This has been a difficult year for most of us. Worries about the future, loneliness, and a growing sense of despair have gripped millions who have been separated from family and friends, evicted, lost their jobs, fallen ill, seen their businesses go broke or all their dreams destroyed. One study found that 18% of adults thought about suicide or self-harm during the first lockdown. Along with the viral, there is also a mental health epidemic.
So what can one do to fight off the demons of depression and anxiety?
There are various techniques that can help, even in lockdowns. First, exercise is a natural tonic that boosts endorphins and puts you in better shape to fend off disease in general. Many of us struggle to summon up the willpower to run, cycle, work out or whatever form of exercise we prefer, but after any such session our mood is guaranteed to be lifted. Exercise is not just a physical spur — it also helps one’s state of mind.
I have often found boredom to be the greatest enemy. Keeping your mind occupied during this listless episode is vital. Millions are on furlough or unable to work, and are finding this period of enforced idleness incredibly frustrating. I write this article once a week to stimulate my creative juices. Ideally, all of us should have such an outlet. It might be painting, playing an instrument, photography, cooking, gardening, DIY or chess — or anything that allows us to use our imagination.
Laughter has been in short supply in 2020, but it remains an essential part of what it is to be human. An ability to see the funny side of life’s vale of tears makes it all easier to bear. Everyone’s sense of humour is different, but a willingness to laugh frequently and often — even if external events appear grim — is the sign of a well-adjusted personality, better equipped to deal with the inevitable vicissitudes that we all encounter. I have found the company of amusing people a key remedy during the dark days of lockdown — even if they are on a screen.
It is well-known that helping others tends to induce a feeling of well-being. Many companies — especially in my sector, hospitality — have contributed to the national effort by providing meals for healthcare workers. If volunteering is possible, then maybe try that? Certainly, there are many more sad and isolated neighbours than before — perhaps you can connect and help someone locally.
Several entrepreneurs have told me that their greatest unhappiness this year has been a feeling of helplessness. Lockdown has paralysed their businesses and they are quite unable to control their destiny. The most resourceful have pivoted: restaurants delivering food rather than selling sit-down meals, for example. Using their ingenuity to overcome obstacles has clearly worked for many and has given the owners some satisfaction, even if these are only temporary solutions to the challenges. For many, keeping busy is part of the cure.
Now is a great time to plan for the future. While the world is on hold, there is an opportunity to contemplate the big picture. No one knows when we can return to calmer, less stressful times, but in anticipation of lockdown ending, we can think of ways to improve our work and life. Many people are moving, divorcing, giving up their careers, chucking in university, downshifting and re-examining their priorities. It may be that these actions are impetuous or unfortunate, but for some they might be a path to greater happiness.
Lifelong learning is an approach adopted by lots of those who live to a happy old age. It means you need to retain your curiosity, and seek new pastures to understand. For the ambitious, it might be learning another language or a technical skill such as computer coding. There are so many books and online courses on every subject under the sun that there is really no excuse save laziness or a lack of self-discipline for not availing oneself of the opportunities. I attempt to fulfil this goal by looking at new industries and sectors where I am hoping to invest.
There are also a few basics to get right: get enough sleep; try not to eat too much or drink too much alcohol; hold your loved ones close; and don’t allow the endless irritations of lockdown to destroy your relationships. It is during these times of adversity that character is forged. Amid this natural calamity, there have been self-inflicted disasters in our response, but life is too short to dwell excessively on past mistakes. For now, we must redouble our efforts to recover and press on.