How to get through the last few weeks of lockdown, according to a psychologist

Written by Dr Audrey Tang

The end of lockdown feels like it is in sight. To prepare for our return to the new normal, Stylist asked author and psychologist, Dr. Audrey Tang, for nine tips that’ll get you through the last weeks of lockdown.  

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our lives in far-reaching ways. We’re so frazzled, we are struggling to concentrate at work, we’re not sleeping well and then there’s stress and anxiety to deal with. 

But one of the biggest disruptions to our lives have been the lockdowns. Despite being punctuated by weeks of freedom that felt like a return to normality, each reentry into lockdown has revealed its own challenges.

When the first lockdown lifted we were excited to reclaim the summer. At the end of the last lockdown we had Christmas to look forward to. As we approach the end of our third stint in social isolation, it’s understandable to feel uncertain about what the future beyond looks like – especially after living through what felt like the longest, darkest winter.

With the easing of restrictions on 12 April within touching distance… Stylist asked psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide To Resilience, Dr. Audrey Tang, about the best ways to get through our last weeks in lockdown.

Begin to explore and set your goals for the second half of the year

While you may be tentative because our recent experience is “anything can change”, having a focus, with flexibility or alternatives, means you have something to work towards and look forward to.Try writing down your aims, and then breaking down those goals into smaller steps – some of which you might be able to start right now.

Cherish the positive influences surrounding you

Good friends, supportive colleagues, opportunities – it’s not just about writing them in a gratitude journal – what got you through lockdown? Actively appreciate their efforts with some in return. You could arrange a “date night” without distractions or drop someone a line saying “I’m thinking of you.” Simply work on your own self growth so that you are the best you can be when called to action. You do best for others, by looking after yourself. No matter how small, do one thing to nurture yourself today. 

When it comes to effective self care, work out your yin and yang of pleasure

Here’s how to do this. First, recognise when you are enjoying something, then decide if that activity energises (yang) or relaxes (yin) you. Decide which you need – and pick from the list of things you know you enjoy.

Habitually you may hear ‘self care’ and think spa day or meditation.But whatever energises or relaxes you best (at the time you need it) is going to be the most effective for you. Being consciously aware of it means you get there faster.Work this out now, and as your commitments grow, you’ll know what will give you the energy – or the calm – in order to embrace them and even thrive.

Remember, your physical health can affect your mental wellbeing

Eat, sleep and exercise.Over-indulgence can result in feeling guilty and that leads to a cycle of negativity that benefits no one. Undereating and a lack of sleep can also result in an inability to focus or feelings of anxiety which can hold you back.

Getting out daily can help you get more vitamin D, increasing feelings of happiness and counter things such as seasonal affective disorder. Further, the biophilic nature of humans (meaning we possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life) means that being outdoors is rejuvenating. 

Emotions are instinctive, so choose your response.

This last year will have brought a multitude of emotions – positive and negative.Be mindful that emotions evolved to keep humans safe.Feeling them – especially negative ones – acts as a “warning light” (like the petrol indicator) to let you know something needs to be dealt with, but it is a feeling. What you do and when you do it is a conscious, chosen response.

If you feel your emotions becoming overwhelming try these steps. Recognise your trigger situations or events and note your emotional reaction. Write down a statement, or choose an activity that will help you regain balance when a negative emotion throws you off kilter. For example: listen to a positive TED talk or repeat the affirmation: “Even if I cannot control anything else, I can control my breathing”.

Use that list to enable you to choose an effective behaviour rather than let an emotional reaction run away with you. This keeps you empowered and in control of your actions.

Keep a mental social distance

When I say keep a mental social distance I mean ask yourself before you take something on: “Is this really my responsibility?” You cannot save people from themselves. If it is within your power, you can signpost them, and be there should they need a cheerleader, but solving their problems stops you from working on your own and can teach them to be dependent on you.

Try asking: How can I best help you? What would you like me to do? What have you tried? What are you trying to achieve? These questions offer support, because you can then more effectively target your response while also returning the power back to the person asking… and you can channel the saved energy from not getting involved in their psychodramas, into your own goals.

Dr Audrey Tang

Make time offline

Switch off, go out into the garden, or at least open a window.Get some time away from the glare of the screen. Take a moment to be informally mindful by listening to the birds. Feel the warmth of the sun, breathe deeply, read (a book rather than a download), sing, draw – do something away from a screen. Use an eye mask to get some rest.

Just because being online means you don’t have to physically go from A to B, if you don’t allow yourself to do so mentally, all the efficiency you believe you are saving will soon be spent.Plus, soon people will be seeing the real you so put at least the same amount of effort into yourself IRL.

It’s ok to edit your life

Your friendships may have changed during lockdown. It is not uncommon for people to admit that, with the pandemic revealing a range of reactions and behaviours, they are less sure whether they really want to maintain some old ties.So how do you let the right ones in? Try this: write down the names of three to five people you love in your life. Write down the things you value about them. Work every day to demonstrate those values yourself. 

We often, albeit unconsciously, teach people how to treat us and if you are surrounded by takers, you might need to ask why you are giving so much.While you may recognise that generosity is a trait you love – perhaps what is of value in the person you admire is that they are discerning with their gifts.

Opt to spend more time with the people whose names you mentioned, and you might find that the more exhausting people are squeezed out (or you have a little more energy to manage them). 

Reflect on the little wins

Perhaps you didn’t achieve the big goals you set, but maybe you got to see some of your family or friends hit milestones which you might have otherwise missed.Perhaps you had good intentions to learn to take up a new skill or hobby, but instead you contributed to your community through volunteering.Recognise the gains as well as respecting any losses.

Images: courtesy of publisher and Dr Audrey Tang 

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