Surviving Lockdown Anxiety: The Elephant in the Room
Many years ago I visited a wildlife park with friends and family. Situated at the centre of the park was a hilly enclosure housing an adult elephant. I stood and watched the elephant for a while, as he stood upright in the very centre, rocking backwards and forwards on his front leg. Later in the day, as we walked back past the enclosure, he remained in the same position, still rocking.
Having witnessed these incredible animals in the wild in South Africa, I recognised that this elephant’s behaviour wasn’t normal. I found myself imagining how he might be feeling: isolated; sad; fearful; lonely; bored; trapped with nowhere to hide.
Perhaps there’s a reason why my brain chose to remember this elephant today. When I look at our current circumstances, could it be that we’re all feeling a little bit like this elephant at the moment?
You and I find ourselves in situations we’re not used to. The freedoms we perhaps took for granted have been, for the moment, taken away from us. We’re now restricted; routine-less. With short days quickly turning into nights, we might feel isolated, disconnected, lonely and depressed.
The January blues
Last weekend my wife began taking down the Christmas decorations. At one point, with the combination of my daughter’s new Peppa Pig Christmas toys and all the decorations and boxes, our lounge bore a resemblance to a scene from the movie Home Alone. It was just missing one unwitting, bare-footed ‘wet bandit’. Now, the twinkly lights are gone and the house is beginning to look a little devoid of the colour and brightness, by comparison.
January is commonly the hardest month of the year for our mental health – I know it is for mine. Christmas is over and the dark nights have set in. With so much uncertainty and anxiety around, this January could be extra tough. Sometimes you might just wake up and think, “what’s the point? What is there to look forward to?”
At this moment, it’s important to remember that we have a choice. We can give up. Or, we can realise that there are better times on the horizon, and dig deep inside ourselves to get through the next couple of months. By then, things should look a whole lot better.
I discussed some daily self-help ideas that I find helpful in my recent article about covid and anxiety. These included finding a daily routine, reconnecting with nature, learning a new hobby, reading an uplifting book and finding as much humour in everything as you can. As we head into the darkest time of year, here are a few additional ideas that might be helpful to you:
1) Look up
This might sound like a strange tip, but it really helps. By lifting your head and looking up, you get more light into your eyes and you start feeling more positive. I find it really works. Go for a walk in the brisk winter air, look up at the sky and open your eyes to let light in. Just don’t forget to look back down at regular intervals. Otherwise, you risk falling into a hedge or tripping over the neighbour’s cat…
2) Avoid the temptation to lay in during the dark mornings
I used to get up very late on dark mornings, which badly affected my mood and activity for the rest of the day. I felt sluggish. Try to keep to a routine of getting up at the same early time each day. If you have a SAD lamp, put one on during the dark mornings. If you don’t have one yet, what are you waiting for? Christmas?
3) Listen to music you enjoy
I mentioned in my last article that listening to music really helps lift my mood on difficult days. I’m going to mention it again here, as it’s such a good tip. Good music connects with your soul, your energy and your memories. It modulates activity in brain structures that are known to be crucially involved in emotion.
When you listen to music you enjoy, your brain releases dopamine – a feel-good chemical which helps with mood and sleep. Listening to music while walking gives additional health benefits. I invite you to imagine the benefits of listening to music whilst walking AND looking up. Aaaaaand if you then learn to juggle at the same time…
4) Stay connected with others
Although we currently find ourselves very restricted by the lockdown we’re in, we are still allowed to meet one individual outside each day, in a public place. We also, of course, have a plethora of ways in which to keep in touch – phone, text, email, social media, a good old-fashioned letter, a pigeon…
5) Meditation and relaxation
Our minds are amazing things, capable of transporting us anywhere we want to. Learning to breathe, relax, focus our minds and be present can really aid our mental well-being. I choose to take myself to a tranquil mountain top overlooking a valley below. I also use EFT to help me calm periods of anxiety.
6) Be kind to yourself and to others
The old phrase goes that we are our own worst enemies. I think it’s time for us to stop beating ourselves up and instead show ourselves some compassion. Every one of us is unique and wonderful in both our flaws and our talents. And, whilst it’s easy to vent our frustrations and anger at others, perhaps we can all learn something if we instead choose to listen, respect and understand rather than judge and fight.
Let’s support each other and get through this together.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”
Julian of Norwich. 1342-1416
We now have hope on the horizon in the form of vaccines. So, although things might seem quite bleak at the moment, we have a light in the darkness. With each passing week, things should improve. And as the shoots of Spring begin to peep through, hope will rise with them.
Let’s all get through this together and look forward to a better year in 2021. The year 2020 is one to learn from, but ultimately forget; something it’s said an elephant will never do.
This leads us gently back to the beautiful elephant at the wildlife park. I find myself wondering what became of him. My hope is that he was perhaps released back into the wild, to roam free with other elephants and enjoy the remainder of his life in peace and tranquillity.