As we enter week three of lockdown here in the UK, the uncertainty continues. When will we be able to travel to visit loved ones again? When can we go to work again? When will a simple food shop revert back to wandering absentmindedly into the supermarket without having to stand two metres apart disinfecting a trolley. When will life be normal again.
The answer is - we just don’t know. But certainly not for the foreseeable future. With restrictions set to be extended for a further three weeks and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson only just out of intensive care, lockdown is unlikely to change until May at the earliest.
It’s strange how we adapt quickly isn’t it? Already, after just three weeks, so much of this is feeling like the new normal. My morning walk borders on a dance routine as hikers, joggers and cyclists try hard to maintain their two metre distance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the towpath as busy as it has been lately, people are clearly grateful for their single allotted exercise break of the day and determined to make full use of it. Which makes me wonder whether we’ll see an overall improvement in health and wellbeing going forward? Then there are those who feel too anxious to leave the house at all. Alcohol sales have increased by 22% in the wake of pubs and clubs being forced to shut and takeaway outlets have seen orders rise by 8.7%.
We are seeing a rise in tensions bubbling beneath the surface. Couples who are not used to spending so many hours in the day together finding it hard to be under the same roof 24/7. There are stories of partners choosing to self isolate in the spare room just to maintain sanity, and in some instances husbands and wives seeking separated solace in the caravan on their own drive.
In China more than a dozen cities have reported a surge in divorce filings since March. Turkey are seeing a similar pattern with one divorce lawyer reporting a four fold increase in separation cases since the start of the national lockdown. Conversely, I’ve spoken to friends self-isolating alone who would kill for some face to face human contact. The grass is always greener.
Compassion and Kindness
We’re encouraged to look for positives. The hope that this unexpected break from our regular routine will shake us into appreciating time spent with family, remind us that work is not all that life’s all about and that hitting pause will somehow result in a simple paradigm shift when it comes to gratitude. But does something as unprecedented as this bring people together or only serve to widen the gap between the poor and the fortunate, the compassionate and selfish, the mean and the kind?
I find it hard to see how being put under this level of unnatural pressure might bring out the best in someone who’s default setting is ‘I’m alright Jack’. Is the neighbour who has never made any effort to be gracious really going to consider shopping for the elderly couple next door? Is the frustrated husband living on the breadline angrily downing a six pack of Stella each night miraculously going to switch to family man of the year? Or will the kind become kinder and the mean more miserly?
There are simple, kind actions we can all take to look after ourselves and those around us, making the next few weeks that little bit more bearable for everyone. Above all, remember you really don’t know how somebody else is coping in these unprecedented times. Everybody has friends and family they worry about. Many of us are battling with some level of stress and anxiety - be that work, relationship or simply the added pressure of the current situation.
As my mother used to say ... if you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.
Here are my five favourite ways to show a little love in lockdown
1. Pause and Be Kind
It might sound simple to speak kindly to others, but when we’re under added pressure and not getting our own way, tempers can flare. You never know what somebody else might be going through. Pause a moment before sending that angry WhatsApp, take a deep breath before ranting down the phone at someone for not having delivered your parcel on time. Everybody is under that little bit of extra strain right now, and you just never know someones personal circumstances.
Just because a stranger in the supermarket has picked up three packs of toilet roll does not necessarily mean they’re hoarding. They could be shopping for several households.
Just because a friend hasn’t messaged does not mean they’re not thinking about you. They might have a million and one other things to process right now.
Just because somebody is not following the correct checkout etiquette in the supermarket does not mean they’re being inconsiderate. This might be the first time they’ve shopped since the lockdown.
Now is the time to be supportive, sympathetic and extra kind to others.
2. Go Over and Above
There’s some really interesting science behind random acts of kindness. That warm, fuzzy feeling of happiness that washes over you when you've done something lovely for someone isn't just in your head, it’s in your brain chemistry too.
Acts of kindness release hormones that can contribute to our mood and overall wellbeing. Something as simple as offering to shop for an elderly neighbour, posting an old-school letter or card to a friend who might be alone to let them know you’re thinking of them, or delivering a home cooked meal to someone who might not be as adept at cooking - sometimes the smallest act of kindness can make somebody’s day and go on to have a ripple effect.
Lucy and Gemma - the lovely ladies who look after my PR - sent me these beautiful blooms from Bloom & Wild. Such a simple, kind gesture that absolutely made my month - never-mind my day! These beautiful florals are box delivered with your regular post. What made this gift even more special was that their sole reason for sending it was to wish me love during these crazy times. Isn’t mailing something to someone ‘simply because’ just the sweetest thing?
3. Support Your Local Food Bank
Whilst lots of us went into a mild panic as supermarket shelves began being stripped of pasta, tinned beans and loo roll, there are families in genuinely desperate need of the very basics right now. The Trussell Trust - who you can find out more about here - are doing everything they can to support the food banks in their network.
The latest government guidance explains that food banks can legally continue operating and you can help make sure that people in crisis continue to access the services they need during this period by donating locally. Check your local food bank’s website and get in touch with them to find out what services they’re currently offering and how you might be able to assist.
4. Value Each Member of the Household
Living together 24/7 might not be your idea of fun. Lots of us are cohabiting in unusual circumstances. Even if you’re a family used to spending lots of social time together, that can still feel very different to being under the same roof morning, noon and night. Ordinarily one partner might go out to a place of work, the children could be in full time education and suddenly we’re in a situation where everyone is working from home and the kids need schooling.
Partners who have never lived together before could feel the pressure to either cohabit or accept that they won’t see one another for a month or more. In fact the deputy chief medical officer even suggested that couples could "test" their relationship and move in together during the lockdown. But Dr Judith Zur, a clinical psychologist and marital family therapist, explains that given the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, this might not be the right time to accelerate a blossoming relationship, as many of us will not be at our best emotionally. Adding to the mix of panic and anxiety, for some, is a primal fear of being trapped.
At a time when we feel scared and stressed, we need to make space for calm and to listen to other people’s feelings. Establishing boundaries within the household and talking openly about personal needs can be really healthy. If you want some space but your partner doesn't, make sure you accommodate their wants as well as your own. Finding balance is so important.
5. Practice Self-Care
Whilst the desire to go into self destruct mode might be bubbling just beneath the surface, changing the way you respond to your current situation can actually empower you and put you in such a strong position going forward. There might be the temptation to slob around in PJs all day, open a bottle of wine at two in the afternoon and not really care about eating well or looking good because, let’s face it, the chances of booking a summer holiday are slim to none right now!
Alcohol is a depressant and if you’re already feeling frustrated, stressed or anxious in your current situation, drink is only going to amplify those emotions. If you really can’t go without, limit alcohol to just a couple of evenings a week and drink sensibly. Lockdown could last a good few weeks, now is not the time to slide down that slippery, sozzled slope! Same goes for junk food and takeaways. Whilst lots of restaurants are doing their best to stay open and deliver, you are only going to feel worse for living on curry and chips for evenings on end!
Whilst exercise is limited to once a day outdoors, make the most of the space around you. Take that walk in the fresh air, practice yoga in the comfort of your garden or living room or checkout some of the awesome bodyweight workouts trainers are sharing for free online. Joe Wickes runs his free PE classes every morning which are designed for kids but great for adults and even seniors! Remember all those times you used being too busy at work to get working on yourself? Now there are no excuses :)
And Finally ...
Lockdown won’t last forever. Let’s all try our best to be patient and learn from it, so that in years to come we can look back at this historical event and feel pride for the way in which we conducted ourselves and supported others.
If you're helping someone who's struggling, make sure you take care of yourself as well. If you need to talk about how you are feeling, please call Samaritans on 116 123, or email on firstname.lastname@example.org, whenever you need.