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Lockdown is a marathon, not a sprint: why I'm trying to pace myself mentally


Finally exploring Tooting Commons during exercise breaks

I hate running. Actually, as we’re being totally honest, I’m not a huge fan of cardio in any form and have always preferred resistance training if (big if) I can find the motivation to drag myself to a gym. But running has a special place on my list of worst activities, to the point that I was always sure that the only time you’d find me running is if something was chasing me.


But London's lockdown has introduced a new reality where, though doing a 5k has never once been a New Year’s resolution, I’m starting to think that having such a goal might actually be the way to stay sane in isolation – while we’re still permitted our outdoor exercise, at least.


The truth is that I'm in an incredibly privileged position during all this – I can do my job from home, I live with a friend, I’m able-bodied and don’t have to balance childcare – but, for so many of us, the past however-many-days has been a serious mental health challenge. With the world as it is, we’re all in a state of high stress and anxiety. It’s completely natural to have good days and bad, and important to be honest with ourselves about those feelings – to take care of ourselves, because our usual comforts and distractions aren’t necessarily available or helpful right now.


I've been consuming advice on how to work from home, but so much of it seems to focus on managing time and creating a physical set up – which we can't all do – rather than helping to create the right attitude or frame of mind to succeed in a home environment without losing the home part of it. Personally, COVID-19’s impact on our daily lives has come just as I’ve been recovering from an episode of severe anxiety, and so the action of self-isolating is something I would usually avoid with a vengeance. My mind knows that quarantine is how we protect each other – protect our NHS and the most vulnerable – but, because in the past it’s been a sign of worse mental health, my muscle memory is telling me there's a problem. But how do we let go of the things we can't control, which is, frankly everything, and refocus on moving forward with what we can?


Last Sunday, not even a week since WFH began, I found myself in what I can only describe as a proper strop. With deadlines looming, a suffocating ‘back-to-work’ dread, and the knowledge that my suddenly-small flat was not going to allow for any escape, I resolved to try jogging.


Eurgh.


Here’s what my attempts to get moving have taught me about managing the lockdown so far:


Making a routine through outdoor exercise

Exercise

The difference that utilising my government-sanctioned exercise hour has made to my mood can’t be understated. It’s not just the very real post-workout endorphins, but the space to breathe outside those four walls. If, like me, you are not a runner, I’ve found the Zombies, run! App really helpful to start for the sheer novelty of having zombies in your ears. After seeing Tweets celebrating it, I’m about to try the NHS’ Couch to 5K App next week, and hope that having a course of progression will give me some sense of movement in what feels like a weirdly static world. Also: stretch! Really did not think I’d done anything resembling enough running to count as exercise on Tues until I woke up on Weds unable to move.

Routine

One of my biggest concerns has been how to switch off in the evenings, especially given that I’m working in the same space I’m living, and don’t really have a work station to separate out. While I’m allowing myself a few slips (like an 11pm writing hour because I was struck with inspiration) I’m trying to stick pretty rigidly to my working hours with set sanity breaks. This includes a non-negotiable period of time outside the house (check) when I don't checking emails (still working on this) during each working day – and an equally non-negotiable truly epic lie-in on the weekends.

Cleanse

Is anyone else getting the lockdown breakout? The change in routine and diet, high stress, constant handwashing, and vastly reduced pollutants is playing havoc with our skin. I’ve tried to play nicer with my skincare routine now I have less of a commute, and found that feeling like my skin is clean and fresh at night has been really helping me sleep.

Likewise, while I’ve kept the coffee-and-mooch part of my usual morning routine, I haven’t been worried about adjusting it in small ways to make me feel more comfortable – however, getting showered and dressed first thing in the morning has definitely helped differentiate between the week and a more relaxed, loungey weekend.

Hydrate

When you’re working in or next to your kitchen, it should be easy to remember to drink water, right? And yet somehow I think I'm drinking less! Staying hydrated is crucial when you’re stuck indoors. Whether you’ve got a headache or are hungry, hangry, grumpy or any of the other dwarves, the first thing to check is whether you need water. I'm also finding ginger tea really refreshing in the afternoons for a bit of flavour without mainlining the coffee – somehow I never forget to go into the kitchen for THAT. And when that’s all done, it’s time to break out the wine.

Find your pace

There are so many posts across social media declaring the lockdown to be the time for that amazing professional breakthrough or to complete that work of creative genius. You’re stuck at home for months, why not learn a new language? Be creative. Be useful.

For those who have found themselves with an abundance of new time and who can find an escape or relief in major creative projects, this is wonderful. Go for it. You’re brilliant.

But the prevalence of this message is honestly stressing me the hell out. For many of us, working from home is more taxing, not less, and working out how to adapt is a work in progress. Others are balancing childcare, suddenly asked to ‘homeschool’ their children on top of a working week.


The truth is, we’re still in the adjustment period of what lockdown really means, and no one should be expected to do more than their best. If we can find the energy and inspiration to be creative, that’s great! Otherwise, let’s take our time, be realistic about what we need to achieve, keep positive where we can and, like actual runners will tell us, pace ourselves.

Photos: LFCC 2018 & 2019 © Colin Hart; Spaghetti premiere © Tasha Best Photography/tashabest.com. Portfolio images © articles of respective publications or Michelle Johnson; all other images © Michelle Johnson unless otherwise credited

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© 2020 Michelle Johnson