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January blues and 'doomscrolling' set to make third lockdown tougher than before

Now Kent and the rest of the country has entered the third lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19, we once again face being stuck inside our homes day and night.

From endlessly scrolling through bad news on social media to pupils remote learning, here are all the reasons this lockdown could be the toughest yet - and some strategies to make things a little easier.

Lockdown 3 is set to be more difficult than all the others
Lockdown 3 is set to be more difficult than all the others

Seasonal blues

Unlike the first national lockdown in March, which mercifully offered sunny skies and balmy weather, this time the county is locked into a cycle of dreary January weather.

It is common to suffer with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) at this time of year - also known as the 'winter depression' - with poor weather and a lack of natural light said to be contributing factors.

But with few escapes from home during this lockdown it is likely more people will find themselves dealing with SAD than ever before.

Jacqueline Bell, a CBT therapist from Tonbridge, recommends those vulnerable to the winter blues should force themselves to go outside for walks and exercise regularly.

Therapist Jacqueline Bell said structuring your day can help combat the January blues

She said: "If you're suffering from depression or anxiety you'd probably have high levels of cortisol and any sort of exercise, sunlight, being out and about actually burns all of that up, so overall your body is much better and well maintained."

During a normal year, even during the winter months, most adults and children would benefit from daily sunlight doing things such as the school run or nipping out of work on your lunch break.

Jacqueline said: "You're still out and about and soaking up that sunlight that your body needs...obviously in lockdown all of that has come to a halt.

"People are stuck indoors and then they feel low moods and unmotivated - a lot of people feel out of control right now, so it's really about focussing on what you can control.

Jacqueline said staying motivated could help combat winter blues in lockdown
Jacqueline said staying motivated could help combat winter blues in lockdown

"You can control what you're eating, you can control the level of sunlight you're getting, you can control your exercise levels and plan you day."

Mental health charity Mind wants people to remember that although things are difficult right now, the situation won't last forever.

Stephen Buckley, head of information for the organisation, said: "Adapting your routine for winter can be beneficial as this can help give you a sense of change, especially if you’ve been spending a lot of time at home or are struggling with how long the pandemic is continuing.

"For example, you could try to learn a new skill or try out a new hobby, such as cooking.

"Building physical activity into your daily routine, especially outdoors in nature, can also be helpful as our physical health and mental health are closely connected.

A sunny April on Margate Sands versus January in lockdown

With billowing winds and pummelling rain spreading across the county, exercising outdoors might not be at the top of everyone's priority list.

And with gyms closed under the lockdown measures, those looking to regularly exercise might be finding themselves at a loss.

But being stuck in your house or flat does not mean you cannot keep healthy, according to a personal trainer from Maidstone.

Donna West, who during normal times works out of Core The Gym in King Street, has taken to Zoom to instruct her clients.

Personal trainer Donna West says home workouts can be beneficial

The 40-year-old said: "People got through the first lockdown because we had the ability to get outside - the weather was better, people fortunate enough to have gardens could just open the back doors and the kids could go out.

"This time around you look out the window and it's absolutely pouring down with rain, it's freezing cold and it's not particularly motivating. I think that's what people are going to struggle with at the moment."

January would normally be the time gyms see an increase in memberships, as people look to shift the Christmas pounds or strive towards a New Year's resolution.

But Donna said poor weather and closed gyms do not have to stop anyone from keeping fit through this lockdown.

Donna delivering a home workout to her clients via Zoom (43834445)
Donna delivering a home workout to her clients via Zoom (43834445)

She said: "People think you're not going to get a good workout at home but if you choose the right exercises and execute them well you can have a good progressive workout.

"Especially for beginners, people that want to start that journey - it can still be done and we can still do this."

'Doomscrolling'

With fresh information about Covid-19 coming thick and fast it is difficult not to be glued to your phone, searching for the newest developments.

But the act of endlessly scrolling through social media and watching the crisis unfold has now been awarded its own apocalyptic-sounding verb - 'doomscrolling'.

Social media consultant Zoe Cairns on 'doomscrolling'

As we all contemplate weeks of time spent indoors as the wintry weather batters the county, it is easy to be drawn to the light of your smart phone and the 'company' of other social media users.

Zoe Cairns, founder of ZC Social Media, said we should all think carefully about how much time we spend 'doomscrolling' during the new lockdown.

She said: "It's one of the first things we do when we wake up, before we go to sleep, while we're sitting eating our breakfast - even sometimes while we're having conversations, we're scrolling and not in the moment.

"It's making them feel 100 times worse if they've got a community around them that are experiencing real challenging times right now, so sometimes with social media it can increase the anxiety and the challenges we're going through - sometimes it's not a great place to be."

A KentOnline reporter caught doomscrolling
A KentOnline reporter caught doomscrolling

In order to avoid endless 'doomscrolling', Zoe recommends adapting your morning and evening routines without the inclusion of your smart phone.

She said: "Have some good disciplines, so you can say 'right I'm going to put that down at 10pm at go to bed'.

"When you wake up do your morning routine and then pick your phone up once you've done everything, otherwise it can just switch your mindset quite quickly."

Furlough

While many people who were put on furlough by their employers last year have since returned to work, some are still waiting to go back.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday announced a new financial package of £6.4billion designed to protect businesses throughout the new lockdown.

The government had previously extended the furlough period to March, with new measures to be set out in the Spring budget.

KentOnline court reporter Sean Axtell found himself sat at home for around eight months as courts came grinding to a halt.

He said: "I felt torn between guilt and gratitude watching the pandemic unfold from the safety of my home, unsettled not knowing what the future held and deep sorrow for those hundreds of thousands more deeply affected.

"The government announcing furlough extensions at the eleventh hour would compound anxiety. And like everyone else there were shedloads of new emotions to digest, especially with all that came with ‘the new normal’.

"I felt torn between guilt and gratitude watching the pandemic unfold from the safety of my home..."

"So what we do is distract ourselves; in my case it was enthusiastically downloading Rosetta Stone, learning to draw, brew beer, write, cryptic crosswords and more clichéd new hobbies than I care to remember.

"But one struggles to invest themselves in something mentally demanding as anxiety, migraines and fatigue takes a hold.

"Come the end most of those hobbies fell away. I remember one day where I watched Game of Thrones for 10 hours straight and I’m not even too keen on it. "

After living the uncertainty of furlough himself, Sean believes the winter weather could make things even more difficult for those still experiencing it.

He said: "Some on furlough will certainly struggle with adverse weather - less sunlight for activities and soaring bills with reduced income.And as the pandemic intensifies I imagine they will become more concerned about whether they will have a job by the end of it all."

Schools shut again

With the new lockdown comes the closure of all schools once again, with parents suddenly having to consider how to balance months of their child's remote learning with their own work commitments.

Lauren Abbot, from My Kent Family, said the last-minute move has come as a blow for families all over Kent: "Just days from the fireworks and positivity of New Year and many parents now find themselves facing what is sure to be a very difficult few weeks, if not months, ahead.

"When the government sent home children last March, Kent was on the cusp of Spring, nights were visibly drawing out, the sun was shining, the weather unseasonably warm and combined with the Blitz-style spirit sweeping across the county, I think families felt unsure and a little shocked but nonetheless determined by the task suddenly in hand.

"Social media was full of memes reminding families this could be an opportunity unlikely to ever be presented to them again, to spend uninterrupted time with their children they otherwise wouldn't, to bond with teens now forced to stay home and to find new family hobbies to pass the time with better moments sure to be just around the corner.

Lockdown without the sunny weather could be more difficult for children
Lockdown without the sunny weather could be more difficult for children

"Kids and parents enjoyed walks discovering hidden gems where they lived, toddlers learnt to ride bikes, tweens baked like professionals, households gardened, new pets were adopted and everyone muddled through together under bright blue skies where, when the walls were closing in and fractions or learning to tell the time were sending the unqualified supply teacher very close to the edge, the weather gods made it easy to escape the confines of home for an ice cream in the garden or a quick run around the park to burn off bad tempers even if that was at 7pm.

"Now that's not to say that mentally, parents aren't a little more prepared for what's coming this time around.

"After more than five months of homeschooling last year, with many a method tried and tested, there's sure to be some confidence in knowing what works and what doesn't.

"Which battles are worth picking; does home learning work best with a timetable; should the kids be dressed and hair brushed before logging on at 9am and how, perhaps most importantly for many, how does homeschooling work best being around a parent's own working day?

"But there's no doubt almost 10 months on, like many others, parents are also exhausted."

To speak to someone at Childline call 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk

Thoughts also turn to children who could be affected by another bout of lockdown loneliness and anxiety.

Michele Baxter, an advisor to the Gillingham-based NSPCC service centre and national Childline charity, predicts issues will worsen with schools closing for the third lockdown.

Mrs Baxter said that Childline was currently receiving between 60 to 80 calls a day from children as young as eight in Kent and Medway.

She said: "The main cause is isolation and a lack of control.

Children are struggling with everything that's going on. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto, BrianAJackson
Children are struggling with everything that's going on. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto, BrianAJackson

"During the first lockdown it was a bit of an adventure, a novelty being at home. Now the weather is gloomy and children just want to be back with their friends."

Rachel, 15, from Maidstone, has mixed thoughts about returning to remote learning.

She said: "In a way I am not as stressed about home schooling as before because I know the school is more prepared for the teaching. We have more live lessons and the teachers are more understanding about it. But also I am worried that there is a possibility I have done it so much before I will feel like giving up.

"Hearing that we won't be sitting our GCSEs now is a relief, as it means when we get back to school we will know what we need to do for the teacher assessed grades. I had been very worried before about whether the exams would go ahead or not. At least now we know one thing for sure."

Caitlin Daniels, who lives in Chatham, started teacher training with Teach In Kent at Walderslade Girls' School in September, after finishing her degree at home during the first lockdown last spring.

Rachel hopes her school is prepared for remote learning a second time around
Rachel hopes her school is prepared for remote learning a second time around

The 21-year-old said: "My first day was spent with all the staff, working out how the timetable would need to change to allow for staggered start and finish times, how we would make the year group bubbles work and how we could help pupils adjust to being back at school after months away.

"I remember being so relieved that I'd managed to get a training place at my old secondary school. Most trainees need to learn the school layout, how the school works, who the staff are - I thankfully knew most of that already. It was one less thing to worry about.

"With no direct teaching experience aside from a work placement in 2019, I had to learn how to manage a classroom environment within the Covid restrictions - managing year group bubbles and teaching while maintaining social distancing between me and the pupils.

"Since then, there have been a lot of adjustments as government guidance changed. For example, after a few weeks, staff started wearing masks in communal areas outside the classroom, then both staff and pupils. Eventually, everyone was wearing masks all the time in all areas of the school, including classrooms.

"Lesson planning for remote classes has been the biggest change for me. If I'm planning a lesson that will be taught in school, it's mostly the same with a few minor adjustments - I have to make sure I have all necessary resources and that any technology I am using works effectively. I need to make sure pupils have their own equipment.

Caitlin Daniels started teacher training during the first lockdown
Caitlin Daniels started teacher training during the first lockdown

"But when planning a lesson for pupils home-schooling, teachers have to remember that every pupil has a different environment. Some may not have a printer, some may be sharing their device with an entire household, some may have limited access to the internet.

"These are things that will have an impact on how a pupil will learn. So you have to learn how to plan lessons differently, depending on whether they are to be in class or remote, resulting in some last-minute changes when a year bubble or class is sent home to isolate.

"Staff at the school have been brilliant and supportive, even with the tremendous amount of extra work they've faced. A few have even said if I can survive training at a time like this, teaching post-pandemic will be lovely!"

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