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It's OK not to be OK.

Here we are again, in lockdown with no real end date in sight. We are once again expected to stiffen our upper lips, keep calm and carry on. But what if it’s not that easy?

2020 provided the strangest and most stressful challenges of our lives. Whether it was dealing with the coronavirus itself, jobs being lost or shrunk, homeschooling kids, or just being stuck on our own in isolation. No one had dealt with anything like that before and we just muddled along. We all thought (and hoped) that 2021 would be different, but in the early months it looks like it’s rinse and repeat.

It’s not like we didn’t see the writing on the wall, but there is something about it being enshrined in law that makes this all the more real and depressing. And now, if your stiff upper lip is quivering and you just can’t keep calm and carry on, that’s OK. That’s normal. It’s OK not to be OK.

One good thing to come out of the situation is that we are finally talking openly about the toll this is taking on our collective mental health. But there is still that drive to keep going and suck it up. But you don’t have to. Just reread that. You don’t have to. All of our release valves have been sealed shut - we can’t go to the gym, the pub, on holiday, the movies - so we are stuck in what are now our very micro microcosms with no way out for the foreseeable. And if you are not feeling great, it is alright to acknowledge that..

I have suffered from clinical depression for nearly three years. At first it was just a giant hole that I couldn’t climb out of. Then I kept telling myself to just get over it because what did I have to be depressed about? There was no one single trigger. It was a series of tiny things that, after building up for nearly 40 years, just overwhelmed me. I am still dealing with it and each day is different and believe me this lockdown isn’t helping.

You too may be finding that there are many previously small things that you used to be able to just ignore or escape that now you can’t. Now they are just too much and you are close to being overwhelmed. In these unprecedented circumstances, feeling this way is totally natural and telling yourself to suck it up is not the answer. Maybe now is a good time to ask for help. Can you reach out to someone who you feel will listen, to at least get it off your chest? Could you tell your partner/ family/ friends that you are not OK and see if there is something that they can do to help. It could be as straightforward as your partner taking the kids out for an hour a day so that you can have some me time. Everyone is very preoccupied with their own lives, particularly in this moment, and it could be that people haven’t realised that you are lonely if you are on your own in lockdown. Suggesting a regularly scheduled chat - whether on the phone or Zoom - could really boost you and them. Helping someone else is often a good way to feel better about yourself.

Your physical health is inextricably linked to your mental health (and I am not just saying that as a Pilates instructor who wants you to book classes!). Exercise can help mental health in several ways. In the first instance, exercise releases endorphins - good hormones - that help to lift your mood. Exercise takes concentration, meaning that you focus on just that for the duration, excluding the thoughts that are plaguing you for a while, even if it’s just 20 minutes. It makes you more tired (in a good way) which will improve your sleep, enabling your mind to rest and reboot better. As an added bonus, your physical appearance may improve which could help self esteem. Try a brisk 20 minute walk, or an online yoga class. Put some music on and dance, or try playing hula hoop in the park! Just get out of your own head for a while.

Obviously if it’s more complicated and there are financial difficulties due to the world screwing us all over, it can be terrifying. I have worked so little this year, that I don’t even want to think about it. But there is help out there. Firstly, maybe telling friends and family that you are struggling will just provide a little relief and they may be able to help. But if that isn’t an option or they aren’t in a position to, then there are charities and professional bodies out there, who have no vested interest, that it may be worth approaching.

And if you really do feel that you need some mental health support then please talk to your GP. They are there to start the process with talking therapies and helping you find the right solution for you. You could also look for a registered therapist, if you have the means to pay, through the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Below are some links to organisations that might be useful if you feel you need help or support. Because it’s OK not to be OK.

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