Like many of you, I’m sure, when the world’s borders started to close and our cities began moving into lockdown, I never thought it would last this long. In fact, living in London, I wasn’t even quite sure it would happen to my city at all. But, as COVID-19 picked up pace with deadly speed, I think we all realised just how serious this pandemic had become. London went into lockdown, along with the rest of the world.
I live solo, in a one-bed apartment on the outskirts of the city – albeit with some amazing neighbours to keep me company from their balconies. So, I wasn’t really sure how I’d take lockdown. Would I get lonely? Would I run out of food (back when toilet roll sold at a rate only ever reserved for Glasto tickets and new iPhones)? Would I eat too much chocolate every day (partly true)?
But, whilst I know everyone’s situation is uniquely different and we’ve all got our own challenges to face (and, don’t get me wrong, isolation has been tough for me too), what I have discovered, so far, are a few gems in the rough – positives in an overwhelmingly negative world situation.
I’m not going to talk about the negative stuff here. We get enough of that in the news. Instead, I’m writing this in the hope that the little snippets of positivity I’ve noticed might also bring you some fresh perspective, ideas or simple entertainment in whatever isolation situation you’re in. Some will be relevant to you, others will not.
Now that I’m eight weeks in – and the world seems to be (fingers crossed) getting a grip on this awful virus – I’m starting to reflect. So, here are the seven positive things, or lessons I suppose, I’m taking away with me from lockdown. Feel free to take or leave them – they won’t resonate with everyone but I hope you get something from this too.
Carve out time to really focus on you
It’s something we’re reading about more and more nowadays, but how many of you can honestly say you make enough time to do the stuff you really want to achieve? How many times have you said, “I’m too busy,” or “life just got in the way.”
For me, I was always struggling for time to really concentrate on my health – busy job, late nights, plenty of socialising. Sure, I’ve always been fairly fit but I’d always wanted to knuckle down, eat better, get stronger and feel healthier. For someone else, it might be running faster, learning a language, starting that side hustle, even mastering the perfect sausage roll.
When lockdown came around, life made the decision for me. No distractions, no hectic commute, just an opportunity to plow all this spare time into my own goals. With gyms closed, but my day job working from home, I now have time to walk 8k every morning. I go hard at a bodyweight workout during lunch, and throw in resistance training twice a week with a pair of dumbbells bought online.
I’m food prepping meals fit for an army and snacking on fruit instead of office hobnobs. The short walk from my ‘gym’ (living room) to my ‘office’ (kitchen table) has me questioning whether I even need a gym in the first place. I feel physically and mentally fantastic, the daily boost of workout endorphins working wonders for keeping my spirits high.
Turns out all I ever really needed to do was place some proper importance on carving out time to work on my goals. Yes, life can get in the way – but only if we let it. It’s something I’ll certainly be taking with me when lockdown ends.
Spend money, but spend it wiser
I can’t count the number of times I’ve bought far too many rounds or splashed out on unnecessary Ubers, and ended the month desperate for pay day.
Of course, the major difference between life as normal and lockdown is: there are no bars. The reality is, staying home has forced many of us to end the frivolous or impulsive spending purely because there’s been nowhere to spend it. Let’s face it, even dealing with the cardboard that endless home delivery produces gets annoying after a while.
Instead of expensive day trips away, I’ve been exploring new parts of the neighbourhood on foot or reading a book in the sun. I’ve forgone going ‘out-out’ with virtual beer tastings and replaced pricey commuter train fees with, aha well, rolling out of bed and into the lounge. I was able to buy the bedroom wall art I’ve been ‘meaning’ to get since I moved in 12 months ago.
What some might have previously judged as ‘boring’ is now suddenly the best thing to happen all week in lockdown. Case in point: that ‘one piece of exercise a day’ we’ve all been allowed. Regardless of how much cash this actually saves, it’s proven to me that we spend money on things far too easily. Will we part ways with £50 on a round of beers so easily in the future? After lockdown, maybe. Lazy Ubers? Maybe not.
But I think lockdown has forced us to become more creative and thrifty than ever at entertaining ourselves without splashing the cash. And that can be no bad thing.
People are nice after all
As a Londoner, I know all about the unwritten rules – never say “hello” to someone you don’t know. Never talk on the tube or train. Don’t smile at someone random. Right? Those who live here will know that London, though densely populated, can be a very lonely place in the wrong circumstances. I should know, I’ve been there, having moved to the city as a young 21-year-old and knowing nobody.
But something incredible has happened during this pandemic – people are opening up. Londoners are opening up.
Suddenly, strangers are walking past me and wishing me a ‘good morning’. I’m waving at the same old couple I pass every morning, without fail, on my walk. We don’t even know each others’ names. As each new person passes by, we smile and nod, because we know both of us need some more happiness in our lives right now.
The world is coming together as one big community, united in the fight against COVID-19. And I’d like to believe that this attitude toward each other – that a stranger isn’t strange for saying hello – will stay.
The many, many benefits of walking
We walk to the shop, the bus, to the train station and around the office – it’s a part of our lives, every single day. But walking, when viewed as a form of exercise (as so many have done during lockdown), bring with it a wealth of physical and mental health benefits.
Firstly, there’s the obvious – you burn calories and, therefore, with the right diet you’ll lose weight.
Yes, that is possible in lockdown.
Go for a long walk in the countryside (if you can) and bear in mind, on average, a 180lb person will burn 96 calories per mile.
Then, there’s this study that showed walking 30 minutes-a-day, five days a week, can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 19%. And this one that showed walking 30-45 minutes a day boosted immune systems, with its participants taking 43% fewer sick days. Walking may even be more effective at boosting energy levels than your daily cup of coffee.
Mentally, walking has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression and negative mood, whilst increasing self-esteem – this study here proved it. It’s also been found as a way to spark creativity and improve your problem-solving at work.
And that’s not to mention it gets you out the house. Convinced yet?
Green therapy is underrated
We hunter-gatherers evolved in vast open Savannah, but somewhere along the way we lost the link. Exploring forests and venturing into lands unknown has been replaced with the rush and buzz of a concrete jungle. Even if there’s an abundance of green space around you, the chances are you’re in an office for far too long to have time to enjoy it.
But lockdown presents an opportunity to reconnect. For those who have more time on their hands, use green spaces as places to unwind.
Neurological research shows that when we wander through greenery, our brains subtly shift. We become less hyper, more calm and more alert to our surroundings. This effect is so potent that even a short time in peaceful scenery is enough to quieten our minds, pause negative brooding and improve emotional wellbeing.
If you’re working from home – or even on furlough – now is a great time to head out to a local park, nature reserve or rolling countryside, even for a 30-minute stroll. And the longer we spend in the natural environment, especially as city dwellers, the greater the benefits of so-called “green therapy” will be.
Connecting better than ever before
It feels odd to talk about connecting with family and friends in a way that’s, perhaps, deeper than before, during a time when we can’t physically see anybody. But, somehow, it seems to be the case.
Especially as someone living solo, it’s encouraged me to reach out to lost friends and host virtual quiz nights with neighbours. In fact, when I sadly lost my Nan to COVID-19 in April, it was my neighbours who came to my side in the absence of being with my family – leaving unexpected cards, chocolate and pick-me-ups outside my door and coming out for chats in our balcony-isolated ‘pub’. We’ve seen entire communities of strangers connecting faster than ever before during this pandemic.
I call family more often. I get together with groups of friends virtually. We even organised our own ‘beer tasting festival’, ordering the same box of beers and tasting together on a Zoom call.
The whole experience of self-isolation has meant we’ve needed each other more than ever before – and highlighted just what’s important to prioritise and what’s not. As someone who’s lost a loved one in this pandemic, please call the people you care about. And do it tonight.
Find a pace that suits you
Like many of you, I’ve been working from home for the last two months.
It’s not for everyone, and I miss the buzz of an office and the opportunity to catch-up with colleagues around a table. However, one major benefit I’ve certainly noticed is how much my pace of life has changed.
Before the pandemic, I’d rush into the shower, be out of the door by 7.30am and into the office by 9am. Two hours of rushing, commuting, busy streets and mindless newsfeed scrolling. Now, I use that time to do an early morning walk. I have time to make a proper lunch, and time to do all those house admin bits I was always too busy to tick off. Life is slower. And I like it.
Now, I don’t know you, reader, and appreciate you might have a completely different work life to me. But, whether it’s traffic jams, short deadlines or packed queues that add hidden stresses to your day, is now the time to reconsider whether the status-quo is really working for you?
Which leads me neatly on to…
Maybe we'll actually look after the world now
Perhaps one of the MOST positive things to come out of lockdown, is the way in which our planet appears to be getting a break from our energy consumption, car and air pollution and general environmental footprint.
Forecasts predict the coronavirus pandemic will cause a two to three billion tonne drop in CO2. For context, it dropped by 800 million tonnes after WW2. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the world will use 6% less this year – which is the equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India.
One study revealed the improvement in air quality, in the UK and in Europe, has led to 11,000 less deaths from pollution. We’ve seen polluted skylines clearer than ever before. Although dolphins in Venice canals? Sadly that was fake news.
However, there is clearly more for us to do when the world gets back to normal. As reported in the Guardian, the pandemic has also shown how little we have been doing so far. The predicted decrease in emissions, for example, is still less than what scientists say is needed every year, for a decade, to avoid an environmental catastrophe.
But let’s focus on what’s in front of us, for now: a global health pandemic.
Whoever you are, whether this piece has been useful or not, know that you’re not alone. We’re all in this together.