Journey Inwards. Using Lockdown To Your Mental Health Advantage.

No one wants to be in lockdown. Often, it is forced upon us all of a sudden, amidst the global pandemic, throwing our lives into chaos and forcing us to stay home, isolate and limit our lives to basic necessities.

Many articles been written about the heavy impact lockdowns have on our mental health, and certainly they can easily push us into depression, anxiety and a whole variety of unpleasant moods.

In addition, since living in lockdown is never our choice, forced restrictions create a suffocating feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, anger and despair.

As Sydney residents, including myself, are currently surviving an open-ended and grim prospects of prolonged lockdown, I am comparing people’s mental states today with those of last year, during our first and only lockdown that happened at the beginning of the pandemic. Last year, as COVID-19 was still a novelty, people mainly focused on surviving the lockdown, waiting it out, going with the flow, thinking and hoping that perhaps all of this, including the virus will soon be a day of the past. This time round, lockdown is somewhat a thing we know how to live with, and something we got the hang of to some degree. This time I notice more people focusing not only on surviving the lockdown, but also thriving in it.

An analogy comes to mind. Think of a silent retreat, away form hustle and bustle of the modern life. Picture a couple of weeks of healthy eating, unlimited yoga, long walks, lots of silence, reading and meditation. Those retreats are pricey and often booked out because people crave these kind of breaks. Often we do not even have time to research, plan a leave from jobs, and book a retreat like this, let alone have a luxury of attending it. Our time off is limited and is a scarce resource, and our busy lives continue to absorb and spin us in never ending whirlpool. So, as many people have already noticed, lockdown is a forced stop, pause, a shut down of (necessary or unnecessary) activities. And certainly we can begin to use it to a greater mental health benefit that we could initially imagine.

This time round, while we are facing scary and uncertain times in Sydney, the best we can do is to pretend and make believe that the lockdown offers us a free of charge, retreat-like peaceful living that we can use to calm our minds and heal our bodies.

I compiled a few tips that you can incorporate into your daily lockdown life to make that happen.

LIMIT YOUR SCREEN TIME

Unless there is a need to engage with screens for work, limit your online activity and phone/laptop browsing. Remember silent/yogi/spiritual healing retreats often take away your mobile phones or allow limited access to it. Do the same! It may be tempting to stay connected to the news or social media out there, but it does more harm than good because it confuses your brain. Your brain can see the info and absorb it, but you cannot engage with people in real life. In a way, you are isolated, but it feels weird because you are keeping up with the world on your device. A good idea would be to allocate an hour or two per day (outside of what is required for your work) to use your devices and connect with your loved ones or get updated with the news. Ideally select the same time of the day, limit your screen time use to no more than an hour, and store it away until next time.

BAN ALCOHOL AND EAT HEALTHY

Again, on most of the retreats, alcohol and drugs are not available, hence why would you stock up at a bottle shop for your lockdown? Alcohol is a depressant that will make you feel down. It won’t get you out of the lockdown, won’t make you feel happier and in addition it will interfere with your sleep cycle. If we aim at creating the best environment for your body and mind during this lockdown, reach out for healthy food options. Remember, how often when our lives are busy, cooking healthy and eating healthy is often difficult as it is time consuming. Well, now is the time! Now is the time to give the best meals, best snacks and best drinks to your body. Hey, aren’t you curious to see how you’d feel as a result?

COMMIT TO DAILY EXERcISE

Yes, you read this right. DAILY. You have the time, right? Choose an exercise routine that incorporates high impact, high intensity movement along with low impact stretch and yoga to have an all round comprehensive activities for your body. It will also keep boredom at bay. If you only rely on walks and jogging, you may be more likely to get tired of it in a few days. However if you diversify those with zumba, pilates, and some workouts that are new to you, you are more likely to get more movement overall, because the novelty and diversity will keep your motivation going. Modify activities to cater to what you like most but aim at as much variety as you can. Do you know that at health retreats clients have access to strong cardio workouts (such as power flow yoga) as well as gentle restorative classes (such as yin yoga) to allow the body to move every single day, without exceptions? Indulge in a luxury of time and diversity, but also allow the body to rest in between, so changing between high intensity and moderate/low key impact activities is the key.

LOOK INSIDE YOURSELF AND FIND PEACE

While some people may be in lockdown with young children and unable to find much peace in their homes, it is important to carve out a time when your are alone and quiet, every single day. Think of silent retreats. Some of them last for days. Some of them are bliss. Some of them are torture. However, it is beneficial for our mental health to find time to be alone, in silence, while essentially not doing anything. It is a luxury in modern day and age to be able to not do anything, not look at your phone, and not listen to a podcast, but instead just be with our thoughts and feelings, however uncomfortable and unusual that may be experienced. It may be foreign and strange for a modern person to envision and many people will, indeed, require a few days of silent retreat to learn to be with themselves without distractions. In this lockdown, you certainly can give it a try, this strange activity of quiet contemplation. If you struggle with it, you can begin with a softer version with the help of guided meditation, a soak in a bath, a rest in the sun, or a mindful walk.

BE FLEXIBLE

Of course all of the above suggestions may sound nice and appealing, but be prepared that lockdown is an unfortunate place we find ourselves in and sometimes regardless of the strategies you employ to maintain a better mental health in lockdown, there will be days when they will fail. Our moods can change from day to day, hour to hour and sticking to a plan (even the best of plans) may be unattainable goal in itself. You might feel like giving up during an exercise or a cooking process and feel the rising anger/depression and the urge to throw it all away or reach for a bottle of wine instead. It is important to have a schedule for every day (to make it less likely to succumb to the waves of your mood) but also important to have alternatives at hand and give yourself a permission to use them in advance, even if a bottle of wine is one of those alternatives. However, just for a sake of a challenge, I urge you to reach for healthier alternatives this lockdown around.

For example, if you feel you cannot continue with an exercise, go out for a walk or stretch instead. If you feel too unmotivated to cook, order a take out instead! Have an arsenal of plan B’s and plan C’s, the options you can swap around because the goal is not to tick off most of your daily list, but to maintain a good mental state. If all else fails, do not forget to reach out to a friend and have a vent over a cup of hot chocolate!

Lastly, since we are forced to live in lockdown anyway, remember this is for a period of time only and try to remember this will end. When will there be another opportunity to have so much time on your hands? Use it now, while we all wait for this to end…

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