'Being in lockdown cured my anxiety'

Ahead of possible new restrictions being announced, one woman explains why lockdown helped her mental health

Writer Caroline Allen
Writer Caroline Allen

“You’re happy today,” my husband commented a few weeks into lockdown.

He was right. The coronavirus pandemic was in full-force and as I sat diligently watching the daily government briefing, I found myself overcome with a feeling of peace.

I’d seen the statistics; more than two thirds of UK adults were feeling somewhat or very worried about how COVID-19 was impacting their lives and yet, in a very unanticipated turn of events, I wasn’t one of them. 

Before lockdown, my friends and family would categorise me as a textbook over-thinker. I’m somebody who over-analyses every conversation and then ruminates over my tone, worried about offending somebody. I’ve been known to have a panic attack at the sheer notion of something bad happening to me in the future. 

I should have been part of the two thirds of people worried about how this terrible disease would impact them, but instead I felt a sense of calm I hadn’t felt in a long time. 

I was impacted by the pandemic on both a superficial and also very real level. We went into lockdown two days before my 30th birthday. Plans were cancelled. 

Then, in a more real way, I found out I was pregnant two weeks before the start of lockdown. My pregnancy has been punctuated by lonely scans while my husband waited in the car and missed midwife appointments. At 35 weeks pregnant I’m still not sure if my husband will be allowed to join me when I go into labour. 

As a writer, I lost work, close family members lost their entire livelihoods overnight and yet, this steely resolution that everything was going to be OK in the end remained. 

While my health wasn’t impacted in the same way as millions of people around the world, I knew I still had a valid reason to feel panicked.

Caroline Allen, whose anxiety has lifted in lockdown

As I began to investigate why I felt this way, I discovered I wasn’t the only one. People were tentatively taking to social media to admit they felt like they had a chance to switch off for the first time during lockdown.

People were finding clarity in stress, and it’s a feeling I’ve never had before. As soon as the “new normal” emerged, I assumed these anxious feelings that permeated my days would return. As of yet, they haven’t. 

“We’ve all established new habits,” psychologist and spokesperson for the British Psychological Society, Linda Blair, explains. 

“It takes three to six weeks to make a new habit and another six weeks to firm it up. So, three months into lockdown, people’s new habits were firmly established.”

Habits, for some, might be as small as a slightly later alarm in the morning, but for others - myself included - it could be a series of now established behaviours that have left us feeling less anxious. 

While anxiety might seem like a solid wall, in fact, it is developed by many strands - strands that some of us started to tug at during lockdown. 

The strands that led to my cortisol levels rising involved working too much and spreading myself too thinly. Lockdown offered me the chance to sit back and analyse myself, whereas previously - without time to sit and think - I just saw my anxiousness as one impenetrable wall. 

If you, like me, are one of the “lucky ones” who was able to find clarity during this dreadful period, you might feel concerned that the feeling might disappear when life eventually returns to normal (although new restrictions could be imposed again soon). 

Blair explains why this is unlikely to happen: “If you look at the World Wars, you’ll notice that any huge threat to our lives makes us realise how much we do have. 

“What’s happened in this lockdown is that people have realised that it’s relationships that count. People didn’t realise what doing simple things like having time to brush your teeth and wash your face decently could do for them. 

If you do find yourself slipping back into a negative mind frame, Blair suggests: “The best thing you can do is diarise everything that’s going on. Write down three things each day that you feel really grateful for. 

“Every time we remember something, we remember it a little differently from before,” she concluded, meaning that if you don’t take the opportunity to put this new path you’ve found yourself on into words, it could simply get lost is somebody else’s memory of the pandemic.

As somebody who is always diarising my life, good or bad, this advice struck a chord with me. Is the real reason some of us emerged from lockdown feeling refreshed all down to self reflection? 

The answer to that probably won’t be truly discovered yet - while the pandemic is still in our lives - but as Blair said, it’s “never too late” to start that reflection period.