditation Challenge. She always has some lovely guided meditations, so it is probably worth the investment and the marketing material you will be emailed!
Try One Mental Health Strategy At A Time
Now, you don’t have to do all of these, but they do all work very well together. Given that the current lockdown is likely to be extended even further, NOW is the perfect time to start a new self-care routine to help see you through the uncertainty.
If you aren’t doing any of these proven methods of relieving your symptoms, then TRY ONE. Do it for one week and pay close attention to what you notice. If it’s helpful, keep going. If not, try something else.
Once you have woven one stress-reducing habit into your schedule, maybe you can try another? If you are already doing some of these, maybe add an extra in?
Just like there is no such thing as a bad workout (only the one you don’t do), there is no such thing as a bad breathing session, bad meditation, etc. And you will ALWAYS feel better when you eat well and reduce your alcohol intake.
What Are Your Biggest Mental Health Challenges During Covid Lockdowns?
Let us know in the comments below so we can recommend some helpful resources.