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Lockdown made the nation happier

How would you do lockdown the second time around?

We’re currently straddling a pandemic limbo, with one foot now back in a BC (Before-COVID) state and the other still in slippers at home in lockdown. So now seems like a good time to consider what we learned from the past few months – and how best to prepare for a potential lockdown mark 2. By Emma Irving.

3 in 4 Britons expects a second lockdown this year, and the UK’s chief scientific adviser says the risk of a second wave will increase towards Christmas.

But lockdown made most of the nation happier

Lockdown actually helped to restore people’s happiness after national levels fell when the pandemic began, according to new research. 

The study also identified a distinction between life satisfaction among social groups, with those in wealthy categories experiencing a decline while the most deprived groups reported a relative rise in life satisfaction.

Dr Robert Foa, from Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies and director of the YouGov-Cambridge Centre for Public Opinion Research, went so far as to say that…

“When combined with employment and income support, lockdown may be the single most effective action a government can take during a pandemic to maintain psychological welfare.”

In other words, there are some aspects of lockdown life that we would want to replicate a second time around – and others we definitely don’t. 

Lockdown aspirations

As far as goals go, I had very grand ideas about the first lockdown (easy tasks like learning Arabic, writing a novel, and becoming an expert lemon drizzle maker – no prize for guessing which one of the three I conquered). 

Second time around I’ll be more realistic, knowing how hard it is to do anything other than take each day as it comes. Did I write a novel? No. Did I even come close? Also no. Did I feel guilty about this every day, despite telling everyone else they shouldn’t put themselves under pressure? Yes. Have I slowly come to realise that existential dread provoked by a pandemic is not necessarily conducive to a good work ethic? Also yes. 

Instead, I will direct my energy towards my radiator friends (you know, all friends are radiators or drains… bringing warmth or sucking energy away). Forget Zoom pub quizzes, complicated party games and random calls with people I don’t see all that often, I’m gonna bring it back to basics – one on one phone calls with my best mates and zero-pressure texting (aka when you can take as long as you like to reply). 

My friendships seemed to go through a second round of culling, after the first set dropped off when we left university. But maybe that’s no bad thing. Recognising who you want to turn to when shit hits the fan is valuable. The ones you want to chat to when you’re in need of nurture are generally quite good ones to keep around – whether we’re in a pandemic or not. 

Home is where the heart is

Plus a second lockdown gives us a chance to think about where feels most like home to us. As one of the privileged people who had my basic living needs met during lockdown no. 1 – food, water, shelter, clothing – a possible lockdown no. 2 will provide space to think about how to improve a sense of security. 

Where’s the place in the world where I feel most able to deal with fluctuations in my mental health? Where feels most like home to me, be it a person or a place? Where do I feel most comfortable? Where shall I place myself so I can provide the best support for my loved ones, and have the best chance at improving the state of the outside world? 

More than 10.5 million people in the UK moved home during Covid-19, and two-thirds of them expect to stay where they are for the foreseeable future. Maybe this is actually a good chance to think about where we really want to be, and why.

The gift of time and attention

Most of us slowly got used to our restricted worlds, moods and thoughts blooming and fading, and the almost imperceptible succession of phases as opposed to the usual punctuation of time. 

And as the world folded in on itself, noticing the small things every day became more real to me, perhaps more real than what I spoke about at work or watched on the BBC. I would watch the light filter slowly through the leaves outside my window, and rain-dropped spiderwebs sway gently in the wind. I could stare at the way the dust turned gold in the sunlight for hours after work, grateful for some time not staring at a screen. 

And you don’t need to be a yoga instructor to know there’s something valuable in that. Thinking about the small things, sometimes entering an almost trance-like state, is good for us – particularly for someone like me who usually gallops from work to drinks to dinner to late night work to more drinks to three episodes of The Wire and reading half a book before bed. If I learned anything from lockdown no 1, it’s that sometimes just being present is enough. 

So, for a potential second lockdown, or at least another few months of working from home, we might feel daunted, nervous, or lonely – but we can feel prepared. 

How would you do lockdown the second time around? Email me at emma@thismuchiknow.news. I would love to hear your thoughts.