How to Protect Mental Health During Lockdown

five years of home education

All areas of life spin round in circles and lockdown is no different. What was amazing last week might feel downright exhausting now. People you could count on during the first few weeks, when you were struggling, might be in need of your help two months in. Children who were previously loving being at home might be desperate to get back to their old lives. You get the picture, right? Even during these strangest of times, where all the days feel exactly-the-same, situations change on a dime. As a way of articulating my thoughts I’m writing this list of things I’m doing to protect mental health during lockdown. Hope they help you too.

Lean into discomfort and figure out why you’re feeling like that

The first fortnight of lockdown was super tough for us – there’s no way to dress it up. First my husband was unwell with (likely, who knows without a test?) covid. Once he started to feel like he was on the mend, boom, we discovered he was getting made redundant with bugger all payout. But here’s the thing: whilst it’s been incredibly stressful, it has also provided extra headspace to figure out what to do next. While it’s tempting to avoid the big scary contemplations and save them for a more convenient time, it turns out there’s no time like the present.

Learning to sit with my discomfort has been a good year in the making. Thanks largely to Brené Brown and Jordan Peterson, I’ve got pretty good at it. If you’re struggling in this area, I’d highly recommend checking out these wonderful folks. They’ll blow your mind with their wisdom.

Getting drunk every night and crying over video calls with my friends would do me zero good. Now I’m not saying that friends, video calls and a glass of wine doesn’t have its place, but adding a daily hangover to my woes would be a ridiculous decision. Not only would it weaken my immune system but my four cohabiters need me more than ever. They deserve to get the best version of myself that I can muster.

protecting mental health

To protect mental health we have to step out of our echo chambers

Ever since the political chaos that 2016 brought, I have been on a mission to challenge my own beliefs. Which means actively seeking out alternative opinions to those promoted by my immediate friendship group. Over the last few years I have had dozens of conversations which have made my blood boil in the moment. But upon reflection, I can see that they taught me so much more than the hundreds of other conversations I’ve had, where the other people essentially agreed with everything I said.

Everyday I listen to podcasts on a wide variety of topics. Faves include: The Joe Rogan Experience, Unlocking Us with Brené Brown, Rumble with Michael Moore, The Rubin Report, The Ben Shapiro Show, Under the Skin with Russell Brand, Full Disclosure with James O’Brian and London Real. Rarely will you see me agreeing with a mainstream narrative. Not because I believe in so-called conspiracy theories but because I’m open minded and want to hear from all sides of the argument.

Some might say this is contrary to protecting mental health. After all, we’re bombarded with the message that we must shield our fragile selves away from things that upset us. In my experience, this strategy works for short bursts of time. But once we are strong enough to open our eyes we must. If we don’t it’s tantamount to sleepwalking through life – which leads to abject misery. We have to get onboard with challenging our own beliefs and forming our own opinions. Silencing alternative voices only adds weight to them and often increases pubic interest. Censorship is a scary prospect and a topic I urge everyone to do some independent research on.

protecting mental health

Getting a grip on social media

Rather than shutting ourselves away from what is going on in the world, giving our social feeds some consideration works a treat when mental health is taking a pasting. Social media can either lift us up or drain the life out of us, it’s as simple as that. Knowing when to step away from the keyboard or going as far as deactivating accounts is very powerful. Here’s what I’ve been doing.

Facebook

After ploughing many hours at the start of the year, into breathing new life into my personal Facebook account, it brought tons of comfort at the beginning of lockdown. Friends were chatting like they used to and there was a proper community spirit to be had. Hardly anyone was mentioning the government and there was a genuine feeling that people just wanted to help each other. Fast forward a few weeks and it was quite shocking to see how quickly everyone had reverted back to their old ways. There was too much complaining and pointless over-sharing going on for my brain to cope with. So, I deactivated my account four weeks ago and haven’t missed it in the slightest.

Instagram

Which is what I did with my Mummytries Insta the week before lockdown began. I simply could not cope with the bullshit platitudes of us all “being in this together” and adverts from celebs and influencers, claiming business as usual. I’d been pondering if perhaps it’s time to press the delete button altogether, but have given it one last chance in the form of an old account you can find @RealFoodbyRenee. Mostly I’m just sharing my gut healthy recipes, and importantly, not getting dragged into the abyss, losing hours of every-single-day.

Twitter

After falling down the political rabbit hole late last year during the GE, I vowed to steer clear of Twitter. For the most part I’ve been very successful in doing so. Never have we been more tribal and polarised, the exact opposite of what is truly needed at this moment in time. A swampy cesspool of unhelpful opinions, Twitter is definitely to be avoided if we’re protecting mental health.

Exercise and clean eating really does boost happiness

My girls usually do a two hour gymnastics class on a Tuesday and Polly has juijitsu at the weekend. Juijitsu has gone online and gym has temporarily vanished. Which meant there was a gap to be filled and – although he’s not everyone’s cup of rosy – my kids love Joe Wicks. His dedication has to be admired and the workouts are lots of fun.

Anyone who has followed me for longer than this blog post will know that I’m a clean eating junkie. And yes, I’m aware the term “clean eating” has been overused and – in some cases – bastardised, but it still represents how I like to eat. Which is a diet of balanced, gut health promoting, natural foods. It stops me from riding the blood sugar rollercoaster, helps me sleep (when the kids allow) and means I am not constantly hungry. Good quality supplementation is vital too – check out my latest giveaway if you need a boost.

Never has there been a better time to start cooking from scratch and eating seasonably. Imagine if the whole country began eating mostly British produce, when it was abundant. It could change the agriculture game.

Be present

Challenging children don’t stop all their extras because a global pandemic is occurring. Worldwide worries are happening in addition to the usual shit we have to deal with. Being truly present, not only for the kids but my husband and myself, is the only way to ensure my household doesn’t fall apart at the seams. Mother Theresa’s quote below is so poignant for this time. As a wife and mum, my priority is my family.

protecting mental health

Have fun with your children – here are some tried and tested ideas to help pull you out of a funk

20 second hugs – it’s been scientifically proven that hugging for at least 20 seconds guarantees the release of the happy hormone oxytocin. What’s not to love about that?
Sing and dance – kitchen discos are the BEST!
Reading time – always a winner.
Draw a picture, do a colouring or doodle. Great and stealthy mindfulness.
If the kids are feeling extra creative, get them to put on a puppet show with their toys.
When they’re in the mood to share, get them to write down their feelings. Using circle time, a family meeting or family meal can be a good time to go through everyone’s agitations and help find solutions.
Yoga and meditation are wonderful, if kids are willing.
Going for a little run – kids can follow along on their bikes or scooters if they aren’t runners.
Diffuse some appropriate essential oils.
Build LEGO – this never fails to bring a smile to the faces of my youngest two.
Practice gymnastics – endless cartwheels make the girls happy.
Watch a crowd pleaser film and pretend you’re at the cinema – a few family faves for us are The Lorax, Marley & Me and A Dog’s Purpose/Journey.
Play the “I am grateful” game.
Inclusive for all board and card games. All three of my kids have been playing board games forever and even Freddy (6) can hold his own in the family edition of trivial pursuit and the full version of monopoly. Great games to start with, when they’re little are UNO, ludo, snakes and ladders. Have a charity shop clear out – catharsis here you come.
Bake a treat. Check out Polly’s recipe archive here.
Tell a story about something fun which happened years ago and let the kids take the piss, telling you that you’re really REALLY old.

Help who you can but not at the detriment of your own sanity

When all this was first going down and we were in our 14-day quarantine period, I was determined that I would get out there and help anyone and everyone afterwards. During those two weeks it dawned on me that to do so would mean putting myself at risk and rather than protecting mental health, I’d be actively destroying it.

Having spent a childhood in flight or flight mode and the best part of twenty five years recovering from it, I am not qualified to help on our generation’s frontline. But I’m immensely grateful, each and every day, to those who are keeping our country going. Huge thanks to all the heroes out there, from my home to yours, I salute you.

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