Two years on from the first UK Covid-19 lockdown, many of us find ourselves on a totally different life path. Here’s how to cope and thrive when life throws you an unexpected curveball.
Content note: this article contains a reference to suicide that some readers may find upsetting.
It’s 23 March 2020 and the UK has just entered its first national lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold. The world comes to a shuddering stop, and so too do many of our best-laid plans.
Two years on from that seismic day when Boris Johnson announced to the nation “you must stay at home”, many of us find ourselves on a totally different life path to the one we might have imagined. Yet, however this change may have manifested itself, be it in our career, lifestyle, values or relationships, what has followed is evidence of our inherent ability to adapt, reconcile and prove our resilience.
One month before lockdown, Chantelle Gallow, 30, was living in Berlin and was made redundant from her full-time job in HR. She flew home to Australia to spend time with family and reassess her work opportunities. Five days after she returned to Germany, she received the news that her brother had died by suicide.
“I had no idea what to do,” she recalls to Stylist. “I spiralled into grief. I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I knew that I didn’t have a job. I wasn’t sure if I was going to go back to Australia or stay in Berlin.”
While processing her grief and the loss of her job in the middle of a pandemic, Gallow regrouped. She decided to develop a previously part-time side-hustle teaching mindful movement. Moving her classes online, she created a digital community and a business where she could work remotely.
“It’s been a huge shift for me; I’ve never worked for myself before,” she says. “My brother passing away showed me that life is way too short to be doing stuff that you hate. That is one of my biggest motivators now and I’m able to do something that fulfils me.”
By the end of 2020, Gallow made another massive change and moved to Mexico. While she was “really sad and scared” to leave her friends and support network in Berlin, Gallow says she trusted herself to make active choices, move forwards and meet her grief with compassion.
Two years later, Gallow is working as a full-time movement instructor and holistic coach. “You develop your resilience by going through really hard stuff and being challenged by life,” she says. “When it came to my redundancy, there was nothing I could do about that. My brother passing away – there was nothing I could do about that. There was so much lack of control, so I shifted my focus to what I could control.”
Bethan Vincent from York felt a similar need to regain a sense of agency in their own life during lockdown. Like many people, the 31-year-old says the greater flexibility afforded by remote working “structurally changed how I think about work”.
Having both their daily routine and long-term plans totally disrupted, Bethan began to re-evaluate. Like many others, they asked themselves: what do I really want to do? How do I want to work? And how can my work make a difference? In January 2021, they quit their job as a marketing director and set up their own business.
Becoming their own boss was by no means easy. “In the first lockdown, your world kind of closed around you. I went from having a team and having a support network to having nobody – that was really difficult.” But by adapting to these new circumstances, Bethan found their own sense of ambition growing.
“If you’ve gone through the pandemic, if you’ve been through all of that upheaval, it’s almost like – what could go wrong now?” they tell Stylist. “It makes taking a leap of faith and dealing with a lot more uncertainty a lot more palatable because you’ve done it for two years.”
So, how can we actively deal with the internal struggles that pop up when we confront drastic change? How do we counteract the inevitable “what ifs” and embrace the here and now? How do we move forwards on a path we no longer feel we chose?
Being resilient is not necessarily about “bouncing back”, says Dr Audrey Tang, a chartered member of The British Psychological Society. “That’s not really appropriate because many of us don’t necessarily want to go back to exactly how we were. We’ve grown, we’ve evolved, we’ve changed.”
Dr Tang suggests the key to resilience is about doing things that will allow us to create a buffer against stress, as well as taking affirmative action in the face of change.
While our adrenaline levels are increased during periods of upheaval, we can be left feeling exhausted and stunted when trying to find our way back to ‘normality’. Dr Tang advises bringing mindful practices into everyday routines to proactively counter stress when it hits.
Choosing to get more sleep or to go outside during our lunch breaks are all active habits Dr Tang says are just as important as the “big decisions” in life, if not more so, as they are ones that we really do have personal control over.
And when stress does hit at pivotal moments that feel beyond our control? “What we can try to do is get ourselves grounded back in the moment,” says Dr Tang. She suggests a simple 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise – look around your current place and name out loud five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can smell, two you can touch and one you can taste.
While the collective and personal hardships faced during the past two years have been manifold, so too have the opportunities to understand our own strength. These experiences we’ve been through during the pandemic do not only find a common thread in suffering. They also offer hope, new perspectives on gratitude and illuminate our resilience to go on.
Images: Getty, Chantelle Gallow, Bethan Vincent