If you’re reading this blog, the chances are that lockdown has changed your life dramatically over the last few weeks. If you’re single, you might be grieving the loss of social contact and wondering how you’ll cope with weeks alone in your apartment, without parties, pubs, the club or catch-ups over coffee to break the monotony.
If you live with family, it’s likely that you’re tearing your hair out, wondering how you’ll cope with four or five people cooped up together for an indefinite period of time. Many of you will be stressed about how to balance your professional obligations and your new home-schooling responsibilities, and wondering what lockdown will mean for your children’s education.
Some people will be struggling to adapt to working remotely from home, when they’ve always had the camaraderie of colleagues. Others will be desperately worried about their financial future, as they wonder when they’ll have work again.
Make no mistake, this pandemic we’re living through is tough. And it’s not going away soon. But there is hope. Although we can’t control much about COVID-19, we can control ourselves. How each one of us experiences this time has a lot to do with our perspective, the decisions we make and how we live. We are not helpless.
I say this because I know a lot about lockdown.
Although I spend a lot of my time creating game-changing strategies for CEOs, from 2006 until 2010 I worked in Iraq, helping the British and US governments to get the country back on its feet. I was there to restart the economy after thirty years of isolation and a decade of war, and if you’re interested in my experience, you can read about it in Tales from a Lockdown. The short version is that I lived under very tight security for nearly four years, thousands of kilometres away from family and friends. I became intimately acquainted with how isolation affects people and how to manage the social, physical and emotional challenges that come with loss of freedom and choice.
So, what can you do to live well during lockdown?
I believe that the first step is to stand back and become intentional. Rather than allowing yourself to be swept along by the tide of mass hysteria and despair, take some time out. Reflect on the things in your life you’d like to change and what you can create from the current circumstances. Get out some paper and write down what you want to create from the lockdown and why it matters. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do things differently.
The next step is to decide what action you’ll take and if you’re inclined to, you can make thriving under lockdown a project for your household. If you live with others, meet as a group and discuss what you’d like to achieve and how. Set up a framework. If you live alone, you can do this by yourself or with a friend. Ask them to act as a sounding board for you and do the same for them.
As you do this exercise, I’m willing to bet that you’ll be surprised by how many opportunities present themselves. If you’re a business owner whose work has slowed, now is the time to focus on those internal projects that have been waiting in a pile on your desk. If you’re someone who has always worked too hard, lockdown could be the time to focus on your health. If you’re a parent, you have a perfect opportunity to invest in your relationship with your children. If you’ve always wanted to write a book but never had time, here’s your chance.
Create a routine
To give yourself the best chance of following through on your plan, create routine in your day. This sounds boring and rigid, but it can be very helpful in keeping you moving and reducing anxiety about how to spend the time each day. It’s also key to getting the most from lockdown, because routine helps you to stay productive.
Divide up the day into blocks for different kinds of activities. Put in dedicated times for work, and also times for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation – balance is key here.
When I have long stretches of time at home, I find it incredibly tempting to work all the time. For me, work is addictive and can be an excuse not to address other things that need my attention, like life admin and relationships. Don’t fall into the trap of working all the time, it’s bad for your productivity, it’s bad for your relationships, it’s bad for you physically and long-term, it’s a disaster for your mental health. So do your work, but when the work day is over, shut the laptop and move on to the rest of your life.
Be intentional about spending time with your household each day. Use this time together to get to know them better, or again. It’s easy to use that family time bingeing on Netflix, but it’s much better spent in cooking together, eating together, conversations and walks around the block.
Also be intentional about spending time alone. This is easy for introverts and much harder for extraverts and those of us with small children, but it’s incredibly important to make yourself take time out to reflect and process what’s going on and how you’re feeling about it.
While you’re working out how to spend your days in lockdown, remember to create community. There are many people who will have to live this ordeal alone, and you can help determine whether they feel supported or unbearably lonely. I suggest making a list of everyone you know and setting aside time each day to call through that list, spending time checking in with people, finding out how they are and coming up with ways to support each other.
If you’re part of a group that meets socially in normal times, try re-creating it using Zoom. With the technology that’s available, there’s no reason not to have a virtual coffee, drinks or brunch.
Write cards and post them to people. Send photos on your phone … there are endless ways to stay connected to your community and to strengthen connections, even when you can’t meet in person.
Manage your mental state
It’s true that ‘as a man thinks, so he/she is’. Although lockdown can be very difficult from a psychological perspective, especially when you don’t have an end date, each of use has some control over how we choose to think about it.
Try to keep things in perspective. Although you’ve lost some of the freedoms you enjoy for the time being, things could be worse. Most of us still have homes, quality medical care, electricity, internet, choice in food and Netflix. Our physical safety isn’t threatened, we can walk outside without fear of being kidnapped or blown up and we can still see our family, or at least speak to them each day.
Ask yourself “what can I learn from this experience? How can this make me a better, kinder person”.
Look for the silver lining. Even though there is a lot to hate about the corona virus pandemic, it’s created some positives too. For instance, quarantines have already led to a massive drop in air pollution, which kills a total of 4.2 million people every year, and over 1 million in China alone. The last two months have seen a huge uptick in air quality, especially in hard-hit areas like Wuhan and Northern Italy, as well as a number of metropolitan areas throughout the U.S. By one conservative estimate, cleaner air has saved about 50,000 lives in China alone over these past few months.
If you’re a person of faith or spirituality, spend time talking to God, meditating or getting to know your tradition better – these are all activities that can create mental peace and comfort.
And remember, this is a season and it will end, not as soon as you’d like, but sooner than you fear.
Lastly, cultivate gratitude. There’s plenty of data to suggest that practicing gratitude improves our mental and physical health, enhances empathy, reduces aggression and helps us sleep better, and certainly matches my experience with gratitude.
Despite the gloom that COVID-19 has caused, there’s still plenty to be thankful for and there’s never been a better time to make gratitude a habit.
How are you dealing with lockdown? I’d love to hear your experience, please share in the comments below.