Wellbeing in lockdown

Everyday mental health is a more pressing issue than ever. Those of you who have been following Mindapples’ activities during the COVID-19 pandemic will know we’ve been putting more of our material into the public domain to get people talking about we can all do to look after our minds. (Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Youtube to keep up with everything we’re publishing.)

We aren’t the only people working on this though, and many other groups have been looking into what we can do to take care of our minds and promote wellbeing during these difficult times. One report in particular caught my eye last year, by my friend Jules Evans and his brother Alex Evans.

Published by Alex’s Collective Psychology Project, their report Collective Resilience: wellbeing activities in COVID-19 details the many things people did around the UK in the first lockdown to look after their mental health. The results are encouraging and inspiring, and as we work our way through another lockdown, I think it’s good to look back at their findings to get more tips and encouragement for this new period of restriction.

They categorised our lockdown activities into ten distinct varieties, each one filled with possibilities and approaches:

  • Arts and creativity
  • Family and relationships
  • Religion, philosophy and meaning-making
  • Nature and green space
  • Games and sports
  • Volunteering and mutual aid
  • Activism
  • Education and learning
  • Employment
  • Grief and trauma

Our experiences at Mindapples of talking to people about their minds certainly backs up the range and scope of these activities. There isn’t one thing we do to look after our minds, and often what we need is more choice, more options for taking care of ourselves. If you love seeing friends and family, what can you do when you are cut off from them by social restrictions? If you rely on church for your connection and spiritual comfort, how can you maintain that when churches are closed?

The report illustrates the variety of wellbeing activities perfectly. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but a set of personal stories and ideas for things to try. For some people it is activism and supporting others that’s getting them through, whilst for others it’s much more about connecting with nature and getting away from the news and the stresses of life. Creativity plays a strong role too, feeling a sense of connection to the creative part of ourselves, and making something in the world that feels recognisably a part of us.

Sport and exercise have been important for many of us, but so has been our search for meaning and connection, the more philosophical aspects of life. Many people we’ve spoken to over the past year have spoken about realising what’s important, taking care of family or spending more time doing things they love. The pandemic has made us focus more on how we live, and forced us to ask difficult questions about what matters to us, and whether activities are worth a risk. It has also shown us what we miss, not least for those of us who have lost loved ones or livelihoods.

Work can help too, and it’s been interesting this year seeing how much people value their professional lives. The contrast in wellbeing between those people who stayed employed versus those who lost jobs or are still furloughed has been striking. In our work with businesses over the past year, it’s been clear how much people miss the connection with their colleagues, and miss going into the office (or even, more rarely, miss the commute!). We’ve seen many managers taking steps to look after their staff, and staff forming chat groups and support circles to get each other through. It’s been so encouraging watching workplaces turn into more human spaces, where we are allowed to bring our frailties and our emotions to work without fear of judgement or reproach.

Education too has played a role, not necessarily formal learning but teaching ourselves new skills, feeling a sense of progress. Even being forced to learn new tools and ways of working, shopping and socialising can have positive aspects: we will emerge from this pandemic with new skills that may be useful as we build things back. Learning skills – from Zoom calls to breadmaking – can be a great way to feel a sense of progress when life forces us to stand still. Indeed, the process of stopping and reflecting itself is one we haven’t had often, so for those who have managed it, the insights have often been precious.

The report closes with some thought-provoking discussions on what the pandemic can teach us about public mental health and wellbeing. It’s clear we need to make some changes to how we live and work in order to promote better health and wellbeing – and it’s also clear to us how important and necessary these things are for us all. Let’s hope we don’t waste this opportunity to make positive changes, and that we can (re)build communities and organisations that value mental health and wellbeing and give us all the space and support to look after our minds.

So if you are looking for inspiration for how to get through this lockdown, take a look at the report and see if anything there sparks something in you. We don’t all have to enjoy the same things, but we can all enjoy talking to each other about what works for us.

Please let us know what you’ve been doing to get through lockdown too. The more we talk about our minds, the more chance we have of finding the activities and habits that get us through. And of course, remember to reach out to people you know who might be struggling. A little bit of connection, a message to say we’re thinking of each other, can make all the difference in times like these. Sometimes it really is the small stuff that matters most.

Wishing you all good mental and physical health,

Andy Gibson
Head Gardener, Mindapples