15 useful (and free) tips you can do to aid your mental health in lockdown

When the outside feels hostile and inside is leaving you in total despair -- this is what you can do to help combat those feelings.

by Moya Lothian-McLean
08 June 2020, 7:00am

Feeling it yet mate? Yeah, same. Although lockdown is easing, the toll it is taking on the mental health of many is not. No longer are we only contending with a global pandemic, now there are protests ripping through cities across the world, in the wake of the death of yet another Black man at the hands of police. The protests have become a cipher for the grief and fury of the Black community (and their allies) at the racial inequalities in society that not only led to George Floyd’s death but have seen Black people dying from coronavirus at double the rate of white people.

The digital sphere, always a space of discourse, is now one engaged in mourning, intense self-reflection, and action. And all this is on top of having to grapple with the still-present threat posed by coronavirus -- and the much warned about ‘second wave”. Outside might kill you. Online will leave you in total despair. Now, more than ever, we need to remind ourselves of quickly accessible, and financially viable, techniques to help keep mental wellbeing stable.

Here’s 15 cherry-picked tips on maintaining functioning mental health during lockdown.

1. Log off
Not for ever, not even for a long time if you’re not able, but at least once a day close your laptop, lock your phone and leave it in a drawer while you do something else. While keeping up with current events and discourse is important -- especially right now -- the impact that level of overstimulation has on our brains is detrimental to our mental wellness. For most of us, it’s not feasible to stop using our devices altogether but making a concerted effort to cut down can work wonders.

2. Reduce device usage
Download the Forest app to help you with it; it renders your phone unusable for a set amount of time while it grows a virtual tree. For every tree grown, the user receives a coin. Collect enough “coins” and the app makers plant a real tree. Tackling device addiction and climate change in one fell swoop.

3. Move your body
Whether it’s dancing around your room, a long walk or Yoga With Adrienne (the biggest cult since Scientology), regular physical activity notably increases mental wellness. That includes alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression and improving self-esteem or social withdrawal. Endorphins: a hell of a hormone.

4. Keep communicating
Both with your friends and loved ones, even if you only have energy for the odd text or voice note twice a week. Joyce Kallevik, director of the user-led women's mental health charity Wish, says: "Communication is really important, and one of the key ways we've been supporting the women we work with through this is by making sure they have enough minutes and data on their phones to stay in touch with any support networks. There's a lot of pressure to do video calls at the moment, but find what works for you, whether that's big group Zooms or one-on-one text conversations.”

5. Review your self-care techniques
Ask yourself: are they actually caring methods? Or are they coping mechanisms? If you fear that you’re slipping into the ‘coping’ realm, e.g. spending money you don’t have on retail therapy, indulging in short term solutions like drinking too regularly, it’s time to sit down and do a quick re-evaluation. Write down your behaviours and their impact beyond the immediate short-term effect.

6. Cultivate new ones
Try to cultivate a ‘set’ of achievable, accessible self-care techniques you can make time for regularly or rely on when your energy is at an all time low. This could be anything from a long shower to a 10 minute guided meditation or breathing exercise. Grounding techniques will help you re-centre and create a mental “touchstone” when the world around you feels like it’s falling apart.

7. Renew your medical prescription in a timely manner
If you have medication -- renew that prescription well before you’re going to run out. The last thing anyone needs in a pandemic is having to drag themselves to the doctor while in the middle of withdrawal.

8. Seek free professional support if needed
Need professional support but have no financial resources? Contact a helpline. Shout is the UK affiliate of Crisis Text Line and provides free, 24/7 support via text. Begin your conversation by texting anything to 85258.

9. Call helplines if you need a chat
For phone conversations, there are a huge range of dedicated helplines for specific situations. Find a list here. If in doubt and emotional pain, ring Samaritans for free, at any time of the day, on 116 123.

10. Take on small, short-term projects
Think of projects that will focus attention and produce something material, like taking an hour to prepare a simple homemade meal or planting seeds. These projects shouldn’t be complicated, taxing tasks but achievable ones that leave you with a feeling of accomplishment, rather than exhaustion.

11. Establish some kind of routine
Routine might sound boring, but when you’re mentally flailing it can really help. “Establishing some kind of daily routine during lockdown, in which you can enjoy creative activities or indulge in things that make you feel good, is key,” says Joyce Kallevik. “These absolutely can't change your material situation, but they can help you manage distress and make anxiety easier to manage.”

12. Curate your feeds
If you’re going to look at social media, you might as well create burner accounts that you can switch to when you’re feeling completely overwhelmed. Keep them uncluttered and follow accounts dedicated to sharing content that soothes your specific distress, whether that’s stories devoted to experiences of mental health or Casey Frey vids. Whatever works for YOU.

13. Be aware that one size won’t fit all
If you belong to a specific community, like being a young Black trans person, then resources often shared by the mainstream may not be helpful at addressing the intersections of your experience with mental health. Find the spaces created by people within your community like @healingwhileblack or @themshealth. These accounts will be far more helpful and specialised in directing you towards more resources that can aid you than, say, plugging into privileged wellness influencers.

14. Listen to podcasts and watch Youtube videos
They are not a substitute for therapy or counselling, but they’re a good deal more accessible. Podcasts like Therapy for Black Girls and The Happiness Lab, can be a space for healing or deepening understanding of behaviours that contribute towards mental wellbeing. Vloggers like Brenny Lee also make relatable mental health content told using their own personal experience.

15. Try and rid yourself of any guilt
This could be guilt because you’re ‘not doing enough’ or even guilt that lockdown may have, conversely, alleviated some stress (a reported effect). Either way repeat to yourself that what you are feeling is valid, whether it’s sadness, joy or even just intense boredom (hello). Only then can you begin to process those feelings and take care of yourself in an active way.

Oh and listen to some ambient sounds, everyone loves that shit.

mental health