Sam Gardner – The three mental health lessons I’ve learnt from a global pandemic.

It is 4.24am and the glare of my phone screen probably isn’t helping me sleep. The fan whirrs as the morning light peeps through the curtains. I am wide awake.  For the past 2 months I’ve been taking anti-depressants, which lifts the levels of serotonin (a happy hormone) and which, at this very moment, lights up my brain like a moonlit snow globe.

It’s no secret that I am a worry warrior. The intensity of irrational fears can brew from; an unexpected helicopter, thunder or reading too much about Iran. I am completely aware that my fears are irrational, but my body reacts in a hypersensitive way to a given trigger. I am told that this is consequence of the lack of stability I experienced as a child. Feeling uncertain is ingrained in me.

My coping mechanism is to want to control the situation. So, I find myself checking Coronavirus statistics four times a day and BBC news even more so. Feeding the anticipation nerves.

A week before lockdown was announced I experienced a major blip. One day I was in the classroom, high energy and connected. The next morning, I did not raise from bed for three weeks.  My brain had snapped. I shut myself off from the rest of the world like a hermit. Small tasks seemed humongous. Zero motivation, zero purpose. It was all too much.

I am not alone in this thought, this pandemic has terrorised the mental health of the planet through wild hysteria and uncertainty. For me, coupled with a pending job change and moving out of my apartment I most certainly fell off a cliff. It was as if my body had decided that it was time to stop. To take stock and to recharge my batteries. Goodnight Mr. G.

I believe the way to a sound mind is through the environments we create, Both digitally and physically. If you’re not conscious of this, it can gnaw away at your mental health.

8 weeks in I am stronger than ever. Here’s why.

  1. Be Here Now. Without sounding like a yogi, I am beginning to appreciate the need for living in the present moment. Not to stop thoughts, but to recognise and become impartial to them. We either live in the future or the past and rarely notice the only moment that matters. Now. If you’re anything like me, the constant flow of thoughts can be overwhelming. Lockdown has forced me to slow down. After a few weeks my erratic thoughts settled, and I become more aware of the now. Ten minutes of Headspace at 9.00pm sorts me right out. Lesson one – pay meticulous attention to this very moment.
  2. The importance of routine. Routine is something that’s usually automated for me. I get up, work most of the day and chill from about seven. It’s a big shock to the system being off work for so long. I feel a lack of purpose and drive. 11.00pm? I don’t need to sleep… what’s the point? 11.00am breakfast? Why not. It dawned on me a few weeks back that I hadn’t had sunlight for five days straight. This alone can send you into mental disarray. First, I began small by making my bed in the morning. Then making a point of getting dressed for the day (I’d not been leaving my bed). Small wins. Then I began blocking time off on my calendar, in order to find some kind of order. 2.00pm – listen to an audio book; 4.00pm – watch some Tiger King; 5.00pm – go for a run; 6.00pm – shower. It sounds very OCD, but what an absolute game changer that has been. I’m flexible with it. Lesson two – have structure.
  3. We are not meant to live alone. Or to feel lonely. It’s a recent phenomenon that so many of us are more connected than ever, but are distant. There is a difference between loneliness and it’s more preferable brother, solitude. Solitude is where you find space for yourself to just be. To recharge your batteries. Hygge. I most definitely achieve this with Nutella toast, Netflix and copious amounts of coffee.

On the other hand, it’s important to adapt the way we connect to our tribe. No matter how spread out we might be. I think the key to a deeper relationship is to be present with the people around you. To really hear what they are saying. To be compassionate. I make an effort now to pick up the phone and ring a friend without a real intention of what the conversation might hold. This fills me up.

Combining the above aspects has benefited my mental state enormously.  I’ve began to appreciate that no man is an island – we are all in this boat together.

Be present. Be grateful. Be kind.


Guest blog by: Sam Gardner, Inspire! Adult Learning Award winner 2016
View Sam’s story