While millions of hearts are collectively sinking at the prospect of Level 5 restrictions being imposed, experts believe that avoiding a grim winter of discontent is within our own grasp if we are proactive about minding ourselves physically and mentally.
ccording to psychotherapist Stella O’Malley, we already have a toolkit to get through a second lockdown because we learned from our experiences earlier this year what worked in our lives and what didn’t.
“A lot of people will say it was different, that it was the summer and be very quick to take a negative view of this, especially if they don’t agree with what’s happening,” she says.
But Ms O’Malley argues that perhaps lockdown mark two presents an opportunity to really dig deep and solidify the lessons from the first time round.
She points out that a lot of people might feel they didn’t implement the lessons from the first lockdown, but now it’s as if they’re getting a second chance. Rather than see the first lockdown as an aberration, she believes people might feel that second time round, they really are being offered the chance to make more lasting changes.
Ms O’Malley urges people to revisit what worked for them in the earlier part of this year when restrictions forced us to stay home and do more of that.
“A lot of people felt ‘I need to exercise or I don’t do well’. Others who realised they needed to socialise have to be tender with themselves.
Find what works – if it’s cooking, expand it beyond the banana bread now. We know crafts are good for you. They can be very satisfying and very calming. If we are to get through this lockdown, we have to respect our creative pursuits. Creativity eases the mind and is good for well-being.
“In busy lives, creativity gets walloped. Lockdown brings some time to renew it,” she says.
Strategy and management consultant Lisa-Nicole Dunne echoes Ms O’Malley’s view that we are going into this second wave of big restrictions with more knowledge. In her work life, and family life as a mother-of-two, Ms Dunne believes it is important to keep focused on controlling the controllables and taking stock of what’s actually going on.
“This is really making us feel like it’s happening all over again. But I think it’s important to look at what’s different this time. I’ll be trying to do that again; controlling the controllables and reaching out to businesses to see what I can do to help. We are going to have to dig deep for our resilience,” says Dunne.
Mayo-based GP Dr Keith Swanick, who was on the Loneliness Taskforce, says being kind to one another and being patient with each other are going to be very important in the months ahead.
Many people reported drinking more during the first lockdown. But by reducing alcohol intake, and having several days in a row where we remain alcohol-free, we can help reduce any anxiety we may be feeling about facing into a second lockdown.
He also advises people to prioritise their sleep and to make sure they are taking time to allow their brains to switch off by exercising, listening to music or doing something they love.
Dr Swanick says now more than ever is a time to make sure we are connected with one another. “We have to engage with each other and keep those lines of communication open. Use WhatsApp or text to stay in contact and share things with one another,” he says.
Neuroscientist and psychologist Dr Sabina Brennan says it’s important to remember that human beings are resilient and excel at adapting to change. She advises that by focusing on the present moment, it will help to keep anxiety and depression at bay.
“Nurture yourself, make a conscious effort not to turn to alcohol or unhealthy eating habits to cope. Instead treat yourself to healthy food and cook from scratch if you can – a Mediterranean diet is delicious, healthful and easy to adopt.
“Exercise, but don’t forget that things like dancing to music is exercise too,” says Dr Brennan, author of 100 Days to a Younger Brain.
For older people, many of whom struggled with lockdown last time round, she highlights the importance of staying connected. “No matter what, you must find ways to engage with other people – whether that is online via Zoom or Skype or over the garden fence from a safe distance.
You can also sit at your hall door and chat to passers by from a safe distance. There’s no shame in saying you haven’t got anyone to talk to and you’d love a chat – we’re all in the same boat. Ask people to write you letters. Become a phone buddy for someone,” she says.
“Remember to smile and laugh as often as you can. Create a stash of funny jokes, books and films. Write out funny stories and jokes to share with your grandkids over the phone or Skype.
“Cultivate a positive attitude and optimistic outlook. Every time you say or think something negative don't allow yourself to have another negative thought until you have had at least five positive thoughts.
“Keep a gratitude journal and avoid over-saturation with bad news – you don't need to listen to news on the hour, every hour,” Dr Brennan advises.
Clinical psychologist Louise Higgins believes that people surprised themselves when restrictions were first introduced as a result of Covid-19. And she says we have learned a lot that we can draw on now.
“If we knew what 2020 had in store of us, many people would have felt they wouldn’t have been able for it. But people did get through it. What we have learned is not to look too far ahead. Try and take it one step at a time and try to focus on what you can control rather than focus on the uncertainty,” says Ms Higgins.
She believes that the importance of the routine cannot be underestimated in facing any second lockdown. Taking comfort from the certainty of good routines will help us through it, she says.
“Eating good meals, getting good sleep, getting out for walks – these are the things that will really ground us. For anyone going through a stressful period or anxiety we know that routine gives us comfort and certainty,” she adds.
When it comes to our children and dealing with a second lockdown, Galway-based GP Dr Brian Osborne advises that honesty is the best policy.
“Be honest with them and explain to them that it’s normal to feel anxious but also to reassure them that the coronavirus is less common and less severe in children.
“It’s important for children to keep up their routine as best as possible and to stay connected with their friends. It’s also good for them to have fun through exercise,” says Dr Osborne.
Finding what makes us feel good is vital to our wellbeing in these times of uncertainty, according to life coach Rachel Gotto.
“Giving ourselves new things to do challenges us and soothes us. Finding new hobbies is really important but what worked last month may not work now,” says Ms Gotto.
“It’s all about being flexible and stopping and asking yourself ‘what do I need right now? What am I feeling right now?’ It’s very important to find gratitude.
“Every day I find five things that I’m grateful for. It’s creating that chemistry that you haven’t lost everything. Having a gratitude list is proven to make us more resilient, raise our mood and more us positively future-focused,” she adds.
According to Sean Moynihan, chief executive of Alone, an organisation which works with older people all over the country, things are different this time because we all know the impact of restrictions.
“It’s clear what actions we need to take for our friends, families and older people. We know we can do small acts of kindness that can bring great joy to people. We know these things need to be done,” he says.
Moynihan believes that society in general has become more focused on the needs of the more vulnerable members of society since the outbreak of the pandemic. “Level five is not something anybody wants. But we know we can do it,” he adds.