202101.20

Thesis Clinic Voices in the Pandemic Series

How I have Coped thus far – Learning through Lockdown by Jocelyn Cunningham

Firstly, I would like to congratulate everyone on their courage and strength to keep it all going throughout this global pandemic. It has almost been a year since the initial lockdown here in Ireland. Be proud of how you have handled things thus far. It is very easy to remain ‘in your head’ and get lost in your thoughts, especially if they are negative and toxic. Intrusive thoughts are the absolute worst, as they tend to cling on, and it can take a while for them to shift. I feel that sitting with your thoughts for a little while, recognising that thoughts are just thoughts, then finally letting them go is very therapeutic and beneficial for your wellbeing. You can do so be speaking them out loud, writing them down, expression through art or exercise. Everyone finds their own way of dispelling negative energy. The important thing is not to let them take over or turn into a behaviour.

I was devastated, as I am sure that most people were after learning of Covid-19 virus. I have certainly shed many tears since March of last year, purely out of fear of the unknown. The lockdown was difficult initially as it was so restrictive, and the sense of uncertainty became overwhelming. A lot of people, including myself, were set up to work from home as a necessary precaution until the threat of COVID-19 would subside. This was a great relief as frontline workers in various capacities had no option but to attend their place of work. The numbers of cases continued to rise and this certainly caused anxiety and fear for many. I can only imagine the fear that frontline workers must have felt.

As an avid gym goer, I really missed this healthy routine as well as the social aspect of the experience. I started to workout indoors. It just was not the same. I am a gregarious person, so I thrive on interaction with others in many capacities. You could say that I am the definition of an extrovert.

With the weather improving, lockdown seemed at least somewhat more tolerable. When restrictions were lifted, things seemed to be getting back to a more ‘normal’ way of life. It was nice to travel to other counties, occasionally meet up with friends and family members, hike out in Connemara, the Burren, go to cafés to meet up with friends. Shopping at supermarkets, sports outlets. The things that I had taken for granted.

The Positives

I have adapted to working from home. In fact, I love the work/life balance that has naturally ensued due to my having to spend the bulk of my time in the home. I love spending time with my family. I do not mind doing housework. It is certainly less stressful, although confined.

So, I have learned a huge amount about myself and I have and will continue encouraging people to tap into their natural skills and abilities, or maybe revisit skills that have been dormant for some time.   It is so mind-blowingly therapeutic and healthy. I started art classes online, I purchased the necessary materials, and I was enthusiastic about the whole thing. I noticed that I lost track of time while painting and I laughed at myself and my outcomes. I noticed my wellbeing had improved greatly.

That was the beginning of that journey, I started to purchase more materials, researching online, reading, watching tutorials, I took more classes and began to feel a little more confident about painting on my own. I had never taken art in school nor had I ever painted beforehand. I was delighted to have discovered this fantastic, creative form of therapy and wellbeing. Next, I started getting interested in cooking. We now possessan array of cookery books and I have turned out many edible, tasty dishes.  The most challenging piece in this was the creation of various sauces, condiments to accompany each dish. I was so interested and determined, I managed to pull it off each time and the feedback and compliments made it all worthwhile. For the record, I avoided cooking at all costs prior to this new discovery. Presently, I love it and I find it very calming.

I love discovering new things, I am adventurous at heart. I love learning new skills and things about myself. Lately, I have taken to running. I hope to improve as time progresses. Again, this is a healthy distraction. I measure my accomplishments on Strava. I am only in competition with myself.

I will admit that there are some days that I can find it difficult to motivate myself. I literally must push myself to go for the run, walk or whatever the case may be at that time. I always feel better after having gone ahead with plans.

Maintaining your wellbeing through selfcare with connection, eating well, sleeping well, exercising, creativity, chilling out, duvet days, meditation, music, reading, healthy distractions is helpful. I appreciate that feeling unmotivated happens from time to time. Most of us are just surviving and that is ok too. Do what feeds your soul. Do what your body and mind require to feel well.  Pour your feelings onto a page, a canvas, into a song, via dancing, use your creative skills as a form of expression and release.

Lastly, sleep is important for everyone. Sleep deprivation can be harmful for many reasons. Try to form good habits towards the end of your day. Mostly, I will go off my phone from 9pm as this is the beginning of my winddown for the night. If I find it difficult to sleep, I use mindfulness apps like Headspace or Calm. There are plenty of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos online which aid relaxation and promote an overall sense of calm. Less screen time helps too. Do what you need to feel well and feed your soul, there is no template for coping with the unknown. However, there are coping skills that we develop as we go along. This is how we become and stay resilient.

I look forward to the day when we will have a little more freedom, be able to hug loved ones, meet up with family and friends and travel. Until then, I will try to avoid lockdown fatigue and embrace the brighter, drier Spring days that are approaching.

Take care, stay safe, be well, selfcare and be compassionate with yourself.

Jocelyn x

*Jocelyn Cunningham is a Psychotherapist and writes regularly with The Book Hub Publishing Group. We have invited her to contribute a bi-weekly blog for us on a range of themes across wellness and wellbeing.