How to Get Out of a Mental Funk During Lockdown

Whether it’s been two years since you’ve set foot on a plane, two weeks since you’ve been to the gym, or two days since you’ve brushed your hair, it’s highly likely you are experiencing a bit of lockdown fatigue. There is a uniquely bleak feeling associated with being in a lockdown, particularly when it’s unclear when it will end and when restrictions will be lifted. We have been incredibly lucky here in Australia and where I live in New South Wales to have the relatively minimal cases of coronavirus, and we have been afforded sporadic opportunities to go on holidays over the past year. It was only weeks ago that most of our freedoms had been well and truly restored and the debilitating nature of lockdowns seemed like a distant memory (unless you live in Melbourne – my condolences if you do). After a string of cases brought about by the heinously contagious delta variant, we were plunged into a harsh lockdown once more, forced to the confines of our homes unless exercising or shopping for groceries.

Whilst some people seem to be breezing through this new reality because they already worked from home and are introverted hermits anyway, for a lot of us it is not the positive experience of whimsical and inebriated zoom calls with our mates or basking in the backyard sun whilst reading a Liane Moriaty novel. For most of us, lockdown can be a harsh reminder of the freedoms we took for granted, and the limited options we have to entertain ourselves can make the days simmer with monotony. Being unable to travel, attend a nightclub with your friends, sweat it out in a gym class, or just have a picnic with your family may seem like first world problems (the latter might be a blessing for some..), but it can often evoke a sense of gloominess. It’s all too easy to let these glum feelings settle in until they become just another fixed reality of your lockdown experience. Whilst there’s no denying that this is a difficult time for most, there are things we can do to help us get out of this mental funk and improve our mood during this lockdown.

  1. Be self-compassionate

Watching the news these days is like looking at the sun during a solar eclipse – I know it’s probably not great for me but I can’t help but watch. It feels as though we are hammered with terrible news story after terrible news story. Due to the public interest generated by such negativity, it’s almost as though media outlets seem to thrive off bad news like a hungry dog salivating over the smell of their impending meal (g’day Pavlov). Either that, or there are journalists out there with awareness of the importance of broadcasting information in an accurate and instantaneous manner. Either way, hearing about all these terrible things happening in the world can make your problems feel insignificant, or can invoke feelings of guilt. Why should you complain about being in a lockdown for a few weeks when there’s people who don’t even have a house to live in? What gives YOU the right to feel down about being stuck at home when there are people who have been placed in ICU on a ventilator after being diagnosed with COVID?

Whilst it’s important to display empathy for people in situations that are categorically awful, and probably worse than yours, this is not the time to begrudge yourself for feeling down about your situation. Being in lockdown can feel horrendously alienating, and the lack of connection with others provides the perfect breeding ground for feelings of despair and melancholy to grow. Rather than scoffing at our low mood and urging ourselves to simply “get over it”, now is the time we need to be kind and understanding to ourselves. We need to acknowledge that our feelings are valid and completely expected throughout this strange and novel time. Displaying kindness to ourselves doesn’t mean we can’t feel empathy or try to help other people going through immeasurably tough experiences. It simply means acknowledging our own suffering as we would anyone else and treating ourselves with love and kindness.

Initially it may appear that being kind to ourselves is ineffective in elevating our mood because it seems to adopt a passive approach of acceptance, however I would frame it differently. Arguably, self-compassion is fundamental if we are going to improve our mood and abate our anxieties. This is because self-compassion is not “taking the easy road out” and doing whatever is convenient or pleasurable. For example, it’s not about laying on the lounge eating Tim-Tams for 16 hours straight or doing cocaine for three days with your housemates and not sleeping for a week. Self-compassion actually means doing what’s best for your mood and overall health, treating your body with respect, and speaking to ourselves with kindness and understanding. It’s going for the walk in the sun because we have been indoors all day. It means eating fresh fruit and vegetables with a source of protein for lunch because this is what makes our body feel energised. Overall, self-compassion involves speaking to ourselves in an understanding and uplifting way that promotes actions that you know will make you feel better, as opposed to being critical and dismissive or our feelings.

2. Move your body

After you’ve adopted a self-compassionate outlook, the next step in the process of de-funkifying (yes, I made up that word) your brain is to take explicit action – in the form of movement. It sounds like the most painfully cliche statement utilised by all self help gurus and parents of teenagers who are sad after playing COD for 15 hours straight- “get some exercise and you’ll feel better luv”. I am certainly not going to be a recipient of an award for the provision of groundbreaking advice, however, the idea that exercise will lift our mood is cliche because it’s simply true. Studies have consistently shown the positive affects that repeated exercise has on our mental health. Personally, I have lost track of the amount of times that walking or going for a run has turned by shitty mood around and altered the outlook of my entire day.

If you are limited in leaving the house or you suffer from some other physical limitation, try and do whatever movement you can. I hate to say it but your mother was right, housework is actually good for you. Rather than camping yourself in front of the TV all day or scrolling through instagram, I promise you will feel a lot better if you keep your mind and body preoccupied with productive tasks. It might seem insignificant and inconsequential, but I can assure you it is better for your mood than sitting, scrolling and ruminating. Besides, now that you are resigned to spending the majority of your days inside your home, what better time is there than to do a massive spring clean? Whilst it may seem extremely unappealing and your immediate self might want to just sit down and watch youtube videos, sometimes you need to overlook your immediate desires and engage in the action that will benefit you in the long run. After vacuuming the floor, wiping down your benches and washing your sheets, take note of your mood and you will probably find that it has improved. Unless, ofcourse you’ve cleaned the bathroom and toilet which is enough to send the happiest person into a spiral of sadness and anger (only kidding. Maybe).

3. Connect with someone

It’s the great paradox of being an introvert – you crave your alone time but often feel painfully bereft without human companionship. In an age of constant connectivity through social media platforms, it is somewhat surprising that loneliness is remarkably common. The inability to hang out with our friends in various social settings can aggravate these feelings of isolation, and can lead to sheer despondency and despair. It is more important than ever that we keep in contact with our friends in any way we can – even if it means the dreaded phone calls or zoom conversations where you spend the entire time analysing your hideous appearance, convincing yourself it’s just the lighting or poor image quality and that you don’t, indeed, look like a foot. Again, at first instance it might appear to be too much effort to message or call a close friend, but it is essential that you do. Even if it’s just to recommend a book you are reading, or send them an old photo of yourselves in a nightclub to have a giggle over – these small and seemingly innocuous actions can have an important impact on your mood for the day.

Talking to friends or family might not have the same obvious influence on our mood and mental health as the burst of adrenaline you might receive from a HIIT workout, or when you’re roaring of laughter at a hilarious youtube video. Its positive effects might be more subtle, but don’t take this to mean it’s less significant. Decades of happiness research has highlighted the importance of social connection in promoting well-being and happiness. Those who experience more social-connectedness report experiencing greater levels of happiness than those who are more isolated. Whilst this is hardly a ground-breaking statement, it’s important to remind ourselves of the impacts that friendship and solidarity has on our mental health, and that we actively make attempts to maintain friendships despite our environment providing significant barriers.

4. Practice gratitude

Even uttering the phrase “practice gratitude” can make a lot of people roll their eyes and possibly feel a little sick about the wankiness of it all. I was definitely one of those people, and still even feel a bit cringe talking about what I appreciate in my life. It’s as though “practising gratitude” almost has a religious, holier-than-thou connotation to it, and the insufferable half-wits on instagram carry around an aura of smugness because they can acknowledge their gratitude for living in a 5 bedroom house overlooking the water in Byron Bay. Good for them. Meanwhile, your’e stuck in freezing Tasmania in a two bedroom house with 3 screaming children, a work-aholic husband and a job you have about as much passion for as rotten kale.

Believe me, I hear you. But in my experience, writing down things that you are grateful for everyday can help put your situation in perspective, and can also remind you of all the good things you have going on in your life. For me personally, I have spent much of my life barely noticing all the opportunities and privileges that I have had. To live 26 years on earth predominately healthy with the ability to move freely, spend time with friends and family, and pursue whatever life goals I have, is incredibly fortunate. Over the past year I have developed a consistent gratitude practice of identifying how much I appreciate all the things I previously took for granted, and I have noticed my well-being and general life satisfaction increase significantly.

The positive impacts of explicit expressions of appreciation aren’t just limited to my individual experience. Research has consistently shown the link between gratitude and an increased sense of well-being. It might seem strange to focus on everything we are grateful for during such a difficult and crappy time, but if we are really trying to give us the best chance of maintaining a sense of wellbeing during this lockdown, it is now more important than ever that we acknowledge all the good things we have in our lives. Even the simple, every-day things can be a source of appreciation, such as “I am grateful for my morning coffee and the warmth it provides me during the harsh winter mornings”, or something more significant, such as “I am grateful for my mum who sends me a message every morning to check in on how I am going”.

Conclusion

It’s safe to say a lot of us who are in lockdown are struggling right now. What some of us thought was going to be a transient rough-patch, a slight blip on our summer plans, has turned out to be a lingering and overwhelming source of stress and anxiety. The unwavering uncertainty, constant restrictions, and the lack of normality in our lives all provide the impetus for a mental funk that seems to linger longer than I do around the treats table at Christmas time. It is understandable if those of us who are in lockdown want to spend the majority of our time enveloped in a fluffy blanket, watching series after series on netflix whilst simultaneously scrolling on instagram searching for a meme that could rescue us from our despondency. Of course, if the low mood seems to extend beyond a mere mental funk, and you are engaging in all of the aforementioned behaviours, it might be worth considering seeking more formal help, through psychologist support or helplines such as lifeline. However, there are certainly things you can do to give yourself the best chance of feeling less-crappy. I implore you to implement the above practices, and actively put in effort to improve your well-being because it might just get you through this experience. Who knows, you might even develop life-long habits that increase your overall happiness levels even beyond this pandemic.

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