Lockdown is not conducive to creativity, and I know many of our fellow writers, illustrators and other creative colleagues are struggling with their mental health at this time. I am too. I’ve suffered from chronic depression and anxiety all my life, and this situation we are all in isn’t helping, what with the financial uncertainty, the news bombarding us with scary information every ten minutes, and all the other worries about our livelihoods and our futures too.
So, here are ten coping tips I use regularly. I hope some of them will help you as well.
1. Accept the zombie days
Any kind of mental health dip can make you feel paralysed, almost literally. I have ‘zombie days’ where the effort of doing anything means double or treble energy expenditure. Do only what you must on these days, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Self-care is the most vital thing you can do for yourself, so allocate it the importance it deserves.
2. Visualise your anxiety
Depression and anxiety can go hand in hand. As a quick fix at the worst times, I close my eyes and visualise a vacuum cleaner nozzle sucking out the worst physical and mental anxiety from wherever they manifest in the body (this can be several places), with the ‘hose’ exiting in a fast-flowing river and the feelings being dispersed. Writers are good at visualising. Try it. It helps.
3. Expel the negative voices
The truly negative voices in your head (we all have them) are not your friends. They will tell you you’re useless/lazy/unproductive/untalented/a fat biscuit-chomper or whatever you most fear. Visualise them as a being or monster. Draw them on paper and write the words they’re saying around them. Growl loudly at them that none of it is true. Stamp on them, jump on them and put them in the bin or burn them. Externalising them, bringing them out into the daylight, can make those negative thoughts feel less debilitating and energy-sapping.
4. Minute by minute
The reality is that some days it’s just all too much. If all you can manage is a duvet and a good book to escape into, or even just breathing in and out, that is OK. Live minute by minute. I promise you can manage one minute at a time. Again, remember that caring for yourself is really important.
5. Ask for help
Asking for help and support is hard. But it’s not impossible. ‘I’m fine’ is a word-shield we use too often to push people away, because somehow we feel we don’t deserve their help or empathy, and then we continue to feel terrible. Your loved ones are not mind-readers, so tell the people in your life what is going on if you’re struggling. Just remember not everyone knows the code of F***ed-up Insecure Neurotic Emotional, which is what FINE generally means when you’re in the depths of a mental health dip or crisis! Seriously, asking for help or telling someone you are in a bad state is important. It does NOT mean you’re weak. You don’t have to do this on your own. I know it seems like it. But you really don’t.
6. Limit your social media time
Our obsessive trawling through various forms of social media and news (yes, most of us do it) isn’t helping our mental health either, which is why I have abandoned Twitter and Facebook, and only lurk on Instagram, where I mostly follow beekeepers, artists and people who uplift me. I also try to limit my use to five minutes a day. I did a little experiment a couple of weeks ago, and went back on social media and news sites for 24 hours. My insomnia returned, and my heart rate went up to unhealthy levels almost immediately, so I went off them again. Try cutting them out for a week and see what happens. I used the time I gained to rediscover my love of painting. I’m not very good at it, but I honestly don’t care. Even if I’m finding it hard to write anything right now, at least I am accessing my creativity in a different form.
7. Embrace your pet
Pets can help. I know it sounds like a cliché but some days my dog is all that keeps me going, the only thing that makes me smile. If you don’t have a pet, does a friend or relative? Can you take it for a suitably physically distanced walk or even a cuddle? You can tell an animal things you maybe can’t tell a human, and they don’t judge you for it. However, a pet is obviously for life, not just for lockdown, if you’re thinking of getting one for yourself!
8. Sit by a window
On the subject of walks, everyone tells you fresh air and exercise help with mental health. They do. But sometimes I just can’t find the energy to go out of the door, or to be around other people, because in these times being out with others makes me fearful. If that’s you too, sit by a window. Open it. Turn your eyes to the sky, even if it’s grey and rainy. Breathe the air in and out slowly, concentrating on each breath, and visualising the earth beneath your feet (or your bottom) supporting you and holding you up (it’s definitely there, down below the carpet and the foundations). Doing this is considerably better than nothing, and the breathing will calm you, if nothing else.
9. Step into the light
If I have a day where being around others is hard, but I have to do it, then before I go out I visualise a big circle of light (white, rainbow, whatever colour makes you happy) on the ground in front of me. Try it. Step in, bend and pull it up round you, tying in a knot above your head. Walk out in a bubble of light and renew often. It does help, especially in the supermarket.
10. Talk to your doctor
If things are really terrible, absolutely do book a phone appointment with your doctor, and don’t be afraid of bothering them. This is what your GP is for, but COVID-19 is putting many people off asking for help when they really do need it. If your depression, anxiety or other mental health condition is acute or chronic and you need them, you may be prescribed medicine. If you find you are prescribed something that doesn’t suit you, please know that there are alternatives. Talk to your doctor if what you are prescribed is not working. Not everyone is the same, and ‘one size does not fit all’.
Finally, having mental health problems is nothing to be ashamed of. This is why I talk about mine openly, and have done for years, hoping that my experience may help others. Ending the stigma is really important to so many people who live in shame and secrecy, hiding their mental conditions out of fear of being judged, losing work, and for many other reasons. I am delighted that the Society of Authors takes the mental health of its members so seriously. It’s a vital recognition, and very hopeful. So let’s keep talking about it and helping each other in any way we can.
© Lucy Coats
Illustration © VectorMine / Adobe Stock