Lessons learnt from living in a pandemic for a year

Lessons learnt from living in a pandemic for a year

As the UK approaches one year since its first lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, I reflect on what I’ve learnt this past year.

Life before lockdown feels so far away from where we are now and more like a distant memory. While the pandemic has been difficult, unprecedented and exhaustive, one year on is a good time to reflect on the lessons we’ve learnt from last March up until now.

1. Never take our health (or NHS) for granted

Despite being classed as being in the low-risk category for Covid, I found myself having health anxiety throughout the pandemic. I was losing sleep, feeling anxious about the unpredictability of the world and constantly overthinking. Lockdown made me realise that I had been neglecting my health and ignoring what my body was telling me.

It’s been years since I did any kind of exercise. During lockdown I wasn’t regularly taking my prescribed iron tablets, my go-to drink was either coffee or coke and I would wake up at 2 pm and go to sleep at 3 am. I put this down to being a student and so normalised it. But, experiencing this global pandemic has made me realise how important it is to look after ourselves. In my experience, maintaining good physical health directly links to good mental health.

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I began cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), started going on daily walks or runs and followed a schedule to ensure I was eating and drinking properly.

Maintaining a routine and disciplining yourself is a constantly evolving process, but without lockdown, I wouldn’t have realised just how much I had been neglecting my health. Often we become so consumed with the fast-paced nature of the world, that we don’t stop to reflect on who we are and what we need.

Lockdown has made me grateful for healthier, safer times and even more thankful for our relentlessly hardworking keyworkers – especially our NHS.

2. Going back to books

Watching TV, playing on my Nintendo Switch and joining Zoom games nights became routine during the pandemic. The freedom to watch and do whatever I wanted (from home), with no expectations or deadlines was bizarre, but the novelty began to wear off quickly. So, I went back to basics. I started to read again. Reading is the perfect escape to remove yourself from the constant stream of coronavirus figures and infection rates, which sometimes felt never-ending.

Apparently, I was not alone in this. In an article written by The Guardian, the book sales monitor, Nielsen BookScan “has estimated that the volume of print books sold grew by 5.2% compared with 2019. This equates to 202 million books being sold in the UK last year and was worth £1.76bn, up 5.5% on 2019”.

Inayah Shah

This research by Nielsen highlights the importance of books during this time. I read light-hearted books, old and new, which provided me with a holiday through the medium of words on a page. Lockdown has been a wonderful opportunity to find my love for reading again and even though we’ve transitioned into a digital world, lockdown taught me that reading and investing in physical books are still important.

3. Re-watching your favourite TV show over and over (and over) again is okay

Throughout lockdown, I found that there’s been an urgency sweeping across social media to watch everything every streaming site has to offer. For some time I watched movies I had never seen before or TV shows that were recommended, but I found myself struggling to stay interested.

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Instead, I re-watched all of my favourite TV shows – from New Girl, to Fleabag to Grey’s Anatomy and now The US Office. I have a newfound appreciation for revisiting my comfort shows. The characters are familiar. I first watched and loved them pre-pandemic and there’s a security in knowing how they are going to end.

One of my favourite lessons in lockdown is that familiarity and comfort in the entertainment we consume can help calm our anxiety and there’s science behind that.

4. Getting creative helps cure lockdown boredom

From a young age, I pestered my mum and grandma constantly, asking them to teach me how to knit. Despite clear signs that I was hopeless, they persisted and dedicated far too much of their time towards teaching me – which would usually end with them finishing off any project I started.

Inayah Shah

Roughly two months into the UK’s first lockdown, university was cancelled and I didn’t have a job. So, I found myself itching to be creative or dedicate myself to a project. Reluctantly I asked my mum to teach me how to knit again and promised myself I wouldn’t give up. After several knitting nightmares, step-by-step walkthroughs by my mum and video call tutorials with my grandma, I (eventually) successfully knitted hats for premature babies!

This creative accomplishment not only occupied me for weeks on end, but I felt proud that I had completed a task I put my mind to. Now, I balance university work with my knitting, and I am in the process of making scarves for my friends.

5. How much we rely on technology (and how much we should try not to)

Screens are now part of our everyday lives. It’s how we stay connected. Pre-pandemic, I was naïve enough to think the world couldn’t become more reliant on technology and social media if we tried. But lockdown has propelled us into a time where being on our phones or laptops is essential to get on with our day. University lectures are held online, we read online, and we do group work together online – it’s inescapable.

Now, I’m grateful for the technology available to us and without it, lockdown would have been much lonelier and far more isolating.

However, I hope that we remember this feeling of digital fatigue and the restlessness of studying or working from home. I hope we use this to encourage people who can go back to work or university to do so. I think it’s really important to separate work life from home life and for most of us, we’re sleeping in the same room we’re trying to get a degree in.

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Lockdown and the new working from home way of life has shown that you can do your job or get a degree from the comfort of your house – but just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should. I think being able to get out of the house, socialise with friends or co-workers and being able to leave work at work is essential for good mental health and a healthy work/life balance.

Before the pandemic, people were already so consumed by their work, and now we have brought that into our homes. It’s even harder to switch off and have ‘me time’. Instead, I hope we can find a balance that preserves our energy and values our health and safety, whilst also being able to differentiate our workspace from our home space.

6. Sometimes just getting out of bed is enough

With all this spare time on my hands, it became overwhelming deciding how to spend this free time. I was trying to juggle so much more than I realised, whilst also attempting to adapt to these unclear times.

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I don’t think any of us quite realised the toll the pandemic would have on our mental health. I tried pushing myself to be proactive and to keep my head above water, but I soon realised, I was doing this to my own detriment.

This is an absurd time and there should be no expectation on what to do or feel. The best we can do is to follow government guidelines, stay as safe as we can, and look after our mental health. Whether you want to study, or bake, or exercise, or maybe you want to sit on the sofa all day. Do whatever you need to do to help you get through each day, as long as you’re looking after your mental health. Turn off the news. Switch off. Simply doing the bare minimum is enough – don’t feel pressured by social media to be productive.

7. Surround yourself with people who make you happy

Being in lockdown and going through this uncertain time has made us miss and long to be around loved ones more than ever. It’s stripped us back to basics and made us re-evaluate our relationships and friendships with people.

During lockdown, we’ve maintained contact with people who make us feel happy and loved. It’s really shown me the people I want in my life, and the people who I may have just been maintaining contact with for the sake of it – not because I want to.

If this unpredictable and daunting time has shown us anything, it’s that life is too short to surround yourself with people who make you unhappy. Instead, put that energy into healthy, loving relationships or friendships which help you look forward to better times, post-pandemic.

8. We need to appreciate the creative arts more than ever

It’s safe to say that lockdown would’ve been significantly more difficult if we didn’t have the creative arts to keep us distracted.

Music has been a key component in helping me cope with the constantly evolving circumstances and playing my favourite albums from my favourite artists has been a security for me. The hope and longing to finally attend live music events someday in the future has been one of my biggest motivators to staying positive.

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Before and during the pandemic, the creative arts has been one of the most important industries in our lives and without it the world would be a very dull place.

I was extremely disheartened to see the ongoing neglect of the creative arts throughout the pandemic and the performers who have been left behind, without jobs or any kind of idea of when they’ll be receiving financial aid to tide them over until things can reopen. Lockdown has made me feel so much more appreciative of performers, the crew and anybody who relies on the arts industry. Just as we have needed the arts during lockdown, they will need us more than ever once we’re out of it.

One can’t be without the other and I hope this time has taught us the importance of creative arts. We should support them in any way we can once we come out on the other side.

9. A time for education, not only rest

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a sense of comradery when fighting this virus. We were all having to come together to protect one another from becoming unwell and making sure we isolated to protect our friends, family and community. However, this façade of the ‘virus does not discriminate’ quickly diminished after figures showed “people of black and south Asian ethnic background have a greater risk of death from Covid than white people”. The sense that we were all in this together suddenly felt laughable and I became worried about the disproportionate amount of black and brown people dying of Covid-19.

This research came off the back of the Black Lives Matter movement, which re-emerged last year after the murder of George Floyd. In my naivety, I couldn’t believe that during a time where the world is already hurting, that racism and discrimination could rampage on. I was overwhelmingly heartbroken to see that black people have had to put their lives at risk, in a global pandemic to remind the world that their lives matter.

People reference the pandemic as a reset button and a chance to reflect: it certainly made me sit back and look deeper into systemic and societal racism that continues to live on, even as the world has seemingly stopped.

Lockdown gave me and others the opportunity to educate, unlearn, learn and fully understand the weight of racism before, during and after the pandemic.

I hope that the momentum and force created by the Black Lives Matter movement continues far after lockdown ends. Covid-19 is only the symptom of a bigger problem. It’s important to rest and recuperate during lockdown, but it is also a time that we can implement change through education and solidarity. It starts with you and your choice to speak up for your neighbours, your colleagues, your friends, your students and every person who experiences racism, every single day.

Racism is a pandemic that started long before Covid-19 and unless we continue to educate and dismantle it, it will continue long after Coronavirus ends.

10. Kindness goes a long way

In a world that is already stressful, kindness is something that has become a rarity.

We don’t say thank you as much, we’re busy looking out for ourselves and we’ve become less aware of the people around us. My biggest lesson in lockdown, is that it’s down to all of us to actively help the world and our society heal. This can start in our homes.

Being kinder to our family, friends and even being kinder to ourselves. Everybody keeps saying that they can’t wait to go back to normal, but I reject this idea of normality. Normality before the pandemic means retreating back to a time of ignorance, neglect and surviving rather than truly living.

Once lockdown lifts, people are going to be anxious and apprehensive to step back into the world again. We need to look out for one another. Whether that’s by holding a door open for someone, leaving a bit more space in a queue or giving up your space on the tube for someone who needs it. Just these small random acts of kindness can go a long way and perhaps these small acts will be appreciated more than ever before. It seems minuscule, but you could be the difference between somebody having a good or bad day.

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