How to Look After Your Mental Health During Lockdown: 8 Tips From UK Activists & Experts

Author: James Hitchings-Hales

Credit: @ZAP308

Right now the whole world is experiencing a shared sense of loss.

Whether that’s for a life that’s changed beyond recognition or grieving one of the 2.2 million loved ones who have died from COVID-19 around the world, the strain the pandemic has put on our mental health, without respite or relief, has forced us all to look inwards.

But real hope is coming. It may not feel like it yet, but the vaccination effort will inevitably begin to bear fruit. Slowly, that could mean a transition back to hugs, pubs, and a life that somewhat resembles what we’ve lost.

In the meantime, lockdowns persist for many of us — potentially, but not certainly, due to change some time around April for the UK, depending on vaccine targets and infection rates — and with that means a continuing toll on our mental and emotional well-being.

However, there are things you can do to take care of yourself: meditation, yoga, walking, art, reading, or even just a good night’s sleep. You could adjust your expectations from the world around you, attempt to reduce your screen time, or make a mindful attempt to improve your diet.

These are just some of the ideas sent to us when we asked some of our friends — awe-inspiring leaders from the UK who light up circles of activism, well-being, mental health advocacy, and more — to offer some advice to people struggling with their mental health during lockdown.

Here’s what they said.

Will Williams — Founder, Beeja Meditation.

“My best advice would be to get your sleep routine sorted.”

“Remember the old adage that an hour before midnight is worth two after, so get to bed early: be consistent, have a hot shower or bath beforehand to settle your nervous system, use yoga nidra to initiate sleep, avoid looking at screens during the night (it destroys your biorhythms), and instead pretend to be asleep even if you feel awake — that way half of your brain still gets to sleep, and your body still gets rest if you avoid tossing and turning.”

“When you wake up, avoid looking at your phone for the first hour of the day, it makes such a difference!”

Leyla Hussein OBE — psychotherapist and anti-FGM activist.

“I hope everyone who is currently going through lockdowns and quarantines has the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on their own needs. As a result of this pandemic, we are more isolated from each other than ever, which is both difficult and unnatural for us as fundamentally social beings. 

"It means we have to be extra mindful of our mental health and make the time to put our well-being first. Prioritising those things that help us reflect, relax, and take care of our mental and physical health is the key to keep us all safe and sane during lockdown.”

Hussain Manawer — poet and mental health activist.

“Are you overthinking? Are you becoming anxious at the thoughts of standing still whilst the clouds are still moving past us and the seasons are forever changing? Are you missing planned and important moments of your life and hating that fact? If the answer is yes to all of that, then I feel you completely. Mentally what we are going through as a world, as a race, as a population and global community is extremely difficult. So here is my advice as to how best to handle your mental health during this time.”

“I gotta keep it real… now is not the time to be taking drugs, drinking excessively, and embracing toxic lifestyle patterns in your life because of the 'I have nothing to do' attitude. Instead we must take it back! Go ‘old school’ with it, get out the books, the pens, the art-sets, the family cassette tapes, and enjoy traditional methods of art that will allow you to escape the parameters of your mind, think freely, and find creative enjoyment with your day to day life.”

Gemma Styles writer and activist.

“Find somewhere to express your feelings and get frustration or sadness off your chest.” 

“Being honest about how you’re feeling is really important in helping to make sure you get the right support and don’t feel alone and isolated. Sometimes venting bottled up feelings can be therapeutic in itself! This could be in an online community, it could be to a family member, or a friendly group chat. You could post online as a way to share if that feels natural for you. It boils down to finding your people, who’ll be there to listen and validate you, not tell you ‘it could be worse’.”

Dr. Mya-Rose ‘Birdgirl’ Craig — Ornithologist and campaigner for equal rights.

"Lockdown has been tough for everyone, including me. We are lonely, working in isolation, and missing out on human connections. Visible Minority Ethnic (VME) people are far more affected by mental health issues than the white population too — with additional anxieties worrying about our elders: for example, I come from a Bangladeshi family, which has double the risk of dying from COVID-19. VME people have a much greater chance of suffering mental health problems and when they are diagnosed, it is much more likely to be for a severe mental illness."

"I think that getting outdoors is a natural way to manage mental health and wellbeing. One good thing to try is to feed the birds, look up at the night sky and listen to the dawn chorus. Also, try to use Google Earth street view to find an area that is leafy and green and go on a different route on each daily walk and at different times of the day."

Ellen Jones —  LGBTQ+ and disability campaigner.

“I remind myself that the point of all this isn't living, the point is doing it so other people can live.”

“This pandemic has been about managing the expectations I hold for myself. I always expect that I should be successful, happy and thriving, or aiming to be, but I have come to realise that to expect myself to thrive during this time is unrealistic. Getting through this is enough, without the expectation that I should be living my best life.”

Mikaela Loach — climate and racial justice activist.

“As we're all stuck at home we're spending lots more time on social media than normal. It can get a bit overwhelming. Turning off social media apps, but keeping messenger on so that I can still connect with close loved ones, has been really healthy for my brain.” 

“In this offline time I've read a lot. Reading can calm you down, give you a different world to escape into and help you make sense of the world. I highly recommend picking up an easy to read fiction book and diving into it if you're feeling overwhelmed or just need a little escape from the real world.”

Freddie Pearson — actor, student, and mental health advocate.

“Our mental well-being has been on a rollercoaster this past year; swarmed in thoughts of uncertainty, doubt, and a never ending spree of negativity. But even amongst the chaos, we can still find our calm: through structure, exercising, and sleep.”

“Structure gives us control and purpose, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Simple to-do lists that we can tick off gives us tasks to be completed and little victories throughout the day. Without structure, we find ourselves floating.”

“Exercise allows us to get a release and prioritise our well-being, physically and mentally. By building up our body and our mind, we strengthen our ability to deal with adversities and give ourselves a serotonin boost that could well save us. Dancing, walking, HIIT Workouts — whatever it is, movement creates motivation.”

“Most importantly, sleep allows our mind to rest. To break free from the external noises and reset ourselves for the days ahead, as well as to regather our energy. It is the most important ingredient in your journey of wellness.”

If you're struggling with your mental health, you can call Samaritans for free from the UK on 116 123. For international resources, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has compiled a list of organisations that can offer support, available here.