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Expert tactics to help you thrive during lockdown

Pandemic has put many people’s mental health under strain

Covid-19 has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide and pushed highly regarded health services to the brink, but it has also had a deeply detrimental impact on people’s well-being and the way they live.

Isolation, disruption to social lives and support networks, economic fears and increased substance abuse are just some of the key factors that have affected mental health.

England has been plunged into a second national lockdown in an effort to combat the virus, leading to fresh fears for people’s well-being. It’s supposed to last four weeks, but the government has left the door open for an extension if needed.

Prof Robert Dingwall, a leading sociologist in the UK who has advised the government on its pandemic policy, said that even though the new restrictions are time-limited, which is psychologically easier to deal, in practice there is uncertainty about what will happen in December. “You’ve got this likelihood of it simply being rebranded and continued under a different name,” he told The National. “I think as that dawns, then psychologically it is going to become a lot more difficult.”

Professor Robert Dingwall says getting outside - in a Covid-safe way - would be helpful. Courtesy Professor Robert Dingwall
Professor Robert Dingwall says getting outside - in a Covid-safe way - would be helpful. Courtesy Professor Robert Dingwall

Experts have stepped forward to offer their advice on surviving the new restrictions.

Healthy body, healthy mind

“There are certain lifestyle things that improve resilience and improve psychological and physiological functioning,” says psychotherapist Noel McDermott.

Unsurprisingly, he urges people not to fall into unhealthy habits, even if it seems the easiest thing to do at a difficult time.

Mr McDermott says people should avoid “junking out” and notes how simply being dehydrated can be damaging too.

“I know it’s tempting to think ‘oh during lockdown I’ll just order pizza all the time.’ It’s a bad idea. You want to have regular meals at regular times,” he told The National.

There’s widespread evidence that a healthy diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, not only leads to good physical well-being but also better mental health. A balanced diet and regular meals can help boost people's mood, energy levels and clarity, says mental health charity Mind.

“If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady,” it advises.

It’s not just the biochemical element, however, it’s important to try to keep a routine, says Mr McDermott.

“We are programmed to need regularity and structure. So, when we dysregulate, when we decompose mentally, our habits fall apart,” he says. "In turn, being out of routine confirms to our mental functioning that there’s a problem, so you get into a vicious cycle.

“It’s really important to maintain good eating habits at regular times. Same with water and hydration. A lot of problems can be put down to not drinking enough water.

Noel McDermott urged people to avoid 'junking out' on food. Courtesy Noel McDermott
Noel McDermott urged people to avoid 'junking out' on food. Courtesy Noel McDermott

“A good night’s sleep and exercise – and I don’t mean you need to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger – also helps,” said Mr McDermott.

Stimulation

Lockdown could see many slump into an uneven routine, with people unable to resist the temptation to staying indoors and be relatively inactive. This concerns Prof Dingwall, who says we need stimulation to keep our minds sharp.

He advises getting outside as much as possible, because any winter sunshine will be extremely helpful. “Even if you’re not terribly mobile, simply walking outside your front door and up and down the street for a 100 yards each way, if you can manage that, that will be helpful,” he said.

This sentiment is backed by Bupa’s Dr Paula Falconer.

“Take time to be in nature if you can. If you can go outside, then try going for a walk or run in a green space. If you can’t leave your house, just looking out of your window can help,” she writes in her blog.

But Mr Dingwall also says people need active stimulation to mitigate any sense of resignation that might be felt.

“Even just knitting a jumper in front of the television is preferable to just watching the television. I think those sorts of things that keep you mentally active, keep you challenged, solve problems, those are the things that will be helpful.”

He’s worried about the effects that a reduction in sensory stimulation could have, not just ton hose who have been urged to keep their contacts to a minimum but also for people deemed to be at low-risk from Covid-19.

“If the country’s going to come out of this experience in any kind of shape, we can’t afford to have too many people whose capacities for living have been eroded by the lack of stimulation for a very long period,” he said.

England's lockdown rules. 
England's lockdown rules. 

The difficult balancing act with information

Covid-19 has been seized upon by conspiracy theorists to spread disinformation but even in government, opinions vary about how to tackle the virus or how it spreads. Messaging has often been confused and it’s been easy for some to criticise.

Even last week, the UK’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance was accused of fear-mongering when he shared a graph that showed there could be as many as 4,000 deaths a day from Covid-19 in the country if immediate action was not taken.

But more importantly, according to Mr McDermott, is that the public needs “exposure” to the scientific facts to understand what’s going on.

“It’s then being thoughtful about which elements of the information you expose yourself to so you’re not overwhelmed. The advice I give to people on this – it’s going to be slightly different for every individual – but a good place to start is to think about the official channels of information. Maybe just stick to them initially and literally just block everything else,” he said.

So, give yourself a break now and again and don't let lockdown get you down.

Updated: November 9, 2020 12:45 PM

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