Locked(down) and Loaded: Lessons From the First Lockdown to Help With the Second

Illustration by Emily Cox

...So, here we are again folks. Another national lockdown in England. Going into Lockdown 2.0, things certainly feel different from the first time round. Back in March, I was already limiting my non-essential trips out, I’d frozen my gym membership and had grown increasingly paranoid when I was out in public; I felt as though I could actually see the tiny COVID-19 particles on every surface I touched, taunting me as I slathered my red-raw hands in gloopy sanitizer for the third time in so many minutes. Paradoxically, the fact that I didn’t know exactly what lockdown would be like somehow made me feel more prepared. Having never experienced anything similar in my lifetime, I was ready to embrace the novelties that came with this new way of home-bound life: Zoom quizzes, weekly bakes with my mum (and the weekly panic that said bake would be shit), and spending ten minutes hunting through the Instagram explore page to find a home HIIT workout that didn’t involve an absurd amount of jumping (do these people have robotic kneecaps?).

Over seven months later, it is considerably more challenging to feel in good spirits as we enter a second lockdown. With establishments adopting measures to maintain social distancing, an abundance of hand sanitiser stations with pungent alcoholic aromas and the introduction of masks (admittedly, worn with varying levels of success), I’d gotten to a point where I actually felt quite comfortable with this “new normal”. Whilst I wasn’t going to busy pubs - and still felt too uneasy to enter spaces where social distancing seemed to be a mere suggestion rather than a requirement - the places I was frequenting made me feel pretty safe. Being able to go to the gym, which so many people rely on to maintain their mental health as much as their physical health, was one thing that pretty much always managed to boost my mood even on my worst days. I was also making the most of the fact that I could finally meet up with friends for catch ups over food or coffee; as someone who tends to meet up with people individually, or at most a group of four, the ‘rule of six’ fortunately didn’t even affect me too much. For these reasons, I’m dragging my heels through the ground a little bit as we begin the November lockdown, feeling a little bit like a child who has been told they’re not allowed any more pick and mix: I know this is probably for the best, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be happy about it.

I’m incredibly lucky that I work in an essential store, so I will still be able to go out to work three days a week. Even so, that still leaves more than half of my week open to interpretation. And with my favourite cafes closed, the gym shut down and my social interactions with friends limited to the confines of my phone or laptop, it is hard to not be consumed by dread when considering the next four weeks (and potentially beyond).

To try and make this lockdown as manageable as possible, I’ve reflected on what I experienced the first time round, and considered the vital lessons I’ve learnt:

1) Routine can be incredibly helpful, but don’t let it restrict you.

I’ll be the first to say I’m not the best at spontaneity, so establishing some kind of structure for my time at home proved incredibly useful for the first couple of months of lockdown. I had certain tasks that I’d always complete on certain days in order to prevent my days off work becoming a comfy-clothed blur, and being able to distinguish between the different days of the week was undoubtedly beneficial for me mentally. After a while, however, I noticed that what previously felt like a calming sense of routine began to feel oppressive, like I was bound to this imaginary schedule that I had made for myself. Even the most enjoyable tasks can become a chore if you’re repeating them for an extended period of time, so be sure to mix things up as soon as they start feeling monotonous.

2) Try to engage in COVID-free conversations.

Admittedly, with so many things put on pause during lockdown, and social media and the news displaying a constant stream of gloomy graphs and figures, it can be hard to have a chat without the conversation veering back into pandemic territory. But most of the time, there is honestly nothing to gain from hypothesising and speculating about a situation that is so uncertain and (as everyone loves to point out) unprecedented. Try to schedule some casual chin-wagging, whether it's with your quarantine co-habitants or Facetime friends, where the C Word (Coronavirus, that is) is off-limits. My Mum and I did it recently over coffee, and whilst the conversation was dominated by the touchy subject of my safety as I walk back to my car after work in the dark (she was worried that I was walking through long dingy alleyways and I responded with a physical demonstration of the short distance I actually have to walk in an attempt to quell her fears) it certainly was a welcome change from talking about COVID.

3) Embrace comfort.

I’m not simply talking about becoming well acquainted with your dressing gown. In spite of the wealth of incredible content on my tv and streaming services, I’m currently enjoying my first rewatch of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and my second rewatch of Schitts Creek with my Mum. Why do I find myself gravitating towards these familiarities on Netflix, when there are so many good series that I could watch for the first time? It’s simple: they bring me a huge amount of comfort. When the outside world feels so distressing, and the inside world of my frequently overactive brain can feel overwhelming, the entertaining songs of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the incredible ridiculousness of Moira’s one-liners in Schitts Creek are enough to bring me a pinch of solace. So whether it's a tv show, nostalgic film, favourite album, or even just chocolate, anything that provides you comfort is an essential.

4) You don’t need to be making “progress”.

On my mid-week days at home during the first lockdown, I was frantically trawling through Indeed, looking for job openings which I could apply to with my newly re-written CV... despite the fact I already had a job. My job is part-time, and definitely not what I want to be doing as a career, but it gives me a much-appreciated sense of stability that I know thousands of people across the country are desperate for. Whilst I knew this deep down, there was also a large part of me that felt I needed to use this period to make personal “progress”, which I took to mean getting a full-time job that would allow me to move away from home and pursue something I’m genuinely passionate about. I realise now that it is absurd to take the extremely privileged position I am in for granted, purely because social pressures have led me to feel like the pandemic is a time that must be used in the most productive and efficient way possible. It’s okay not to make any kind of progress in a time where your most basic requirement is to survive and protect others.

5) It seriously isn’t a competition.

No two people are the same, so why would two people respond to being stuck at home in the same way? Some people thrive under these conditions, and make the most of being able to tick tasks off their neatly penned to-do lists. Some people enjoy having the time to engage in their creative hobbies. Some people (inexplicably to me) develop a passion for running. Some people simply wish to binge-watch til their heart’s content. Social media and virtual catch-ups with friends during lockdown can be crucial lifelines when trying to minimise loneliness, and of course you may seek inspiration from others when pondering how to spend your time, but don’t let one person’s choices influence your own. These times are trying enough without making it a competition to see who can be the most productive/relaxed/fun/healthy, so put your phone away if you’re starting to feel some comparison anxiety.

6) Try to be positive, but don’t force it.

Finally, even though we are always taught to “look on the bright side” and “keep pushing through”, sometimes you do just need a moan. There is nothing wrong with brazenly summarising this terrible situation as what it is: shit. If you can be positive, then that’s great, but it’s also okay to wallow from time to time. A good rant can often be incredibly cathartic.

This lockdown will admittedly be different from the last but the principles remain the same: look after yourself - first and foremost - and be kind to others. Saying this year has been a tough one would be an understatement, and all reactions to these new regulations are valid. But please, whatever you do, remember... the mask goes OVER your nose.

Article by Olivia Cox