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Covid 19 Lockdown & What It Means For Our Mental Health - Tips For Coping

After two national lockdowns in the spring and autumn of 2020, England is preparing for another - but this time it will fall in the darkest days of winter.

After two national lockdowns in the spring and autumn of 2020, England is preparing for another - but this time it will fall in the darkest days of winter.

Experts have raised concerns about the impact less sunlight, uncertainty about the new coronavirus variant and more restrictive measures coming into force again could have on people's mental health.

We know that while lockdowns are intended to prevent the spread of a deadly disease, they can carry a high emotional toll for some of those told to "stay at home".

By late April 2020, mental health in the UK had already "deteriorated" compared with pre-COVID-19 trends, the Lancet medical journal found.

But the new six-week lockdown announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson beginning with immediate effect on Monday may take a heavier toll on people's mental health.

Dr Duncan Astle, programme leader of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge University, told Sky News the latest lockdown may see "somewhat different" effects on mental health compared to the first two lockdowns.

"A winter lockdown, in which there are fewer hours of daylight and when it is more difficult to engage in outside activities like exercise, may make a winter lockdown more impactful for mental health, relative to a spring lockdown," he said.

"The feeling of uncertainty is also a common symptom in those who experience poor mental wellbeing."

"Lockdown 3 is particularly associated with a newer more infectious strain of the virus, which could itself heighten feelings of uncertainty about what to expect."

"Together these factors may make a winter lockdown more challenging for maintaining good mental health."

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott said while common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression have spiked in lockdowns generally, this time "the impact will be more serious because of the cumulative effect".

"Essentially these events create stress and we don't deal with stress well, especially as the lockdowns take away many of our resilience factors around social interaction," he told Sky News.

"There will already be mental health pressures from winter with Seasonal Affective Disorder, for example, and people are already worn down from the multiple issues they have to face from the ongoing pandemic."

"Long-term stress is a very serious problem and we have all been in a long term stress situation for the past year."

He summarised: "Effectively what is happening is those that were far away from mental health issues are now much closer, those that were close to being ill will be pushed into illness proper and those that were already ill and have a history of illness will be in relapse or a much more serious condition."

So, what can we all do to boost our mental health?

Dr Astle said previous lockdowns can "provide us with clues".

"For example, in Lockdown 1 children became more lethargic and struggled to find enjoyment in regular activities," he explained.

"So keeping children active, and incorporating regular exercise could be a good tactic, especially if it is fun."

"For adults, living alone or experiencing financial difficulties were significant risk factors for poor mental health in Lockdown 1. Seeking out avenues of social or financial support early, before they reach crisis point, could be a good tip for adults."

Emma Thomas, chief executive at the children's mental health charity YoungMinds says many kids lost access to mental health support during the first lockdown and others chose not to look during a time when the NHS was under so much pressure - but those struggling to cope are not alone.

"It's important to reach out for help - whether that's to friends, family, a doctor, a counsellor, a teacher or a helpline," she said.

"It's also a good idea to take the pressure off as much as possible, and do things that you enjoy or which help you relax if you can."

Mr McDermott also said it's "normal to be experiencing feelings of overwhelm, fear and sadness right now" so people should "know the signs you need help".

That could include a significant change in mood, eating and appetite shifts, constant tiredness, irritability, disrupted sleep and headaches.

"Reduce your commitments and slow down" is his advice. "Focus on self-care and resilience. Make your life simple in lockdown, focus on the core basics, eat, sleep, exercise and socialise as you can online and in-person with one other."

Lucy Beresford, a psychotherapist who works in central London, also highly recommended people immersing themselves in nature.

"There is quite a lot of nature that you can bring to you - spotting different leaves, having window boxes on your window so that birds can come to your window even if you don't have a garden," she told Sky News.

She also recommended "kind gestures for other people as a way to make them feel great but also make you feel good".

Mr Gunning also suggested three practical tips - switching off from the news and social media and avoiding information overload, staying connected by finding ways to talk to friends and family even if you can't in real life, and keeping up some form of daily routine - though with a bit of variety.

While Ms Weatherley suggested people should try and "learn which coping strategies work for us, what we struggle with, and what our signs and signals are that our mental health is better or worse".

"Cut yourself a lot of slack," she added.