It’s Okay If You Don’t Come Out Of Lockdown A Completely New Person
The idea of having to avoid social contact, pubs, restaurants and even going outdoors can spark a range of feelings. Some may picture it as a cocoon; an opportunity to undergo changes before emerging as a completely new person. Others, meanwhile, may see it as a prison.
Over the past 12 months, countless people have posted on social media about efforts to take on new hobbies, get fit, learn new skills, or take on a different look. Without a doubt, these are all great achievements, but no matter how many posts might make you think otherwise, they are not a necessary takeaway from coronavirus lockdowns.
As restrictions in the UK begin to ease, those who spent their time simply getting through the months without social contact may be feeling pressure from those who ‘did more’ over lockdown, with the prospect of people wanting to ‘catch up’ on the last year sparking feelings of anxiety.
Thanks to countless social media posts showing off lockdown ‘transformations’, admitting that you’ve not been up to much might be tough. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a perfectly valid and good answer.
Dr Ben Plimpton, a project manager at the Mental Health Foundation, said there is an assumption that the newfound free time created by lockdown should be ‘put to productive use’, but this narrative ‘in some ways fails to acknowledge the circumstances of the pandemic, the stress that people have felt as a result, and what that means for how we function day-to-day and structure our time’.
Everyone coped with the past year in their own way, and while some may have thrived off the free time, many simply focused on the task of making it through. Now that it appears to be nearing an end, the fact that you can reflect upon the past 12 months and acknowledge you made it through as yourself is enough of an achievement.
Xennan Pengilly, a 22-year-old student from Bridgend, South Wales, told UNILAD that she spent the ‘majority’ of the first lockdown in her room playing video games.
She found that being largely confined to her bedroom had a ‘massive impact’ on her mental health, and she began to compare herself to others when she saw them ‘doing the Joe Wicks exercise classes and Chloe Ting workouts on YouTube‘.
Xennan felt that others had been ‘using the time to better themselves’ while she’d been ‘sat playing Animal Crossing [for] eight hours a day’, and that thought made her want to ‘change her habits’. However, with construction workers busy in her garden and ‘no room’ for her to do anything indoors, Xennan had few options to enact this ‘change’.
During the second lockdown, the student was able to move back into her university housing where she lived with one other person.
Together, the pair would ‘drink and have takeaways’ to treat themselves, but Xennan again began to compare herself to others, saying, ‘Seeing people using this gift of total free time in a way so they can come out of it the best versions of themselves was a hard pill to swallow when all I’ve done is sit, drink and eat.’
Though it’s easy to take what we see online as truth, Dr. Plimpton stressed that social media is a ‘curated view into someone’s life’, which ‘obviously doesn’t give the full picture of the circumstances of their lives’.
More to the point, it is difficult for many of us to resist the temptation to compare ourselves to others. When we do that, we often find that we come up short.
Social media can leave us with the impression that others have been really busy and productive during this period of time, and make us feel that in comparison we have not done much. This can worsen any pressure we may already be feeling to do more.
As people come out of lockdown they will be keen to connect with others. But they may be feeling anxious about seeing friends and family and hearing about what others have been up to, and feeling that their activities are not as good. Again it is difficult to not compare ourselves to others, and it often results in feelings of inadequacy.
By the time the third lockdown came around, Xennan was determined to make a change. Though she acknowledged she had been comparing herself to others, her inspiration during this period came largely from the desire to better her mental health, which had ‘taken a massive hit’ as she found comfort in ‘being lazy and eating’.
Xennan told UNILAD that she knew those habits would likely only start to ‘make [her] depression worse and worse’, so she bought an Apple Watch and attempted to start making changes to her lifestyle by going on long walks, buying a skipping rope and taking part in HIIT workouts.
Having previously lost two stone in 2019, Xennan was determined to get back into her old habits and ‘keep it up this time’. However, with lockdown making it difficult to get into a routine, the student found that ‘trying to find any motivation to be the person [she] wanted to be was impossible’.
About a month after launching herself into her fitness routine, Xennan realised that the extreme goals she’d set for herself weren’t achievable in the long term, so she decided to scale back to more achievable goals.
Now, she realises that while it may be tough to see other people becoming ‘the best version of themselves’, it is vital to remember that ‘the pandemic has had massive effects in many ways for us all’, and ‘one of the most amazing things we can do during this time is just survive it’.
Reflecting on the pressure she put on herself during lockdown, Xennan expressed belief that it had a ‘detrimental effect on [her] mental health’ because she would ‘think twice’ about everything she was doing.
She continued, ‘Any bit of food I’d put in my mouth I would think ‘I shouldn’t be eating this’ or ‘I’ll regret this later’, when food is a thing to be enjoyed! The same with exercise if I was sat around playing my games or watching a film there would constantly be a voice in the back of my head telling me I should be doing something else or I could do a workout while watching the film.’
When it comes to taking care of our mental wellbeing, Dr. Plimpton said that one of the Mental Health Foundation’s top tips is to ‘be yourself’. He noted that attempting to align with the expectations of others ‘erodes our confidence’ and can lead to us feeling that we are ‘not good enough’, which can have a ‘really negative impact on our mental health in the near and short term’.
In an effort to take this pressure off, then, Dr. Plimpton said that it is ‘important to remember the impact that pandemic has had on all of us’.
He said, ‘At the end of the day it is really more important that people did things that brought them enjoyment or comfort during this period of time, rather than focussing on productivity or self-improvement.’
Though Xennan still struggles with intrusive thoughts regarding her lifestyle and diet, she now recognises the importance of ‘loving ourselves unconditionally’.
Mental health has taken a massive hit and a lot of people have suffered in ways that may change the course of the rest of their lives. So while it’s easy to compare your journey to the journeys of others, we have to remember that although we haven’t been able to do a lot, we’ve been through a lot and so just coming out at the end of it all is incredible in itself.
We are amazing the way we are and we are loved unconditionally by so many, so I think we should love ourselves unconditionally too, since we are solely responsible for getting ourselves through it all.
Coming out of lockdown and returning to ‘normality’ is a huge event after a year that has been so far from normal, so rather than letting a fear of being simply the same person you were before taint the prospect of once again interacting with others, do your best to focus on the joy of just being able to do so.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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