Practical advice for coping with a January lockdown - according to a psychologist

January, often wet, always dark and cold, is a hard month to get through in any year - let alone during a pandemic.

With fresh restrictions forcing millions of us across the UK to stay at home, many will be feeling gloomy at the prospect of a January lockdown.

It can be hard to find light and joy during such difficult times, but there are steps you can take to look after your mental health and wellbeing. 

Build a routine and try to make short-term plans

“Once again, we have lost some of our anchors that gave us a comfortable and familiar framework, such as the school run and Christmas planning,” says Lee Chambers, an Environmental Psychologist. 

He suggests that these feelings of listlessness can be combated by making plans in the short term, not only providing structure, but also “reminding us of the things we can control” as well as giving us “something to look forward to."

Keep your sleeping pattern consistent

Chambers recommends trying to keep sleep as regular as possible to avoid feeling “anxious, lethargic and miserable."

“Sleep has a massive impact on how we feel, as it impacts our emotional and hormonal regulation. Try to make your bedroom as calming a sanctuary as possible, and be mindful of the routines you do in the late afternoon and evening to ensure better sleep," he explains.

Embrace exercise and the outdoors

Chambers stresses that it’s important to “aim to be active every day”, whether that’s “a walk, some yoga or a sport you enjoy."

He also recommends getting outdoors as much as you can, lockdown rules permitting.

“[Going outdoors] is proven to relieve stress and make us feel happier, it ignites your senses and you become more mindful," he says.

Stay connected

“It is so easy to hibernate, especially now the social expectations of Christmas have passed," says Chambers.

It is important, he highlights, to stay connected to friends, family and colleagues as much as possible, given connection “boosts wellbeing."

He adds that “talking about our thoughts and feelings makes us feel less isolated and alone,” while “asking others how they are feeling also increases our happy hormone levels."

Chambers recommends prioritising anyone you may know who is at risk of isolation, such as older people or people living alone. 

Schedule self-care

As well as caring for others around you, it’s key to “ensure you’re looking after your own needs too,” says Chambers.

“Book time in your diary just for you, your passions and the things you can enjoy," he suggests.

He adds that this self care can be anything that works for you, whether having a bath or doing some reading - but that you should make sure to make it a priority at least once each day.

Reflect on 2020 and find the positives 

Most may want to erase 2020 from their minds entirely, but Chambers actually recommends reflecting on the year just gone by, focusing on the positives. 

“Last year was challenging in many ways, but there will be things you've overcome, new things you've achieved, and lessons you have learned,” he says.

“Reflect on the past year and you’ll see that there are things to be grateful for - as well as coping strategies which you can call on once again."

Try to enjoy the season

Winter is often a miserable season, but it’s important to try and find the good parts in the colder weather.

“Remembering that our lives run in seasons can help us see that this too will pass and soon it will be summer again," says Chambers.

“In the meantime, we can get our comfy winter clothes out for the outdoors, and get a hot chocolate brewing for when we get back."

Celebrate the small wins

“In the middle of a pandemic, getting through the day is a reason to celebrate," advises Chambers.

It can help to celebrate small achievements, the psychologist says.

“Got a work task completed? Have a dance in your kitchen! Homeschooling survived? Play some upbeat music! Navigated the food shop? Go put your feet up," he says.

Celebrating life’s small victories can help build optimism and joy in otherwise monotonous days.

Reach out, if you need it

Sometimes, it’s not enough to simply practice self care - and there’s no shame in reaching out for help if you need it. 

“If you are struggling with your mental health, your relationships or your finances, there are many places where you can access professional support,” says Chambers.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and need to talk, there is support available for you 24 hours a day. The Samaritans can be reached any time, anywhere in the UK at 116 123 or over email at [email protected] for completely free, non-judgemental help