Lockdown and my mental health

stuart & family (cropped)
08-10-2020

A sudden change in regular routine is often the one thing that can typically trigger the onset of my anxiety. The country being placed in ‘lockdown’ in March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic definitely had the potential to be a trigger for me.

With my wife being a clinical nurse specialist in the NHS, the sudden directive to ‘work from home where you can’ and the nationwide closure of schools meant there had to be something of a role reversal in our house - and I found myself taking on the duty of childcare and home schooling our young son, whilst continuing to do my own job from home.

It was a set-up that was not typical within our friend/social group so it was difficult to discuss experiences (i.e. what worked well/didn’t work well), amongst my other male friends.

However, I was determined to do all I could to ensure that both my mental health and the emotional wellbeing of my family would not be affected by the strange new circumstances we found ourselves in.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that in first few weeks I wasn’t anxious - especially in trying to find a new routine that ensured the school work got done, whilst responding to my own work demands. Also, making sure there was enough quality time with my son, as he was going through his own struggles in not being able to see his friends.

Acknowledging the impossible

The term ‘Covid wobble’ was a regular phase in our house during lockdown!

Looking back now, I believe one of the things that really helped was acknowledging early on in lockdown that it was impossible to try and maintain a full working day/workload, whilst doing the home schooling and childcare duties. I was very lucky indeed that this was a view that was also shared by my employer and line manager. Knowing this definitely helped to reduce my initial anxiety of how I was going to manage to juggle everything.

Working with my line manager I was able to adjust my workload. Breaking down each day into one to two hour blocks also helped me to strike some kind of balance with work and home schooling. Before we knew it, my son and I had found a regular rhythm.

Also, thank goodness for the nice weather during early lockdown, which meant we could spend down/playtime in the garden or go exploring in local fields and woods as part of our daily exercise.

A brush with Covid

Me taking on the majority of the home school and childcare meant that my wife, as an NHS key worker, could focus on supporting the hospital she worked at. This included her being redeployed from her usual role to help set up one the emergency Covid wards that were needed to support the increase in patients. At the start the lockdown, she was working in excess of 12 hour shifts, with early morning starts and late finishes, which was tough as we didn’t really see much of each other - we were like ships that passed in the night.

Then, in May, my wife came down with Covid herself, and a pretty good dose of it too! She was temporarily admitted for further tests and X-rays. It was very sobering to see first-hand how this debilitating virus could affect someone who was normally so fit and well.

For me, personally, the two weeks that I had to spend self-isolating and caring for my wife were probably the toughest of the whole period. During this time, I wasn’t able to maintain my usual routine of going out for a run, either early in the morning or in the evening. Running, for those who know me well, is the biggest contributor in helping me maintain my mental health and wellbeing. I had to adapt and use my wife’s cross trainer instead, which I absolutely hated! For me, nothing beats going for a good run in the open air to clear the head and process any negative thoughts or worries I might have. 

The key things that helped (with hindsight!)            

However, despite all the personal challenges of lockdown, I look back now and am actually pretty proud of how we dealt with it. With the benefit of hindsight, these were the key things that helped me maintain my mental health:

  • Acknowledging and accepting that it was impossible to maintain a pre lockdown workload and response time
  • Structuring each day with a mixture of work, home school and quality time with my son
  • Taking part in weekly onsite meditation sessions which my employer had facilitated
  • Maintaining regular exercise (running/walking) during lockdown. I am the fittest I have ever been and am smashing my personal bests for 5K and 10K runs!
  • Making sure that my wife and I spent quality time in the evenings to talk about our respective days

As we move forward through these uncertain times, I fully intend to keep these in mind to help me face any future challenges or uncertainty that either my work or personal life may throw my way!

Stuart Howison MRICS is a chartered surveyor and project manager based in south Wales. He is also a LionHeart mental health ambassador.

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