“Lockdown in the dark brings so many new fears and challenges”

We know that lockdown has had a profound effect on people’s mental health but will this worsen in winter? Writer Megan Murray explains why shorter evenings are causing her concern as restrictions continue.

Autumn has distracted me. After a summer which didn’t exactly live up to any of our expectations of holidays and festivals, I was excited by the idea of getting ready for the most festive time of year.

But while I’ve been fantasising about visiting pumpkin patches and creating new Christmas traditions (that are restrictions-friendly, of course), I didn’t think about what turning the clocks back would mean if we were to go into another lockdown. 

Maybe it’s my unfailing optimism or that situations like this require hope in order for us to carry on, but I was banking on the country managing the pandemic with measures such as the 10pm curfew and working from home, with no need to go back into full lockdown. 

However, after London entered tier 2 last week, which means that we can no longer even meet up with friends indoors, it seems inevitable that restrictions will tighten and fluctuating lockdowns will happen around the country over the winter period. 

Why is this such a problem for me? Well, lockdown in March was hard – and that was when the mornings were getting lighter and the evenings were getting longer. 

It may not sound like a huge deal when there are life-threatening issues connected to the pandemic, but as winter can trigger low mood or struggles with SAD for some people, I’m worried about what will happen to my mental health if I’m forced to stay inside for most of the daylight hours and unable to even go for a walk after work. 

Let’s call a spade a spade: it’s depressing AF waking up when it’s still pitch black outside and I’ve come to rely on my quick 8.30am stomp around the block to get a takeaway coffee as a way of getting some fresh air before sitting inside all day on my own. I also treasure calling my friends after work as I take a walk down by the river near my house to shrug off my working day of Zoom calls and deadlines.

I know other people feel the same, and have also been clinging on to these brief periods away from their work/home environment (which has become our entire worlds) as a way to stay sane. 

Stylist Strong editor Meriam Ahari says: “My husband and I take a walk through the streets near our house in north London every morning as a way to clear the cobwebs and start our day right. It’s a small thing but this morning ritual really does help us keep our mental health in check.”

I live in a tiny town called Lewes. It’s very rural and so, when night falls, there isn’t really anywhere well-lit that I can go on a walk. In the summer I have my choice of rolling fields and woodland trails, but in winter I wouldn’t feel safe rambling around the countryside in complete darkness. 

It’s frustrating on several levels. You see, not only am I dreading having socialising options like visiting friends houses or going to a restaurant taken away from me, without even sitting in a park to fall back on, but it’s also unfair that this is partly a female-centric issue, too. 

As a woman, I have always feared walking by myself at night – whether that be through one of London’s more dangerous areas or an eerily quiet grassy field. If restrictions continue to ban seeing friends in their homes or restaurants, or hospitality venues close down altogether, it will mean that by December the world will be off limits come 4pm. The very thought of that makes me feel trapped by my own home, which isn’t a healthy place to be.

So, what can we do? To seek some advice with how to stay positive and maximise the time we do have, I spoke to life coach Leanne Evans who shared her wisdom on how to employ coping strategies as we transition into this next phase of winter.

Making the most of your lunch breaks

“Now our hours of daylight are limited, lunch breaks offer us a golden window to be in daylight and to refresh our minds by having a break from our work. Empower yourself within this hour by creating boundaries where possible and ensuring the hour is free for you to have the space to do something nourishing for yourself, whether this is a nice walk, and online class or cooking a nice meal for yourself or simply resting with a hot drink.”

Staying positive

“Staying positive is impossible and unhealthy to strive for all the time, especially in the climate we are living in; there is no right way to feel. We need to acknowledge all of our emotions, even the ones we deem as negative such as frustration, sadness and helplessness. It is when we sit with these emotions without judgment that we can not suppress and instead use strategies to move forward without exploding one day. 

“Affirmations are a great way to inject positivity into your life when you do feel any of these emotions. Affirmations are simple, positive statements declaring specific goals in their completed states. E.g. I am grateful for today, and I will not stress over things I cannot control.”

Staying mentally Active

“During these times is it so important to stay mentally active and to utilise our creative energy as much as we can to activate momentum and to inject passion into our lives. As we are also missing elements of our freedom, social interactions, we must look to create alternatives for these. The easiest way to start exploring your creativity is to nourish your mind and explore an area that interests you and expand your horizons beyond what you already know and love. Books, podcasts and online courses should offer room for inspiration.”

Images: Getty / Megan Murray

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