First, a question.
What do all of these have in common:
Little pigs, musketeers, blind mice, Stooges and ice hockey games?
Correct, they all come in threes, just like this blog post.
The first part is a few interesting numbers about our life under lockdown, the second part is how to cope with all the information (and misinformation) that’s coming our way on TV, online and via social media and the third part is what you can do to stay not just mentally healthy, but mentally happy during this period of utter unusualness.
Omne trium perfectum, ‘everything that comes in threes is perfect’. A Latin principle that suggests things that come in threes are inherently more humorous, satisfying and effective than any other number of things.
Right, let’s get on with it.
The Numbers – Life Under Lockdown: A Top 7
We’re all well aware of the heartbreaking headline numbers but what about the numbers that tell us how we’re living now, and how we might be living in the future…
1. Joe Wicks is statistically 20 times safer than a trampoline*
*If you’ve visited Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex.
Football injuries are down by 78% (no surprise), sibling-related injuries are up by 150% (again, no great shock), but here’s the kicker, trampolines have caused 40 injuries while Joe Wicks’ workouts have caused just two.
2. The emissions lull will make VERY little difference.
The wonderfully named Dr Zeke Housfather, Director of Climate and Energy at The Breakthrough Institute doesn’t think there will be any lasting positive effect on the environment. Emissions have reduced by only about 5% overall and that will potentially translate into an equivalent impact of around 1/100th of a degree centigrade by 2100.
3. Motorists have taken us back to the 1950s.
The reduction in wheat they call ‘road vehicle activity’ has taken us back to the levels experienced in the 1950s, says Dr David Carslaw from the University of York and in terms of emissions, we’re back to around 1900!
4. Birds aren’t singing as loudly.
Because there’s less background noise, birds don’t need to sing as loudly to be heard! According to Dr Sue Ann Zolinger at Manchester Metropolitan University, the Lombard effect (where we have the tendency to speak louder when there’s ambient noise around us) works for birds too. A chiffchaff will usually sing at around 66 decibels, when a plane goes overhead that increases to 71 decibels and when there’s little background noise they’re down to 61 decibels.
5. We were told two metres; science says it’s only one.
It turns out that according to Werner Ernst Bischoff, a Professor of Infectious Diseases, virus particles of five microns or more (like those of the coronavirus) are taken down by gravity after about one metre. But stay two metres away from people, just to be on the safe side!
6. Very few of us were actually panic buying.
As it happens, only about 6% of us lost the plot at the supermarket and what appeared to be the most sought-after item – dried pasta – only registered at about 3% on the stockpiling scale. When a lot more people buy a few more of the same thing, the numbers register as ‘stockpiling’ but in reality we were all pretty sensible!
7. There won’t be a baby boom nine months from now.
We all think that when the world stands still – World Cups, blackouts, horrible events like 9/11 and now, lockdown – the birth rates increase but lots of conceptions is a misconception. Dr Marina Adshade of the University of British Colombia says, ‘you can’t get pregnant on Zoom and you have to ask yourself if now is the best time to start or add to the family!’
Just a bit of fun to lighten the load!
What Should I Read, Who Should I Listen To?
Who else is checking the TV, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and news sites every 25 seconds looking for updates? Not just us then… We are being bombarded minute-by-minute and while it’s important to stay informed, a non-stop stream of information is overwhelming and can be detrimental to our mental health.
We’ve got a few really simple steps you can take to minimise the impact of ‘too much information’ –
Turn off the notifications on your phone It’s tempting to grab your phone as soon as it pings to see the latest tweet is or the newest BBC update but you can get 20 a day. Instead, turn off your notifications or even delete the apps you’re getting them from. Set aside half an hour in the morning and the same in the evening to catch up with what’s happening.
Mute people who constantly share updates You can mute (but not delete) people on Facebook and Twitter who constantly share updates from all manner of sources, reliable and otherwise and even some that will make you feel uneasy. They won’t know you’ve muted them but you’ll feel much better with quality over quantity.
Get your information from trusted sources It’s tempting to get your official updates from social media but if you stick with the NHS or the World Health Organisation you get the information you need without the sensationalism.
Separate fact from fiction As we’ve said, it’s easy to suffer from information overload and it makes it very hard for people to wade through the sheer volume of information we get every day and separate fact, fiction, fake news and false rumours. The European Commission has created a special page on their website to fight the amount of misinformation out there and it includes specific rebuttals on the most recurrent, harmful and widely spread myths around the coronavirus crisis.
Staying Well Is Fine, Feeling Happy Is Better!
One of the strangest feelings many of us are experiencing is one of surreal calm as we adjust to life in a smaller but far less dramatic world.
But rather than feel disheartened during lockdown, there are lots of things you can do that will make you feel better, happier and more positive and will make you take ownership of your mental and physical health.
It’s happy, happy feel good time.
Enjoy the slower pace of life and look forward to the prospects of a better life As the estimable Ferris Bueller once said, ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ This forced ‘simpler living’ has allowed us to evaluate (or re-evaluate) what’s really important as well as confronting the perceived enemy of over-consumption, rampant consumerism and indulgence.
Distract yourself with things you enjoy One of the best ways to distract yourself from the rolling news is to make some time for the things that make you happy. Give yourself an hour a day to switch off. Do a jigsaw puzzle, read a book, bake a cake, go for a walk or run or even sign up for any one of hundreds of online courses and learn something new.
Stay Connected In the section above we basically told you to disconnect, but this time we’re not talking about rolling news, we’re talking about your support networks. Connecting with friends and family help us to feel like we belong so think about scheduling regular calls.
According to Professor Laurie Santos, author of the unbelievably popular online course The Science of Wellbeing, ‘The research suggests that the act of hanging out with folks in real time, in other words, things like Zoom or FaceTime can be a really powerful way to connect with people. You see their facial expressions, hear the emotion in their voice, you’re really able to connect with them.’
But there’s one thing that must absolutely be off the agenda – coronavirus!
To conclude (and we can’t believe we’re saying this), here’s a great list put together by Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former Downing Street Director of Communications & Strategy that have been helpful to him and may be helpful to you.
Note: most are from him but we’ve taken the absolute liberty of adding to some, leaving other bits out and generally fiddling around!
1. Look after key relationships Siblings, parents, children and close friends. If you look out for them, they’ll look out for you.
2. Stay active The temptation to do nothing is strong. Resist you must, young Jedi…
3. Exercise It’s vital to your overall happiness and gets the endorphins pumping – chemicals your body releases during exercise that trigger positive feelings, similar, according to webmd.com, ‘to that of morphine!’
4. Watch your diet For many, boredom and isolation = overeating so it’s important to try and eat healthily but, if every now and again you fancy a takeaway (and it will make you happy after a particularly rubbish day), go for it!
5. Watch the booze Someone tweeted recently ‘This is like Christmas without the fun!’ We think we know what they meant. By all means you can have a drink or two, but don’t let it become a key character in your life’s play, especially now.
6. Sleep Are you getting your government-approved eight hours a night? Unlikely, right? Try not to be glued to your phone or laptop until the last minute and dare we say it, get a few early nights! You’re not missing out on anything that won’t wait until tomorrow!
7. Read books Here’s a thought, if, like a lot of us, we spend more time scrolling through the Kindle and Apple stores downloading books to read rather than actually reading them, think back to the best book you’ve ever read, the one that made you really happy you chose it, and read it again.
8. Limit your interaction with social media Endlessly scrolling through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and seeing how resourceful and fun and interesting and active and engaged your friends and their kids are is not a great idea and will do nothing for your mental health. In all reality what you see is nowhere close to the truth but they’ll keep posting anyway.
9. Listen to music What songs remind you of happy summer holidays or old friends or just cheesy stuff you claimed you never liked but secretly did? Find it online (or dig out your old cassettes) and sing-along!
10. Better still, make music This is not for everyone but there are loads of online tutorials if you want to learn the piano or the guitar or even the theremin. It will give you focus and the first time you push out the opening bars of Bohemian Rhapsody, you will be very happy indeed!
11. Write You don’t have to author a 600-page novel but every day, write down three things that made you happy, blog about life under lockdown (you never have to let anyone read it if you don’t want to) or even make a list of the things you want to achieve every day. We don’t know about you, but we have a disproportionately high sense of glee when crossing things off lists!
12. Say hello But not just to anyone. Think of someone you used to go to school with and reach out. There can be few things better than someone from 30 years ago saying ‘hi, how you doing?’
13. Do good deeds Being at home most of the time doesn’t mean you can’t be a good citizen. Knock on an elderly neighbour’s door and ask if they need anything. When you’re in the supermarket, add a few extra tins of soup to your basket and drop them in the foodbank or just text a friend to ask how they are.
14. Nice and easy If you’re finding it hard to do the difficult things, focus your attention on what can easily be achieved.
15. Stay curious Try new things. Buy a big Lego model and embrace your inner child, take up birdwatching, master the art of puff pastry, do the 1,000-piece baked beans jigsaw puzzle, take a cool photo every day of something – anything – and set up an Instagram account.
***TIRED CLICHÉ ALERT*** You’re only limited by your imagination.
16. Don’t forget… That this will be over soon and while we’ve all seen our fair share of suffering, the outside world is out there, waiting for all of us to embrace it again. Good things come to those who wait.
17. Look for the wins People seem to be getting kinder, there’s a boom in volunteering, the air is cleaner, there’s a new (long overdue) appreciation for the unskilled workers who have literally kept the country running, our carbon footprint has shrunk from ‘horrendous’ to ‘Greta-esque’. It may not seem like it now but there will be a lot of good that will come from this.
18. De-clutter How many times have you said to yourself ‘This weekend I’m going to go through the spare room and get rid of everything I don’t need?’ A dozen? More? Now’s the time! Make piles for the bin, piles for the charity shop and piles of stuff to give away to whoever wants it. You’ll feel so much better!
19. Binge watch Do you spend more time adding stuff you want to watch to your Netflix list than actually watching it? Now’s the time to watch telly to your heart’s content. Go boxset bonkers!
20. #fryties This is a bit of an indulgent one but if you’re on Instagram, follow Stephen Fry @stephenfryactually and look out for his daily #fryties stories. Each day he posts a picture of a tie ‘drawn entirely at random from the ridiculously large collection I’ve assembled over my many decades on this planet’ and he tells its story just like only Stephen Fry can! It makes us happy and it will make you happy!
For more information about how you can Manage Your Mental Health During Lockdown, contact me, Jules Peck on