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Another lockdown: What can we learn from the first one to protect our physical and mental health this time around?

4 November 2020

6 mins

Dr Chris McLeod, a University Teacher in Psychology at Loughborough, writes about how we can learn from the last lockdown and how to take healthy habits into the second.

On Thursday 5 November, the UK will enter another national lockdown; the second lockdown in seven months.

When the Prime Minister announced the first lockdown on 23 March 2020, we did not know what we were dealing with in terms of the COVID-19 disease, nor the impact  it would have on the economy or our physical and mental health.

Seven months on and we are in a better position to understand the implications of a national lockdown. However, while this means we can go into this one with a better idea about what we can expect – better the devil you know, and all that – we must ensure that familiarity does not breed contempt.

That is, each of us must do our best to treat the potential impact on our lives that this lockdown may bring with the utmost respect. Moreover, we must do our best to learn from the problems many of us experienced in the first lockdown to mitigate the risk of experiencing them again this time around.

Lockdown 1: The impact on our mental and physical health

While research is still being conducted to investigate the impact of lockdown on our health, published papers released in the last few months present initial findings.

Research suggests there were wide-spread responses to lockdown. Some people’s mental and physical health improved – they had more time to dedicate to themselves, their hobbies and their family with lockdown being a watershed moment for changing previously unhelpful behaviours.

However, some people’s mental and physical health seriously declined. New factors came into play, such as caring responsibilities or home-schooling alongside working from home. Some people lost their jobs or lost their direction or purpose, because their usual avenues that help to reinforce their identity or self-esteem were closed.

Some people couldn’t see those they loved aside from video calls and indeed, research tells us that video calling is not a direct substitute for in-person conversations at the biological level.

Who, why and to what extent someone experienced positive, negative or no change in their physical or mental health as a result of lockdown can only be fully explained at an individual level. It was the setup of each person’s life, brain and body that influenced how they reacted to lockdown – and so it is vital we use our individual experiences to our advantage this time around.

Lockdown 2: What can you expect?

This lockdown will be for at least four weeks. With this in mind, a great action for each of us to take would be to make weekly and daily plans throughout. While these plans will consider our friends, family, colleagues and commitments, we must also consider what we learned from the first lockdown and how we coped with the imposed infringement on our normal routines and preferences.

There are a few things to ask yourself to help form what these plans might be:

  1. How did you fair last time in lockdown?
  2. Why was that the case?
  3. Did you do anything to help protect yourself against a worsening of your physical and mental health?

As mentioned above, although many people severely struggled with maintaining their physical and mental health, many people found methods to protect this worsening. However, these often related to the time of year (spring) and the warmer and lighter weather and days, with many hours of sunlight.

Now it is autumn, and we are heading into winter. It is getting dark at 4pm, the weather is turning colder, and clear-sky days are few and far between.

In short, while we have the experience of a previous national lockdown to reflect on, the time of the year that this lockdown is situated presents us with further barriers to protecting our mental and physical health.

Fail to prepare. Prepare to fail.

We cannot predict what life may throw at us over the next few months. However, making a plan is a great place to start to best combat what is to come.

A few things you can consider are:

  1. How can I make boundaries between work, chores, caring responsibilities and relaxing?
  2. How, what and when am I going to eat and exercise?
  3. What can I do to give myself some direction and purpose over the coming months?

The main thing is that whatever we learned about ourselves from the last lockdown, we should reflect on this and plan what we are going to do for the next.

It would be good to write this down on a piece of paper, maybe even consider how you can separate the day into different blocks of time (work, caring, exercise, eating etc) and write this into your calendar. Then you can look at the plan each week and reflect on how you are feeling, how it is working for you and what unexpected things have come onto your plate that week that need to be incorporated into next week’s plan.

We’re all in this together.

If you start to feel like things are starting to get too much, you must reach out.

The University has many excellent services to support both students and staff who are experiencing mental and physical health difficulties:

  • The LU Wellbeing app – a digital toolkit for staff and students to aid your mental health using a holistic approach based on the NHS’s five ways to wellbeing.
  • The Employee Assistance Programme – an external, confidential service which staff members can access 24/7, 365 days a year for support on their personal or professional life obstacles.
  • Student Services – we can provide emotional and wellbeing support as well as advice on any financial or accommodation concerns you might have.
  • University Chaplaincy – if you feel anxious, stressed or need someone to talk to, you can speak to one of the University’s Chaplains by calling 07961846905.
  • How we work during lockdown: The remote working guide – a wellbeing guide created by Human Resources and Organisational Development to support staff members working remotely during lockdown and social distancing.
  • The Yellow Book – an online platform inspired by creativity available in both written and audio format for staff and students, with resources such as breathing techniques, mindfulness and spoken affirmations.
  • Welfare and Diversity – this LSU section focuses on the health and wellbeing of students at Loughborough.

However, don’t forget that reaching out to a friend, a family member, a colleague or even a listening stranger can also be the best thing to do for your short and long-term health, so please do keep these options to reach out at your fingertips.

I wish you all the best for the coming months and know that, although it will be another hard month, we can get through this difficult time together as one big, supportive Loughborough family.

Health and Wellbeing

Wellbeing means being in a positive physical, social and mental state. Wellbeing is important to us as happy, healthy people who achieve harmony in their work / life mix are more creative, productive and help to create a great place to work.

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