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Letting Go of 'Lockdown Guilt': 3 Lessons Learnt For Maintaining a Healthy Mindset

Image: Catherine Cordasco

Lockdown Guilt:

It is safe to say that my sense of motivation is rapidly diminishing while in lockdown. My days have been characterised by feelings of fatigue and emotional exhaustion, despite the fact that I have not been doing a lot. Along with this I find myself struggling to use my time productively and to adapt to the change in circumstances.

Regularly falling short of what I expect my daily achievements to look like has engendered a feeling of continuous guilt and anxiety that another day has slipped away, and I have wasted it by lounging around the house, moody and dissatisfied with my uneventful day.

Senior lifestyle writer for Mamamia, Amy Clark describes this feeling as ‘lockdown guilt’.

Clark describes: “lockdown guilt is more than just thinking you should be going for a walk, while lying in bed. It can be debilitating even if only for this moment in time”.

It often feels draining and similar to cognitive dissonance, where your thoughts don’t match up with your behaviour. I began to believe that my concerns and feelings of worry were so trivial especially when I think about other people’s ordeals and what they’re currently going through. This only caused more guilt. I had been treating this lockdown like an endurance test, and by the end of it I believed that I would emerge as a new and improved person.

However, I soon realised the detrimental impact this thinking was having on my wellbeing and I decided to re-evaluate it in a few ways.

Lesson 1: Being Present in the Moment

I have started to let go of lockdown guilt by taking onboard psychologist Tahnee Clark’s advice, that we should “let go of preconceived shoulds and I musts”. She adds that it is important to “just be present in the moment”. Practicing mindfulness through meditation apps like Calm has provided relief from anxious feelings and I have become much kinder to myself.

Lesson 2: Be Kind to Yourself

Unnecessarily chastising ourselves for inactivity and for feeling that our personal struggles are insignificant compared to the courageous sacrifices of key workers can lead to a low mood.

While it is great to make a list of objectives that you want to achieve, we must remind ourselves that we are facing a global pandemic which is drastically changing the course of our once structured lives. It took me a while to learn that it is not compulsory that I push myself to complete my extensive to-do lists in order to fill up these suddenly long days. Taking time to unwind is a vital part of our wellbeing. Whether you’re listening to music, drawing or looking through the photo album and unearthing some of your old embarrassing pictures that should never have seen the light of day, they are all ways of de-stressing.

Lesson 3: Finding Gratitude

In her recent article for Psychology Today, psychotherapist Hilary Jacobs Hendel suggests that a change in mindset can help us shift our feelings of guilt to gratitude.

Hendel writes, “during the pandemic, we have been asked to stay home, take care of each other, and not make things worse. That counts as paying it forward. Staying home prevents others from getting sick and eases the burden on our hospital system. You can feel good about that”.

Hendel continues, “if you feel guilty that other people are suffering and you are one of the lucky ones, shift from guilt to gratitude. Say to yourself, "I feel so grateful for my luck." Then feel that gratitude deep inside. Let it help you breathe a sigh of relief and feel an impulse to do something that channels your gratitude into a good deed. Sitting around feeling guilty doesn’t help anyone, but gratitude can”.

By acknowledging what we are grateful for, we can alleviate some sense of our guilt or anxiety whilst we are in lockdown. Since I have started keeping a gratitude journal to record the things that I am grateful for, and writing for enjoyment, I no longer feel the need to make a conscious effort to complete demanding tasks every day. My mood has improved and for the first time in lockdown I have a newfound sense of optimism for the future.

I do not claim these lessons are universal in any respect, and do not seek to diminish anyone’s personal mental health experience. Rather, I seek to share an outlook and change in mindset which has helped me personally, in which others can find some guidance.

The gradual easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK and around the world reminds me that this extremely challenging period is transitory. When lockdown is eventually lifted altogether, I don’t expect our lives to immediately return to the good old pre-coronavirus days, but I am hopeful that whatever this ‘new normal’ looks like, we’ll manage just fine.

For guidance and support visit Student Minds.

Edited by Ellie Muir, Essays Editor