Mental Health during lockdown
Focusing on resilience against anxiety for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020
May 18, 2020
As we head into Mental Health Awareness Week during this extraordinary time, we decided to focus on anxiety: how it feels and what helps.
Two GoodGym members spoke to our Tower Hamlets trainer, Laura Williams, about their experiences with anxiety and how they help ease it on a daily basis.
I joined GoodGym around 18 months ago, after three years of tackling PTSD. An incident left me with bad anxiety, panic attacks and dissociation (feeling emotionally numb).
I found that coming to GoodGym (I run twice a week with both Camden and Islington) helped me reinstate some feeling of control in my life. I get a sense of accomplishment, not just from seeing my running improve, but also from developing new skills (I’m now a wizard in the garden).
And it also improved my fitness and sleep, while the friendliness I encountered from the group helped me believe in the goodness of people again.
My anxiety still appears from time-to-time, especially as I fall asleep, but I’ve found things that help me.
Exercise is a big one as it really helps me to feel better, and I find I can get to sleep easier.
Anxiety is about having a sense of control, so routines can be important - going to GoodGym at the same time every week helps (this structure helps with my motivation too!).
Then, if I can't sleep, I play podcasts quietly to help ease racing thoughts. I find interviews and talks useful for sleep as they offer a constant sound. My favourites are 99% Invisible, UCL Minds, Ear Hustle, Terrible, Thanks for Asking and Call Your Girlfriend.
I also find breathing techniques help to ease the anxiety, stop my heart from racing, and help ground me.
Another big help is talking about it with close friends (you'll be amazed how many people are in a similar situation but don't say).
And finally, I have to be patient with myself. My experience is that anxiety is something you manage, not cure.
I was diagnosed with anxiety around five years ago.
90% of the time I feel fine, but small things going wrong can trigger a panic attack and make me feel very anxious. After being forced to drop out of uni (I’ve since gone back), I received an official diagnosis. I started having counselling, took up weekly yoga and I also use Headspace, the mindfulness app.
At the start of this year things were finally starting to come together: I had work experience at a great company, I became a Run Director at parkrun, I was part way through a recruitment process for a big company…. And then lockdown hit. Recruitment stopped, no one was hiring, the economy went into freefall and life changed for everyone.
At first, I found it quite hard to deal with as my whole future was on hold indefinitely. I really felt like I had no purpose. I had a few bad days at the beginning when everything would just seem really overwhelming, and I felt like I couldn’t cope. But slowly I started to do things to make my days more productive.
I made a list of things I’d been meaning to do for a while, such as finishing off a scrapbook - and volunteering with GoodGym! The feeling I had after completing my first shopping mission for someone self- isolating was amazing. The sense of purpose I felt helped to reduce my anxiety. I also applied to be an Operations Volunteer with GoodGym and have been doing that for four weeks. It’s similar to a 9-6 job I can do from home, helping to list and process as many missions as possible. This provides structure to my days and staying busy helps lessen my worry, and reduces my day-to-day anxiety.
Sport, particularly swimming, has played a massive part in my recovery. I’ve now joined a Virtual Running Club League, set up online. Each week there’s a new virtual event ranging from one to 10 miles. You pick your distance, run it as fast as you can and then submit your time. I’ve found this very motivating in the absence of swimming training, as it gives me a reason to push myself and stay connected with others.
My lockdown strategies
In these uncertain times it’s important to find routine where you can, stay connected and talk to others.
Take everything one day at a time. Talk to friends and family about how you feel: chances are they feel the same way, as everyone is going through the same situation right now.
Exercise if you can, and spend time outdoors. Try to relax as much as possible.
I find I can put too much pressure on myself to be productive. But it’s okay to watch Netflix, have a lazy lie-in or read a book.
And lastly…Anxiety isn’t something that is curable. It does reoccur and there are bad days. You don’t have to let it control what you do, and you don’t have to be afraid of it. I’ve come to accept it as something that makes me who I am. The most important lesson I have learnt with my anxiety is to just stop, take a moment and BREATHE. Because the moment will pass and life will go on.
As told to Laura Williams. Laura Williams is a qualified personal trainer and holds an NCFE Level 2 Mental Health Awareness certificate. She is our Tower Hamlets trainer, and you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.