I am living a very strange paradox. My mental resilience and wellbeing are as good as they have been in a long time. However, I am more worried about the wider world than I have ever been. How do these seemingly awkward bedfellows lie in harmony?

Like many I face uncertainty. I work in an industry that has been stopped dead in its tracks. Along with an estimated three million people I received no grants or government support. Some green shoots of recovery sprouted, but they are already being trampled by the second wave. This economic downturn and the restrictions on movement, pubs and people have forced me to a quieter and more frugal life.

Photo Peter Dench

During this time, I have put my brain into lockdown. Less comes in, and when my brain does go out, it does so with caution and limits its level of engagement. I was becoming overwhelmed by anger, confusion, frustration and an all-consuming anxiety. I had to act – or let’s call it what it was – issue a retreat.

I blocked out the media. I stopped raging at the inconsistencies of the new rules that govern us and the equally inconsistent way they are implemented by the public. I realised that you cannot reason with the unreasonable and any attempts end up with you feeling hollow and a bit hopeless. This goes for online interactions as well as those in the real world. With work, I accepted that I am at the mercy of a pretty freakish set of events and there is only so much I can do. Failure might have to be an option. That I have found a fragile balance is as surprising as it is comforting.

Mental health has received a lot more exposure in this pandemic to the point that some feel we never stop talking about it. Looking at our current situation I’d wager that we are probably not talking about it enough. I will guarantee you that, words aside, in our current situation we are not doing enough.

Lockdown. Isolation. Health Anxiety. Throw in economic uncertainty and hardship and you have a pretty toxic mix. Mind Charity are far more informed than I and have provided some top advice and tips on how to cope. However, as someone who has struggled, I thought I’d chuck out a few musings of my own.

Photo Peter Dench

Be kind and give people the benefit of the doubt

Park this thought at the door of your brain so that anything that comes out of it has to navigate past this sentiment. In times of stress we all vent. I have unleashed some paint stripping rants in the past, but they really didn’t get me anywhere. In fact, the anger just sits with you. You are the one that suffers.

Every person that gets something wrong might have a myriad of reasons as to why. If you see someone without a mask, they may just have forgotten it because they spent the morning being pelted with cornflakes by frustrated children and recently found out their partner was having an affair. The person that cuts you up in traffic might be about to lose their job and home which can leave you a little distracted. Younger people are seeing their freedoms and futures being slowly eviscerated by a disease that does not affect them. They don’t deserve the pious trolling of the establishment and older generations that some have been getting – give them a break.

I am not saying give everyone a pass for everything. Just remember in our current climate there is a significant likelihood people have a lot on their plate, none of it appealing. As for reporting your neighbours for having more than six people in their own home. The pervading atmosphere is febrile and tense enough. Draw the curtains and focus on more positive pursuits.

Above all be kind to yourself. We are in uncharted times. There is no playbook on what to do or rules on how you should feel and act. Everyone around you is mostly likely worried by something. Just because someone appears to have it together doesn’t mean they do. Measure yourself by your own metrics.

Check in on people

Friends. Family. Neighbours. If you feel frightened, anxious, worn down or uneasy do you not think others feel the same? However, if you ask them how they are feeling they will more often than not say ‘fine’. Dig deeper. I know a number of people going through some seismic shifts, schisms and shocks in their lives. Some open up. Some choose the stoic path. I am sure many stay silent. Trust your instincts in these tough times and if you feel something is amiss with someone, you are probably right.

Also check in on those who live alone. Some will let you know that they are struggling and are better at asking for help. I fear many stay silent because they don’t want to be a bother and there is a certain stigma against saying ‘I am lonely.’ ‘I need help. I am certain that if you make the offer, they will want to accept it.

Photo Peter Dench

Filter things

Who you listen to, what you read, how you view things, what you watch, how you react and respond to others – be mindful of everything you take in, do and observe. Think about the time we are living in and the challenges we face. Experiencing everyday life is hard enough – do you really need to climb online and start filling your head with more news and drama? And that is before we get to the sensationalist and hysterical media speculation that fills the 24-hour news cycle of the ‘News Normal.’ I can assure you that whatever you see and read in the media, things are probably not that bad.

You also need to swap the rose-tinted glasses for your pandemic lenses. You will witness some strange happenings at the moment, but you need to view them as a product of the odd times we live in and quickly move on. Why take on angst that does not affect you? An alarming article or something you witness first-hand can quickly become the destructive ball from Raiders of the Lost Ark that will just roll around your head causing repeated damage until you let it out.

Get out the house

This is sometimes a struggle. I am helped by the fact that I have a dog and this gives me a reason to head out. However, if you are feeling a bit low, you might not venture out at all. Or only rarely and reluctantly. Outside time and fresh air is really important to your mental wellbeing. Many are living and working in the same space at home and that cannot be ideal or stimulating.

Also, be mindful that there is going out, and there is going out out! Health dependent you need to leave the house and connect with people. I have been going for walks but have arranged little in the way of social engagements. If I do, more often than you think, I’d cancel because of a low mood. Or the other person would cancel because they had their own issues hanging over them.  

Acting in a responsible fashion, you need that human connection. This is not just for those home alone. Don’t think that because someone has a family at home that they do not need to chat and a timeout with their friends. A different bubble in which to vent and purge built-up stress and anxiety. Let’s be clear I am not saying everyone should suddenly rush out and party, but you do need to change of scene and company every so often.

Volunteer and/or donate

Many are struggling with their own practical and financial troubles so this really is a take it or leave it. However, helping out has a hattrick of benefits. You help someone, you feel good about it and you get out of the house and connect with someone. 

If you are at risk, or don’t have the time to head out but have some spare disposable income, pick a cause that you think might help and donate. Charities and their fundraising are right at the top of the line when it comes to those affected by this pandemic and by extension those they help. They need you now more than ever as many of their revenue streams have been completely cut off.

Stop trying to make sense of it all and trust your own instincts.

Capture Happiness by intent is not a forum for politics. But I will say there has been a failure in leadership of epic proportions. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that those in charge are making it up as they go along, have made significant errors and judgement calls and continue to spew forth edicts, laws and regulations on the hoof, many of which seem to contradict themselves or have illogical exemptions. 

If you try to rationalise the narrative from the media and those in charge, you are heading down a deep rabbit hole from which you will not emerge. Equally, the different responses of individuals to these kneejerk policies will have you scratching your head and leave you beyond frustrated. The fact is their responses are not logical. They are probably born of fear, or a desire to keep those they love safe or keep their job. You will never understand because you are not sitting where they are sitting.

Photo Peter Dench

So that is it from me. Writing this has been cathartic and if it helps one person out there, then that is a bonus. Paulo Coelho once wrote ‘considering the way the world is, one happy day is almost a miracle.’ That is how I view my situation and how I am pushing on through this crisis. Times are tough and I accept that life will not make sense. I focus on that fight and do not fill my head with distractions. I preserve my energy for the things that matter and the positive things I can achieve. 

On certain occasions I don’t get it right, I lose my cool, or have really a low day. Accept this will happen and move on. While comparisons can be unhelpful, perspective is crucial. I remind myself that even though I have problems, there are many people worse off facing impossible hardships and choices. If something good happens, I see it as a bonus and celebrate accordingly. So good luck out there. And above all take care of yourself and each other 🙂