What mental health experts will do differently

Lockdown 3.0 is upon us, and it feels all too familiar.

There’s no firm end date to this set of national restrictions, but we’ve been warned it will last until mid-February at least, and possibly into March – which is fairly misery-inducing, considering the added cold and darkness to make moods feel extra bleak.

Undeniably, it will prove a challenge where mental health is concerned. Social interaction is being cut, triggering feelings of loneliness for many. Anxiety about the increasing spread of the virus is heightened, meaning we ruminate and catastrophise over and over. The reintroduction for so many of a permanent work-from-home routine can lead to burnout. So what can we do to preserve our mental wellbeing throughout the third lockdown? How can we make sure we don’t find ourselves in a rut of anxiety, stress, and low mood?

We asked 12 mental health experts about how they plan to do this lockdown differently – or what they plan to continue – based on the lessons they learned last year. Ready for some priceless advice for the good of your brain? Keep reading…

1. Make a routine and stick to it

“Routine is everything – especially with the dark mornings and nights. We need to give our minds and bodies some normality. During the first lockdowns I found that going for a walk, making set times to switch off, having lunch and dedicating time away from technology massively helped me deal with the rest of the world feeling so out of control.”

– Kiera Lawlor-Skillen, co-founder of Feel Good Club

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2. Set low expectations

“During lockdown last year I set my expectations way too high. I tried to create the perfect lockdown experience for myself and my four little kids. I was homeschooling my six-year-old while trying to entertain a four-year-old and two-year-old with various arts and crafts projects. Oh, and I was trying to work from home and look after my newborn baby, too. Of course, it was a recipe for disaster. So this time, I have set my expectations low – super low. I am choosing peace over perfection. I am choosing calm over chaos. I already feel better for releasing myself from productivity overload and shifting into a much slower, ‘go with the flow’ mode. Now is not a time for perfection; peace and ease is what I need.”

– Louise Murray, health coach and founder of Lockdown Self-Love Club

3. Make time to go outside

“I’m trying to be less of an urban house cat in general, and trying to spend more time in nature because it has so many benefits for mental wellbeing (movement, air, light, beneficial microbes, a break from screens etc). Now that the days are getting shorter I want to prioritise getting enough natural daylight (it supports mood) so I will be going for more walks and doing a little bit of foraging along the way.”

– Kimberley Wilson, chartered psychologist and author of How to Build a Healthy Brain

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4. Ditch the video calls

“The science supports that moods are contagious, so speaking to my most upbeat friends is a daily priority. This time I’ll do fewer video calls and more old-school voice calls to keep that screen fatigue down. A good mood is the only virus I want to catch in this lockdown.”

Niraj Shah, mental health expert, co-founder of Mind: Unlocked and speaker on PepTalk.

5. Don’t over-use your phone

“Like many people during the first lockdown, my phone use got a little out of control. I was spending way too much time watching people’s stories, giving myself ‘tech neck’ and comparing my dry banana bread with the perfect bakers on my feed. This time, I’m being hyper vigilant about my phone use. I’ve got a half an hour limit for Instagram on ‘Screen Time’, to make extra sure I don’t fall down the Insta rabbit hole. I’m deleting the app after I’ve done my posting and reinstalling it the next day to put a stop to any mindless scrolling.”

– Chloe Brotheridge, hypnotherapist and author of The Anxiety Solution

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6. Get some extra sleep

“When you’re stressed, getting just a few more minutes of extra sleep is one of the best things you can do to reduce anxiety during lockdown. Going to bed early starts by creating and sticking to a bedtime routine, just like the kiddies do. Using sleepcasts and fall-back-to-sleep guided meditations can be very helpful if you wake up in the middle of the night, and also help the mind to wind down at the end of a busy day.”

– Jolawn Victor, Chief International Officer at Headspace

7. Avoid reading too much news

“Your phone is the only way to stay connected with people at the moment, but it’s also important that we aren’t spending too much time consuming negative news. Make sure the content you’re consuming is positive, and unfollow anything that has the opposite effect on you right now.”

– Aimie Lawlor-Skillen, co-founder of Feel Good Club

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8. Make an effort to keep in touch with friends

“I’m going to be proactive and diligent about my friendships going into lockdown. For me, that means exchanging long, rambling voice memos with some of my favourite people, jumping on the phone for an old-fashioned chat and probably getting an RSI from posting heart-eye emojis on the housebound selfies my friends post. I am going to make a concerted effort to be vulnerable and candid and open with my close friends, because I’d like to try and make up for the absence of physical affection with a little surge in conversational intimacy. It’s also really important to let people know when I’m overwhelmed or frightened or exhausted or too anxious about the current state of the world to be my jolliest or chattiest self.”

– Kate Leaver, Interflora ambassador, friendship expert and author of The Friendship Cure

9. Keep the world out first thing in the morning

“I ensure the first 30 minutes to one hour of my day is a screen-free zone. I do a workout, shower, dress, have my breakfast – do everything that I know will make me feel more prepared for the day ahead and then choose to invite the rest of the world in. It helps me set my own morning pace rather than log on and have an incoming text, email or social media scroll dictate how I feel and behave that morning.”

– Dr Sarah Vohra, consultant psychiatrist and author of The Mind Medic

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10. Leave the house every day

This time I am forcing myself to go out of the house every day, even though it’s freezing. I put my phone on airplane mode and go for a walk for at least 30 minutes to try and stave off the doom. I also don’t check my WhatsApps, emails, socials or anything comms or message-based until after I’ve had a cup of coffee and listened to the radio for a bit – the radio is actually a great way of feeling connected. Thank you Greg James.”

– Kate Lucey, author of Get a Grip, Love

11. Make time for self-reflection

“One thing I learnt from lockdown last year was to take time to really reflect on myself. It’s so important to understand your values and what you want to put out into the world, especially on social media. Also, working on self-esteem and confidence outside of social media works wonders.”

-Dr Radha, medical expert and #ReelSelf Sessions contributor

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12. Make a goal each day

“Nothing makes us feel better than a sense of accomplishment and pride in doing what we said we would. So give yourself a goal each day. I like to choose from the 5 Fs – family, finances, fun, focus and fitness. However, make your own list up and, if you’re feeling brave, why not do all five?”

– Cate Murden, founder and coach at wellbeing company Push

13. Check in with yourself

“Every day I’m going to check in with my own perspective, reminding myself that this period of time is temporary and, while I can’t control what’s going on in the world, I can control my response to it.”

– Owen O’Kane, psychotherapist and author of Ten Times Happier

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14. Keep a journal

“This time round I am going to make sure I eat away from screens (saving those for my online yoga classes – which I now intend to do twice a week). I’ll also make it a priority to learn some new healthy recipes and to mix up my cooking repertoire, as well as keeping a daily journal. Needless to say I will also be increasing my meditation practises – making time for one more a day.”

– Will Williams, Founder of Beeja Meditation and author of The Effortless Mind.

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