Oh no, more Covid restrictions – again! But are you dreading them, or secretly looking forward to returning to that relaxed pace of life that was actually quite nice last time?
Whatever your feelings about the increased restrictions, it’s unlikely they won’t affect you in some way, and as the last lockdown was bad for many people’s mental health, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for what’s about to come.
Here are a few ways to do it…
1. Be more realistic about what you can achieve
When the last lockdown hit, many of us had a long list of things we could achieve, particularly if we were furloughed. And often, we hadn’t finished them (or sometimes even started them ) when lockdown ended.
“When we went into lockdown last time, I had this whole list of jobs I thought I could get done,” says social psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley. “And when I looked at them afterwards, I thought ‘Oh no, I didn’t do that, or that, or that!’
“There’s a temptation to set yourself tasks and goals to see you through, which for a lot of people is a good thing – it helps pass the time, it makes people feel they’re actually doing something useful. It may have been catching up with old school friends, something as old-fashioned as writing a letter, or doing something you always hankered after – if people thought they had a book in them, they made a start on that, but then didn’t finish it.
“So there’s a lot of half-finished things, and you could look on it as another chance to beat yourself up about them, or as another opportunity to learn from what happened last time – what worked for you, and what didn’t.”
2. Make alternative plans for keeping in touch with friends now
If you’re dreading the reduced social contact that comes with many of the new restrictions, start planning Zoom calls, a park meet-up with a friend or whatever’s allowed, now.
“The fact that we’ve been through lockdown once has changed us a little,” says Wheatley. “There are a lot of people who are now feeling a bit more content in their own company, and there are also many who now know they are not content in their own company – that they really need to be socially in touch with people on a very regular basis.”
So, if that means substituting your weekly meet-up with the girls for a Zoom chat or a walk in the park with one of them, find an alternative method of keeping in touch, so you’re not going to feel as isolated.
3. Be prepared to help others
One of the few definite things about Covid restrictions is that many people will need help. So, vulnerable people who don’t want to risk going out may appreciate you doing their shopping for them, or simply contacting them for a chat. Have a think about people you know – young or old – who may be lonely, and give them a call. It’ll make you both feel better – after all, you need to be kind to yourself too.
“Helping other people, and yourself at the same time, is a really positive thing,” stresses Wheatley. “We all like to think we’re kind, and we share and we’re altruistic, but to actually know that we have been is a massive boost to our self-esteem and our self-image.”
4. Be ready to adapt your exercise routines
Exercise is important whatever restrictions you’re living under – but don’t feel you have to embark on tough home workouts again.
“Some people do more exercise during Covid restrictions, and some do less, and what ultimately matters is how you feel about that,” says Wheatley. “Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be a really sweaty, red-faced rush, it can be something much more gentle, like going for a walk, which can be very sociable as well, because you can meet other people while you’re out walking.”
You can adapt what you’d normally do, too. So, if you like gardening, for example, instead of just planting flowers, try digging a veggie patch and get a bit of cardio that way – exercise is great for your mental health.
5. Be honest about Christmas
Many people are very worried about the effect coronavirus restrictions will have on Christmas, thinking they won’t be able to see family as normal and celebrations will consequently be very muted. However, Wheatley suggests people aren’t always honest about how they really feel about Christmas.
“There’s quite a lot of hypocrisy around Christmas – all this ‘It’ll be lovely to see all the family’ when people constantly argue about which family they see, and it’s often to be endured, not enjoyed. So, consider treating the restrictions as an opportunity to just be your own small family group at home – you don’t have to all be together at the same time, and maybe there’s an advantage to not having loads of people round at Christmas. Perhaps it’ll be positive for our mental health to re-evaluate what we actually enjoy about Christmas.”
6. Be prepared for this to take a long time…
The truth is that no-one knows when this will all end, so be ready for it to take longer than the authorities say.
Wheatley says: “You mentally have to prepare yourself, and as we all know, viruses are a lot more prevalent in winter. Try and prepare for the possibility that restrictions might not ease much before Christmas. So, hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Then you won’t be disappointed, and that can be a very protective factor.”