There’s really only one thing that helped ease my anxiety through the excruciating intensity of lockdown 1.
No, it wasn’t baking banana bread or binge-watching Netflix (though both are worthy ways to spend your locked down time, in my opinion).
It was learning a new skill and setting a goal for it.
Hang on a minute – before you start throwing the remote control at me or complaining that there isn’t enough time in the day to start crocheting scarfs or practising meditation, just hear me out.
According to a survey conducted in May this year, more than 1 in 3 people were finding time for old hobbies during lockdown, but it was starting a new hobby (almost 1 in 4) that pointed to the greatest positive impact on mental health.
Now, I realise that adding another task to an already swelling to-do list isn’t necessarily a practical way of managing what’s going on in your head, but if, like me, you have a tendency to worry A LOT and found lockdown 1 a severe drain on your ability to manage your spiralling thoughts, then perhaps learning a new skill as we head into lockdown 2 isn’t a bad idea.
After all, the change in seasons is going to do little to improve anyone’s mood this time round.
So, if you’re thinking that perhaps your mental health would benefit from some distraction during autumn/winter lockdown, here’s what helped me through the spring/summer edition.
Pre-lockdown my anxiety was on a fairly dramatic incline and being forced to stay at home did little to reduce that. Old worries were suddenly replaced by new stresses, and so I started to look for something to occupy my overthinking mind.
Perhaps, it’s worth mentioning here that spare time was a bit of a luxury for me during lockdown 1 (as I’m sure it was for many parents) – I had a confused yet lively toddler to entertain for 12+ hours a day and whilst I was (thankfully) able to take some time off from my freelance work, I was still conscious of not ignoring the money-making part of my life entirely.
Still, I knew that, for a while at least, I could find half an hour in the evenings to dedicate to my mental health and, out of convenience (because my friend had already bought me a book on the subject) and curiosity, I decided that my new project would be to learn modern calligraphy.
As it turned out, modern calligraphy was the perfect distraction from my anxiety – there were different styles to learn, different marks made by different nibs and different ink, and, as a beginner, perfecting each new letter and shape required my full concentration, therefore guaranteeing me a whole thirty minutes every day where my mind didn’t wander back to my worries.
Not only that, but I’d also decided to start The 100 Day Project (an online initiative encouraging participants to embark on a creative project for 100 days and share their efforts on Instagram) and having a goal for my creativity not only helped me stay motivated, but also allowed me to think about the weeks of lockdown ahead in a more positive light.
That’s not to say that any of it was easy, of course! I didn’t take to modern calligraphy quite as quickly as I felt a former art college student should, and yet, for the first half of the project, I still managed to complete each task in consecutive days. More than that, I actually looked forward to doing it, even when I felt I was doing a terrible job.
But completing a 100 day challenge is not dissimilar to running a marathon (or so I imagine) – you start off shaky and uncertain, get into your stride once you’ve got a few miles under your belt (in my case, around day 12), and then for a while it feels easy, but just as you start to believe that you might actually finish this thing, fatigue hits and you start to wonder why you ever began in the first place.
For me, this happened just over the halfway point and there were two very specific reasons for my struggle other than just sheer tiredness. Firstly, I could no longer blissfully ignore my day job (more accurately known as my whenever-I’m-not-looking-after-my-toddler job) and my evenings were predominantly spent at my laptop.
Secondly, I’d finished completing the exercises in my calligraphy book and now had to engage my brain in order to come up with my own calligraphy-worthy ideas.
Soon, I found myself behind the official project by ten days, then twenty, then thirty. Of course, none of this really mattered because nobody, other than myself, was holding me to account, but as the finish line inched further and further away, I became even less inclined to reach it.
Still, with ink-stained hands and a growing antipathy for anything involving a ‘flourish’, I soldiered on. The next fifty days were challenging (and must have taken almost double the time), but the end goal was in sight and the practise itself still fulfilled its original purpose. When day 100 finally rolled around, I was thrilled to see how far I had come.
Since finishing the project, I’ve continued to practise calligraphy (albeit on an intermittent basis). It’s not a skill I’m planning to add to my CV anytime soon, but that’s sort of the beauty of it – there’s no pressure, no need to turn it into a side hustle or even to keep up with it if I don’t want to.
Whether or not calligraphy will help me through lockdown 2 remains to be seen, but if it doesn’t and my anxiety reaches the same levels as it did in the spring, I won’t hesitate to look for a new project* – and I highly recommend, even if you can only spare five minutes before bed each evening, that you do too.
*Who am I kidding?! I’ve already got a crochet hook, I’ll be bulk buying yarn by the weekend!
One final note: if you’re finding it particularly difficult to manage your mental health then contact your GP or get in touch with the NHS counselling service in your area. Some of us struggle a little, some of us struggle a lot. There’s no shame in asking for help.
Header image via Unsplash. Created by Catherine Cordasco. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives – help stop the spread of COVID-19.