Emma's Perspective on the experience of lockdown on mental health
We are living in a time unlike any other: our movements are restricted and controlled, the streets are empty, weekend plans have been shifted online, and there is mass uncertainty about the health of ourselves and loved ones in how we may react to the new virus, COVID-19.
I find it very interesting to consider the different experiences of lockdown and how it may impact our mental health. For many, they may be experiencing loneliness and isolation, or difficulties in the home, where social inequalities may be exacerbated. I feel very fortunate to live in a happy home with my partner, with a nice quality of accommodation. It’s a one-bedroom flat in London but there’s a small 1m2 balcony which catches the sun for much of the day, and from that sense I’m still able to enjoy some escapism in the city. However, I know many people aren’t so lucky with their living situation and I really empathise with them during this time.
Reflecting on my own journey during this time has been interesting for many reasons, not least because I haven’t found the situation to be too dissimilar to times I’ve struggled with my mental health in the past. For just over a year, I was unable to work full time due to mental and physical health problems. Fatigue was a massively debilitating symptom and I felt ‘stuck’ in my own home. It was like my life was one big lockdown and I suffered with a boom and bust cycle if I overdid it energy-wise.
At this time in my early 20s, I would see on social media all the fun activities my friends were up to, I’d hear about their new relationships or their adventures in London (which I had to move away from). I felt like I was trapped in a glass cage looking out as the world passed me by. At the time, I didn’t know if or when this debilitating fatigue would end, and whether I’d be able to enjoy the life I dreamed of. I felt incredibly isolated, empty and alone, even with people checking in.
When COVID-19 lockdown came into force, I felt an overwhelming surge of gratitude for knowing that this time, I was in a much better condition health-wise, relationship-wise and practically all aspects of my life. I also knew that there would be an end date – eventually – to this pandemic, and I felt like I had the resources to help me cope during this time.
I really feel that this pandemic gives many people a chance to reflect on how it must be like for people living with chronic illnesses that make it harder to live ‘normally’ and be active – whether it’s due to depression, fatigue or any other health problems that mean staying indoors is the norm.
This time has also given me a chance to reset. I love my friends and exploring London but I’m also an introvert whose heart belongs with being around nature, and enjoying moments of quiet. The daily commute, travelling across London and constant interaction with everything around me can become exhausting. I also still have some health conditions which make ‘normal life’ more challenging. Even though I don’t have the debilitating fatigue of before, I still need more rest and sleep than most people, at around 9-10 hours per night. By working from home and resting at the weekends, my body has had a bit of a reset. I’ve been able to do more exercise indoors (thanks YouTube and fitness DVDs!), go to bed early and rise early with the sun, spend more time preparing healthy meals, read, take baths, play board games, spend time with my partner, and essentially just rest from the hustle and bustle of London life.
My anxiety has massively improved too. I often compare my mind to a hamster wheel, or a computer with lots of different tabs open. After a while, the computer starts to overheat and then has a bit of a meltdown. I can relate to this because the constant stimulation from my surrounding environment can be exhausting. I find it very hard to switch off because I feel like my body has been on high alert all day. This time away from constant noise, and being in my safe, familiar environment, has allowed me to take a step back and experience some calm. Although work as a psychology researcher has been really busy, I engage with my colleagues on video calls regularly and the work is very meaningful.
However, struggling with anxiety means that I’m feeling a bit more apprehensive about coming out of lockdown. I’ve been in my safe place for a while, and I do wonder how many of us will struggle with adjusting to ‘normal’ when the restrictions start to be lifted.
Ultimately, every single one of us will have a different experience to managing lockdown during the pandemic. That’s why I’m really excited to be part of a research team at King’s College London, on a study called COPE (Coronavirus Outbreak Psychological Experiences), which aims to capture the different experiences of people during this crisis.
If you’re age 16+ and a UK resident, our survey is open for another week or so, and we’d love to get your views on how you’re managing this difficult time. If your experiences are different to mine, that’s ok! We hope that this work will help to inform government policy and support people for any future pandemics.
The survey can be found here: https://t.co/QL6IOaIYd1?amp=1
Keep safe and look after your mental health ☺
Emma is an early career researcher in the field of mental health and psychology, currently working at King's College London and commencing a PhD there in October 2020. She has many research interests, with a particular interest in youth mental health and social psychology.
Emma has experience of working in the mental health field since 2013, from a policy and research perspective, as well as lived experience of mental health problems.
She is also a qualified Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor.
You can connect on Twitter via @MindfulEm or visit her website: www.emmawilsonmhtc.com