The latest COVID lockdowns have taken a toll, with people finding it hard to stay motivated and positive about the future. The realisation that the pandemic will continue longer than expected, has led to pandemic stress and burnout, where people feel “increasingly emotionally exhausted, despairing and irritable as the pandemic drags out” (Professor Steven Taylor, clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia).[i] Tips to cope mentally with lockdown have never been so important.
Now is the time to to strengthen ourselves, mentally, emotionally and physically. Mentally, you may need to adjust your mindset and expectations so you can be realistic about what is possible and doable at this time. Physically, you may need to train hard and develop a new routine to replace the old. Emotionally, you may need to give some attention to negative emotions so you’re not in a reactive state to the disruptions and uncertainty.
General tips to cope mentally with lockdown include learning from the last lockdown, making adjustments and strengthening your resilience.
Six tips to cope mentally with lockdown
1. Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling
It may be hard to let people know how you’re feeling during COVID lockdown. Yet, it’s important to express emotions instead of shutting them down, as this can make them stronger. You can express emotions verbally (“I’m feeling”…), physically (sitting with your emotions for a short time and tuning into body sensations) or in writing (to yourself).
Firstly, make space for your feelings and any negativity you’re experiencing in your thinking. Limit the time you spend doing this—a maximum of 20-minutes a day. Think of pouring your feelings into a container or if you’re outside, put each one into a cloud a watch the changes.
Secondly, after you’ve done this, it is important to move, physically. This may be by shaking off your worries. Literally, shake your whole body for a minute.
Thirdly, notice what’s around you. Do you notice anything aesthetically pleasing? Keep your gaze up, not down, and take a few breaths in and out as you gaze at each object.
2. Count the positives as a counter-balance to the negatives
It is easy to lose sight of the positives when you’re facing another COVID lockdown.
Firstly, let yourself count the negatives. Acknowledge your losses. Some people have experienced extreme losses and hardships. Many have also lost their coping strategies, such as going to the gym, being out with friends or seeing extended family.
Secondly, be aware of your self-talk. It is a powerful influence on the way people feel and their belief in their ability to cope.
For example, “Life will never be the same”. Instead of letting that statement sit, ask yourself:
“How, specifically, will life never be the same?”
“Which parts won’t be the same?”
“Which parts of life will be the same?”
“Which parts do I want to be different?” Why?
Thirdly, try to balance up the negatives with some positives. Are there some opportunities for change? How will you go about that?
3. Practice gratitude about the positives
It is hard to feel grateful when you’ve just had news that a COVID lockdown has been extended and your plans and life will be disrupted again. Yet, studies show that practising gratitude, particularly during a pandemic, improves your wellbeing on all fronts—psychological, physical, relational, and spiritual.[ii] Practising gratitude lowers stress and increases positive emotions, life satisfaction, and resilience. Importantly, it helps build and maintain social relationships.[iii] All of these things are important to a healthy COVID lockdown routine.
How do you practice gratitude? You could make it part of your daily routine. Does it fit with the start or end of your day, or when you’re out for a walk? You could make it a walk of gratitude for the things you value in your life.
Practice counting the positives—good health, time with family, supportive relationships, friends, fresh air, sunshine or rain, trees and sky. Look up to the sky and take it in. Notice what’s around you. Smile at people or greet them. Notice how you feel after 20-minutes of gratitude a day. Then make an intention for the rest of your day (“I want today to be about ….”).
4. BE KIND AND COMPASSIONATE TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS
People who are compassionate are generally less stressed, calmer and more connected. Compassion starts with understanding yourself and why you feel the way you do. Have compassion towards the part of you that is feeling scared, frustrated, angry, or lost. Give yourself what you need in these moments. For example, some calm reassurance or some space.
Find some simple ways you can be kind and compassionate towards others, and remind yourself to do the same for you.
Work on developing a more loving and accepting voice within. Tame your inner critic by listening to it, rather than shutting it down, and reassuring yourself. This may be hard to do on your own, so you may want to seek some professional help to get started.
Remember that we are all in this together and there is care and support available. Then, focus on what you can control during a COVD lockdown.
5. Focus on what you can control—plan for a week at a time
We’re all feeling the disappointment and loss about not being able to carry out future plans and activities. Focusing on a shorter timeframe will help limit the disappointment. Think about what you need on a weekly basis in order to feel good, healthy, and connected. Make time for your physical, mental, emotional and social needs.
Make a list of the things you can’t control at the moment, and acknowledge how you feel. Identify any that may be possible some of the time or achievable in a different way. Try to let go of the things you can’t control.
Make a list of the things you can control at the moment. Give a green light to those things by putting your energy into them. By focusing on what you can control, you may feel happier and more productive.
Try to put aside time each week to focus on something bigger that gives your life meaning.
Then, practice gratitude about what is positive and life-affirming to you.
6. Develop a good daily routine and find meaning in life during COVID lockdown
A daily routine helps to build your resilience and sense of control. It is important to start the day with a healthy routine. Start the day in a life-affirming way, such as going for a walk or a run before you start work. Try to separate your work space from your personal space, even if it’s a corner of a room.
Set good boundaries around work and have frequent breaks. Make a separate area for your ‘work space’, if possible, so your ‘home space’ is yours. Use any time you save on your commute for you, not to work extra hours.
Spend some quality time with loved ones, really connecting and being present.The quality of the connections you make is good for your physical and mental health, happiness and wellbeing. And limit the amount of time on media and social media.
Your patience and relationships will be tested during a lockdown and particularly though extended COVID lockdowns. It’s a trying time and also a learning time.
You will know what worked for you last lockdown, and what didn’t work well. Assess how you could improve this experience this time around.
Not all these tips to cope mentally with lockdown will suit everyone. Identify the ones that do, and try to integrate them into your live. It may be wise to focus on one tip each week and identify how it may help you to cope mentally with lockdown. I am an experienced life coach and counsellor who may be able to help you navigate the demands of lockdown. Please contact me if you’d like some help and extra tips.
If this blog post has raised any issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
Resources to cope mentally with lockdown
Mindspot has a brochure with practical psychological skills to help you and your family cope with anxiety and worry about infectious diseases. 10 Psychological Tips for coping with Coronavirus (COVID-19). https://mindspot.org.au/assets/pdf/10_Tips_for_Coping_with_Infectious_Diseases.pdf
Supporting you through the Coronavirus pandemic – BeyondBlue
National Crisis numbers to help you to COPE MENTALLY WITH LOCKDOWN
The Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing has a comprehensive list of contacts, with descriptions of who the service is suitable for.
[i] Sarah March (5 Feb, 2021). ‘Pandemic burnout ‘on rise as latest Covid lockdowns take toll. The Guardian. Accessed 18 July 2021.
[iii] Algoe, S. B., Dwyer, P. C., Younge, A., & Oveis, C. (2019). A new perspective on the social functions of emotions: Gratitude and the witnessing effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(1), 40–74. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000202 [Crossref], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]