What can we take from lockdown to improve our mental health

As lockdown eases it is good to look back and see what you can take from it to help improve your life.  Back in March 2020, when the pause button was hit for most of the UK, it offered a very rare opportunity, that many may not have realised until now.  A wise man once told me that at some point later in your life you need to press pause and take stock for at least six weeks.  Then decide what you want to do for the rest of your life.  Well this pause has happened for many and it may lead to change in circumstance, a new job, a new way of working, a discovery that things can be done differently or a new attitude that could help your life for the better.

So, what are you going to take away from lockdown? 

As a runner, after a race I would always analysis my performance. In my preparation for the race what went well? What should I keep doing?  Or what should I stop or change to be the best version of me? We do this with physical fitness all the time.  Always asking how can I get better? Even if you are not an athlete, and just recovering from an illness you always ask when can return to normal activity or work again.  Very rarely do we ask the very same questions of our mental health. For example:  if you have been facing a few setbacks that life always throws at you, what can I do to make myself feel better mentally?  Do I need more sleep?  Should I go on long walk and get some fresh air?  Do need to take 5 mins in the day just to sit and calm myself?  

So, what is my ‘post-race analysis’ of lockdown, what went well for me that I want to keep doing?  Well, as someone who has a history of living with depression and has been therapy on and off for almost 20 years, lockdown helped me cut down the ‘noise’ in my life.  This noise was caused through normal activities, such as commuting, or going away for the weekend and getting everything ready.  I realised this noise was tiring me out and grinding me down.   Therefore, lockdown has calmed my busy life and made me realised what’s important and necessary.    

By cutting out this noise it has helped me improve my mental fitness, simply by making me realise my busy life needed a rest. Even in the past when I took a rest by having a holiday, I would work extra hard in the run up to leave so everything in order at work.  It somewhat defeated the aim if when I get there, I needed three days to recover. So quite quickly on in lockdown I was working on what was important and not getting any detractions or ‘noise’.  Family, friends, work and holidays are important to me, everything else is just ‘noise’ that could be required to do certain things.  Now I know this noise can be reduced.  For example, a supermarket trip use to create stress for me, with PTSD and Asperger’s crowds can be horrible for me if I am in the wrong mood.  Now I just click and get it delivered.  Leaving me more time to do the important things. 

So, lockdown has made me take a real rest mentally.  I have certainly felt more resilient as a result and ready to get back to life as we knew, albeit with a few changes.  Little did I know my re-found resilience would be tested to the full. 

At the beginning of August, I was out on a short bike ride and had a small crash that resulted in me breaking my neck.  After ten days in hospital, I came up with an aim, a rough plan and clear focus of what to do to help my recovery.  Everyone kept telling me I had a life changing injury. I saw it as I was very lucky to walk away from such injuries, from wearing a good helmet and the outstanding work of the NHS, it all came together at the right time to safe my life.    But also, one of the key things was my mental fitness was at the highest it had been for a long time.  Unlike preparing for a physical challenge when we aim to do an event or a competition, we need to strive to have our mental fitness at the best it came be more or less all the time.  So, you are ready for those things that hit you out of the blue. 

So, what have I learnt as we come out of lockdown?  If things are getting too much for me, I need reduce the ‘noise’.  Cutting back on travel and activities, to enable me still to work, but focus on the important things and not the distractions. My own self-imposed lockdown.  This will give me the space to recharge, rest and recuperate. But it will also give me the time to reflect and be mindful.  This will give me a chance for my mental fitness to catch up with the physical side.  Because who knows, what around the corner and when I have to dig deep into my mental resilience again.