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Your lockdown mental health toolkit

The collective psyche of the city is under siege as we brace ourselves for Lockdown 2.0. Redundancies, loneliness, bereavement and general anxiety are creating a cocktail of mental health problems. Bolster yourself for the second onslaught with these suggestions.  

Sleep school

We need sleep to function properly, so getting regular exercise, following a balanced diet and cutting down on excess alcohol, caffeine and screen time, are all key components of a good sleep hygiene routine. Alan Dolan, breathwork coach and founder of Breathguru (breathguru.com), recommends avoiding any online activities for an hour before bed then doing a 10-minute breathwork practice just before hopping into bed. “It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which is our ‘rest & digest’ mode which, in layman’s terms, tends to calm the mind and connect us more profoundly with our bodies both of which are super helpful in promoting both getting to sleep and staying asleep.” Calming yoga practices, such as yin yoga or yoga nidra can also have a similar grounding effect on the nervous system. Follow @yoga_with_kassandra for free online yin flows, London yoga studio Fly LDN offers a variety of “Chill” online yoga classes, and YouTube is full of yoga nidra meditations to have a go at.

Hit follow…

If you ignore the “how it started, how it’s going” posts, there is solace to be found on the ’gram. Self-help king Matt Haig (@mattzhaig), author of Reasons to Stay Alive (so important it should be on the curriculum), is a necessary follow for his empathetic mix of light and dark advice. Check out AllBright ambassador @poppydelbridge for her rapid tapping workshops and live coaching sessions. Over on TikTok, psychologist Dr Julie Smith dolls out free, fun mental health lessons to her 2.2 million followers, videos include If You Have That Feeling of Dread and 3 Ways To Build Your Mental Strength. The Real Depression Project on Instagram and Facebook is crammed with helpful information.  

Positive vibes only

Everyone, including your weird neighbour Dave, launched a podcast this year, but some of them are genuinely useful. The Struggle Bus sees BFFs Katharine Heller and Sally Tamarkin work through a listener problem each week — they also have a secret support Facebook group for those who want to dig deeper. Over on The Hilarious World of Depression, host John Moe explores mental health with humour via chats with his comedy pals. Often meandering over two hours, The Mental Health Illness Happy Hour explores trauma, addiction and negative thinking. Episodes feature conversations with celebs like Jameela Jamil, as well as doctors for practical advice. Instagram’s @thepsychologymum (clinical psychologist Dr Emma Hepburn) released A Toolkit For Modern Life in September filled with cute illustrations and no-nonsense anxiety-battling advice. Top yogi Nahid de Belgeonne recommends When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. She says: “The book is a treasury of wisdom for going on living when we are overcome by pain and difficulties.” Very 2020 then. If you’ve decided now is the time to start therapyTalk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide to Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help will help you figure out which approach is best for you. For some light relief, turn to Dawn O’Porter’s Life in Pieces. While the rest of us were over-eating and crying into our sourdough starters, the writer whipped up a collection of reflections and essays about the weirdest year on record.

Online therapy

Like so many other things, therapy went digital during lockdown, and online providers such as Talkspace reported a surge in demand. Robert Batt, psychotherapist and clinical director of The Recovery Centre (TRC), which has begun offering free group online sessions for freshers isolating in university halls, says: “Zoom allows our patients to bridge the gap between their clinical needs and their understandable nervousness of starting a new chapter in their recovery.”

It’s essential to do your research when looking for a therapist, as most specialise in particular kinds of therapy and you need to find someone you resonate with on a personal level and feel comfortable with — what works for one person won’t necessarily work for everyone. Batt adds: “I often say that the perfect therapist is like the person that we sit next to on a plane and end up telling our life story. The therapeutic relationship should be effortless and transformative, and this is largely determined by the fit between the patient and the therapist.”  

Check the register of any therapist you use via the Health and Care Professions Council’s online tool.  

Give back

Remember the surge in community spirit in the last lockdown and how heartwarming it was? Ten million of us volunteered during the first wave. With a second lockdown upon us, people need help more than ever. The Crisis Project (thecrisisproject.com), set up by maths student Soumya Krishna, is a scheme encouraging people to write letters of kindness to key workers. Sign up to the CHD Living Homes “Adopt a Grandparent” campaign (chdliving.co.uk) for elderly people who don’t have grandkids of their own. Short on time? Donate to the Evening Standard’s Food for London campaign, £30 will help The Felix Project (thefelixproject.org) deliver 165 meals to people who really need help. Find a full list of ways to volunteer on standard.co.uk.

Feeling SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a form of winter depression thought to be triggered by changes in the amount of daylight we’re exposed to during the autumn and winter months — and Covid-related restrictions may well exaggerate symptoms this year, according to Priory psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani. People working from home and staying indoors more may get even less sun exposure than they would normally, she explains. SAD symptoms can include feelings of low self-esteem, lethargy, needing to sleep more than you normally would, a reduced sex drive and craving sugary foods. She recommends working in a brightly lit area, keeping blinds and curtains wide open; exercising outdoors as much as possible and remembering to take walks at lunchtime; eating a balanced diet of vitamin-rich food and avoiding lie-ins. Some people find relief from using SAD light therapy lamps, like the Lumie Vitamin L Slim SAD Light (lumie.com, £75), for about 30 minutes each day.

Grief networks

A new wave of online networks targeting millennial grievers has opened up the conversation about bereavement. Rachel Wilson started The Grief Network (@griefnetwork ), a community for bereaved people in their teens, 20s and 30s, after the death of her mother two years ago. “Communicating and expressing your grief is one of the only ways you can actually begin to move through it,” she says. “I wanted to build a community that was tailored specifically to twentysomethings, where people who’ve been affected could meet, share their stories and feel there’s space for them.” The network usually arranges meet-ups and events, but for now hosts online workshops and a radio show on Foundation FM about coping with grief. 

Other resources include Untangle (untanglegrief.com), a social network for grievers which offers support via its new app on everything from organising a funeral to shifting financials after a loss, as well as weekly Zooms with a psychotherapist. Let’s Talk about Loss (letstalkaboutloss.org) arranges monthly (now virtual) meet ups for 18-35 year olds to talk about grief, as well as a bereavement book club; The Grief Gang, is a podcast hosted by Amber Jeffrey, who lost her mum at 19, which aims to “normalise grief”; and Grief Tips (@grieftips)is an Instagram account offering gentle reminders on how to support friends and family who have lost someone.