The Joy of Lockdown
Stay home, save lives – the message is clear. We’re over half way through the UK lockdown and while being stuck home alone is no picnic in the park (which, of course, is no longer permitted), one way of coping with the new normal is to search for the positives. So much has been lost, but what has been gained? What is there to appreciate that remains in spite of the lockdown? Practising gratitude is an antidote to the loss of autonomy, one of our fundamental needs for wellbeing.
In my case the joy has been in getting off the treadmill of working life. In the days leading up to lockdown I lost all my face-to-face work – training and events – which accounts for the majority of my income. I’ve lost the frazzle and regained calm. There is space. My mind has slowed down and I’m marinating in alpha brainwaves, in the frequency of 8-12 Hz, which quieten a chattering mind enabling clarity of thinking and new ideas to flow. This is what I’ve been craving, slowing down to reflect, which the normal fast pace of the workplace rarely allows. It doesn’t come easily. I have had to block the internal taskmaster, constantly driving me on to blitz the to-do list. Lower stress levels reduces the fear generated by the pandemic and the emotional reactivity when you’re in the grip of strong emotions. A state of calm also boosts immunity to support the body in fighting the coronavirus.
I’ve started reading real books again rather than skim-reading online content. And with the pleasure of turning the pages has come an experience of flow, the deeply satisfying state of being fully engaged. Too often in the past I’ve found myself mindlessly web-surfing and channel-hopping (I confess often simultaneously!) now I feel my mind has slowed to the point where I’m able to pick up a book and stick with it!
The internal peace is reflected in the external calm. Now that the planes are grounded it’s like Sundays used to be. I can hear birds singing, the wind in the trees. The air feels cleaner in my part of the inner city. I’m so grateful to have a garden, which has turned into my outside office. I’ve barely been out since last summer and now I’ve discovered all kinds of delights growing there – the lemon balm I planted last year has flourished and purple flowers are springing up on the lawn. I’ve never been green-fingered but maybe that will change in spring 2020. Learning something new is another way to build wellbeing. Sitting in the garden with the sun on my skin is such a simple pleasure, topping up Vitamin D, which is also good for the immune functioning.
“If you want to be happy for an hour get drunk, if you want to be happy for a few years get married and if you want to be happy forever, get a garden.”
Taking daily exercise has been a source of stress rather than relief. My local park, which healed me from depression, is busier than ever and the social distancing is not so good, but thanks to my neighbours I’ve found another gem. A riverside walk 10 minutes away by bike. Green exercise, which is physical activity in a natural environment, has many benefits for mental health. Doing it in a blue environment next to a body of water enhances the benefits and quickly leads to a state of calm. The foraging is great too. An abundance of nettles for a mineral-rich tea that helps fight infection and wild garlic pesto, made by neighbours.
I’ve lived on my road for a quarter of a century but only known a handful of people in that time. As the corona crisis developed, notes started coming through the door offering support. A sense of community has mushroomed during lockdown and I’m getting to know the entire street for the first time. A WhatsApp group sprang up. Shopping offers are made and accepted. Tips are swapped on which shops are stocked up. Communal cuppas on the doorsteps at 3pm, even a weekly ‘distance disco’ with a DJ on his decks up on the rooftop.
There’s no doubt that lockdown is challenging for mental health. Not being able to see friends or family in person inhibits the number one source of wellbeing – our relationships. Having meaning in life is crucial for mental health but what if you’re unable to carry out your vocation, which in my case is to teach the science and practices of wellbeing? I don’t know when I’ll get to wear my new Diva Catwalk dresses! It is natural to feel distressed by a distressing situation so allow your feelings to be.
Adversity can act as a springboard to growth and the process begins with accepting the reality of what has happened and picking up the pieces of life to make something new. Get creative, for example, by taking social gatherings online. One of the ‘benefits’ of adversity is that people develop a fresh appreciation of life and are grateful for the simple things like the joy of nature and having nice neighbours. The FOMO – the fear of missing out can be soothed by reflecting on what is the JOMO, the joy of missing out on the normal way of things? The pandemic has taken a lot but what has been gained?