Being stuck inside can lower your mood
Being stuck inside can lower your mood

How to beat the post-Easter Bank Holiday blues under lock-down

What can we do to stay motivated now it feels as though there’s nothing to look forward to?

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 14 April 2020 13:46
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It started with a text from a friend on Easter Sunday.

“Feel a bit down this evening…maybe as Easter is over there doesn’t seem much to look forward to?”

Then came a message from my sister: “Feeling a comedown as this has been something to look forward to for a while, and now it’s nearly over and we’re just back to ‘normal lockdown’. Bleurgh.”

Then I started to feel it too – a creeping dread in my gut and, beneath it, a gnawing emptiness. It was like the back to school/work blues, but a hundred times more intense.

I hadn’t even realised how much gearing up for the long weekend, the time off work, the cooking, eating, drinking and celebrating with family – even if it was done over video chat – had been keeping me going. Now, as others had already noticed, there was nothing to look forward to. Nothing barring an end to the lockdown – an end with no tangible date to hold on to.

Feeling down when a Bank Holiday is over – particularly when living under such extreme circumstances – is “inevitable”, according to Dr Michael Sinclair, consultant psychologist and clinical director of the City Psychology Group.

“We tend to look towards external events in search of joyous emotions,” he tells The Independent. “Goals that we can reach, whether it’s a Bank Holiday, going out with a friend, or big events like a wedding or passing our exams.

“Goals are always in the future (‘I can’t wait for this to happen’) or the past (‘remember when I achieved that?’), but never in the present. So we’re always waiting for something to happen or looking back; we strive towards a Bank Holiday weekend and then, when it’s over, we think, ‘what next?’.”

Senior therapist Sally Baker adds that life under lockdown has robbed us of our next point of focus.

“Now we are living in a post-Easter world, there feels as though there is little or nothing on the horizon to look forward to,” she says. “The future opens up without the familiar sign-posts that carry us forward throughout the year.

“Cast adrift with a diary void of key dates for visiting friends or relatives or with cancelled gigs, concerts and holiday dates can leave people feeling flat or demotivated as they face an endless blank future.”

But feeling deflated doesn’t have to define you. Here’s how to shake off the post-Easter blues, according to the experts.

Practise self-compassion

“Feelings act like a barometer, telling us that something is not right,” says Sally Brown, counsellor and spokesperson for BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy). “So your brain is just doing its job by generating chemicals that make us feel uneasy – it’s a way of provoking us into action. But often the action we take to relieve ourselves of the uncomfortable feelings can create more problems than the feelings themselves: binge-eating, ranting at someone, mindless internet scrolling, for example.”

Instead, Sally recommends practising self-compassion.

“Self-compassion isn’t the same as self-indulgence,” she clarifies. She advises doing something that regains your sense of self and helps lift your mood, such as taking yourself for a walk somewhere green, going for a bike ride, listening to a guided meditation track or having a virtual cup of tea with someone who really understands you.

Focus on action

Key to re-motivating ourselves is reframing what defines us. Instead of deriving all our joy from external events, we need to look internally, according to Dr Sinclair.

“We need to look to something more stable, more internal to ourselves, to get our satisfaction in life,” he says. “Our values are always in the here and now – we don’t need to wait for things to change and improve. We can look inwardly and say, what values do I want to live by? Who do I want to be: what sort of person, and what actions can I take to achieve that?”

Dr Sinclair recommends identifying what is important to you and taking action to live that out. If connecting to others is one of your core values, put that into practice: pick up the phone, organise a video chat or send a message to a friend.

“If being helpful or of use is important to you, don’t just say, ‘but I don’t work for the NHS’ – it doesn’t have to be grand, it can be something small that you do to live out that value,” he says. “These qualities of action are within our control and are great motivators.”

Hugh Jackman shares at-home workout amid coronavirus lock down.mp4

Exercise

Don’t be tempted to skip your daily exercise session, advises Sally Brown.

“It’s hard to think yourself out of a low mood but changing your physiological state has a lock-on effect on your brain,” she says. “It’s why in AA they say ‘Move a muscle, change a mood.’ Think of your walk, run or cycle as your daily prescription for your mind.”

You might not enjoy it at the time or even feel much different afterwards, “but in the longer-term, it will support your mental wellbeing,” she adds.

Live in the present

“Try and find new and creative ways to stay in a chosen moment and to relish the sense of now,” advises Sally Baker. “It could be helpful perhaps to find an odd moment to pause and take a breath to reassure yourself that you are OK.

“As our subconscious mind inhabits a state of almost constant fear and flight, sometimes just saying out loud, ‘I am grateful I’m OK’ can be enough to get us through a tough moment in time.”

Noticing your thoughts and emotions can also help reposition you in the present, according to Dr Sinclair.

“Our behaviour is in our control, but emotions are not,” he says. “When we think about a Bank Holiday, it evokes emotions for us – that it was great, that we want more of that feeling. We say, ‘I can’t be happy until there’s another Bank Holiday’ or ‘I can’t be happy until Covid-19 is over’.

“We have to step back from that. We can do that by being mindful – noticing our thoughts, noticing that we’re thinking about how frustrating it is to be stuck indoors. By stepping back and becoming aware of a thought, it frees us up from thinking about it. It returns us to the present.”

Get stimulated

An under-stimulated brain will lead to a low mood, so we need to make sure we are still mentally stretching ourselves, according to Sally Brown.

“Mindless internet scrolling for instance is the mental equivalent of fast food,” she says. “It’s OK in small doses, but it’s not what we thrive on.”

Instead, give your brain something interesting to engage with, whether it’s reading a book, watching a stimulating film or documentary, or working on a creative project.

Give yourself breaks

Sally Brown recommends something called the Pomodoro technique.

“Set a timer for say, 45 minutes, then aim to focus on a task for that time. You can use a phone timer, but a kitchen timer works well if you have one because the ticking sound reminds you that time is passing.

“When the buzzer goes, take at least a 15-minute break before setting the timer again.”

This can help you maintain focus and stay motivated throughout the day.

Take time to reassess

“This is a great time to weigh up what works, what needs work and what we have to let go of in preparation for what is coming next,” according to Dr Hamira Riaz, clinical psychologist. “You don’t have to do anything, just start by making the assessment. The relationships that need to change, the circumstances that need to change, the attitudes that need to change.”

As Covid-19 is potentially the biggest thing any of us will ever live through, if you think it will leave you unchanged “it’s worth asking yourself why,” she adds.

Get help if you need it

While it’s an unsettling time for everyone right now, it’s worth paying attention to significant negative mood shifts that won’t budge. If you still feel low in two weeks’ time, consider getting some professional help – many counsellors are offering video or telephone sessions during lockdown.

Find a qualified therapist at bacp.co.uk.

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