Friday 17 April

In case anyone thought the lockdown extension was to be three weeks only, Dominic Raab has warned that the measures could last into June as ministers came under increasing pressure to set out a detailed plan to ease the stringent restrictions. I wonder how much of this is a delaying tactic because there’s still no plan for an exit strategy, which other European countries mostly have.

Matt Hancock was expected to come under pressure to commit to a coordinated testing and contact tracing regime when he appears before a ‘blockbuster’ Health and Social Care Select Committee hearing this morning, led by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt and attended by several other committee chairs as guests. Given his former role, it must have been gratifying for Jeremy Hunt to take charge of this grilling. During the virtual meeting, Hancock outlined a 6-stage ‘battleplan’ (note that bellicose language again) and said the first step for beating the pandemic is social distancing, with the UK currently remaining in lockdown for at least another three weeks. The next 5 steps are boosting NHS capacity; supply (eg correct equipment), described as ‘challenging’; testing, tracking and tracing; treatment; and shielding (protecting society’s most vulnerable people from the virus to make the UK safer overall).

It could be argued that putting social distancing first, important though it is, is a distraction from severe delay and underperformance in what the main interventions should be, ie testing, tracking and tracing, attributing too much responsibility to the public and not enough to policymakers.  As if we hadn’t already heard enough about PPE shortages and should be able to assume the supply problems are resolved, Hancock was unable to promise MPs that some hospitals would not run out of gowns this weekend. It’s also quite late in the day, given what’s been happening in care homes, to talk about ‘protecting society’s most vulnerable people’.

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke put in an impressive performance last night on Question Time, repeatedly challenging minister Robert Buckland on why, for example, Germany was doing so much better than the UK: not just because it has a stronger pharmaceutical industry but because it took precautionary measures sooner and has invested far more in health care than the UK. It’s worth catching up on Iplayer if you missed it.

Social distancing is just not being taken seriously in some quarters, eg scenes of a packed Westminster Bridge as people clustered closely to applaud NHS workers. As one observer tweeted: ‘Well, I give up. Four bloody weeks into lockdown – what’s the point if clowns congregate on Westminster Bridge clapping the very people that will be detrimentally affected by their behaviour!!’

After all these weeks there are indications the population is becoming impatient with all the delays, muddle and lack of transparency. As one sceptic tweeted: ‘The people have given this Government their full support during this crisis, but I feel there is a well of anger building up about a lack of competency and mistakes that are still being made’.

Several readers have suggested I write about self-care, so here goes. It’s an important and often overlooked topic, embedded as a key principle in the ethical codes of counselling and psychotherapy professional bodies and no doubt others, besides being applicable to all of us. I think there are some misunderstandings about it, eg content you see on the internet is often a thinly-disguised sales pitch for some product or other, and it’s often assumed self-care is just about things like candles and bubble baths. Self-care is about looking after our physical and mental health and besides things we enjoy and find relaxing, it also involves things we may not always feel like doing, eg exercise and keeping up with domestic tasks.

A few weeks back you may have seen an article in the form of a letter to the UK population from an Italian writer, who said what happened in Italy will happen here and ‘you will eat more and put on weight’. That doesn’t have to be an inevitability. Although boredom has made some resort to lots more wine, chocolate and pizza while bingewatching tv and this might initially feel comforting, it’s best not to do too much if we don’t to emerge from this crisis with mushy brains and having put on a stone in weight.

I think a key step is creating a structure for your day and filling it (but not all of it as it’s important to have unscheduled time) with a variety of activities which are necessary (eg shopping and housework), which are enjoyable and which confer health benefits. These could include exercise (lots of online resources available on YouTube and elsewhere and the Joe Wicks daily workouts are to be recommended as he’s such an engaging guy); getting out in the Spring weather for a daily run, walk or run (as proximity to nature is a bonus); pursuits like gardening, handicrafts or playing a musical instrument (enjoyable in themselves but also for their mindfulness qualities because when you’re focusing on the plants, the stitch or getting the right note ruminating over problems has to take a back seat); communicating with friends and family via phone, email, WhatsApp, Skype or letters; clearing out cupboards and drawers (very therapeutic and who doesn’t have a long neglected glory hole somewhere?); mindfulness or meditation (again with mental health benefits); and reading (many of us have books we’ve been intending to read or finish but haven’t yet managed to). There are many others, of course: there’s something you might have wanted to do for years but not quite got round to so now might be a good opportunity. More and more friends and groups are meeting via Zoom, which helps tackle isolation and ensures we are physically distancing but not socially.

If you don’t enjoy having the usual parks so busy and joggers pounding past every two minutes, it could be worth seeking out less obvious places. I’ve taken to walking along a local waterway, blissfully free of hordes, and visiting several pairs of nesting coots. It’s a lovely sight seeing the hen bird sitting on the eggs while the other continually fetches twigs and weeds to reinforce their nest.

Besides this there’s all the usual stuff everyone will be familiar with such as the importance of healthy diet, limiting or eliminating smoking, watching alcohol intake, getting decent sleep and so on. This can perhaps sound a bit crass and feel easier said than done because so many (IPSOS Mori statistics) are experiencing anxiety, depression and sleep difficulties as we  struggle to come to terms with uncertainty and how the world has changed. Embracing the mindful approach towards anxiety and depression can be helpful:  rather than trying to fight it or ‘get rid of it’, we accept what we’re feeling. Acceptance can reduce the anxiety but it’s also important to give ourselves a break and understand that such feelings are inevitable at such challenging times.

Finally, at the daily press briefing the very sobering virus death total was reported – 14,576,with a total of 40,000 UK deaths forecast. There’s increasing concern about how the oft quoted mantra ‘we’re being guided by the science’ can be trusted, when all the relevant scientists outside of government say that they have been getting it wrong.

Published by therapistinlockdown

I'm a psychodynamic therapist in private practice, also doing some voluntary work, and I'm interested in the whole field of mental health, especially how it's faring in this unprecedented crisis we're all going through. I wanted to explore some of the psychological aspects to this crisis which, it seems to me, aren't being dealt with sufficiently by the media or policymakers, for example the mental health burden already in evidence and likely to become more severe as time goes on.

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