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Mental Health

Pandemic mental health: how to maintain your independence if you’re still living at home after lockdown

Nearly two years into the pandemic, many of the young women who returned home for lockdown are still living with their parents. Stylist spoke to two women about how it’s impacted their mental health. 

Natalie, a 29-year-old from Surrey, moved back in with her parents in March 2020, just before the UK went into lockdown.

“I hadn’t actually planned to move home,” she tells Stylist. “I was living in London and came to stay with my parents temporarily after I’d been told to work from home and everyone was still in the panic buying toilet roll phase. Things seemed a bit crazy so I thought I’d leave the city for a bit and then come back in a month or so. But just a week into working from home, I took a pay cut and my office shut down completely. I realised there was no point being in London so I gave notice on my flat and moved everything home permanently.”

Natalie says it took her a while to come to terms with living at home again. “I felt like I’d taken a huge step backwards and was almost embarrassed to be 28 and living with my parents,” she explains.

“At first it was a huge adjustment, as I was so used to my independence and having my own space. We clashed a lot over silly things like the washing up, but I think that was the norm for everyone who was cramped up 24/7 in lockdown and everyone’s emotions were heightened.”

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Natalie says that living with her parents still isn’t ideal. “It makes things like dating practically impossible, I can’t host friends round for dinners, and as we’ve come out of lockdown restrictions and I’ve gone back to an office environment, I still feel embarrassed to say I live with my parents.” But she agrees that for right now, it’s the most convenient option while she continues to save up money.

“Moving back in with your parents after a period of living away independently, however long that may be, can be difficult,” explains Olivia Dornan, an investigative therapist at the Priory Wellbeing Centre Birmingham.

“Naturally, when living away from our parents we gain new skills such as money and time management, cooking and cleaning, as well as reaping the benefits of independent living – socially and environmentally.

“A sense of privacy can be lost and and the difficulty of adapting to your new boundaries can be challenging. Conflict can arise from these issues as the feeling of independence can potentially drop.”

Charlotte, 23, from north-East England, says the pandemic also prompted her to move home. “I was in my final year of university and with classes cancelled, it just made sense to move back and be with family during a worrying time,” she tells Stylist.

Charlotte says that at first she didn’t think anything of the move, but once the reality of no longer being around friends and being unable to drive and travel set in, it really affected her mental health. “I felt left behind seeing other people renting with their friends, doing Zoom quizzes and spending all this time with their partners.”

However, both Natalie and Charlotte say that they’re grateful for the time they’ve spent at home again. “I’m so thankful for everything my mum has done for me and there are so many simple home comforts I wouldn’t get living alone,” says Charlotte.

Natalie agrees. “I felt more settled and relaxed at home. As much as I enjoy my independence I can’t deny that it’s been helpful having the odd dinner made for me already when I get in from work or having my mum on hand to do the washing every now and then over the weekend so I don’t have to worry about it. When I lived in London I was constantly dashing around and felt like I always had to be doing something, but now I’m back with my family, I’m happier just relaxing or watching TV – my pace of life has completely changed.”

“Forming a solid relationship with your parents when moving back in can be extremely important for your wellbeing,” continues Dornan. “You may not always meet eye to eye, but spending some quality time with them occasionally and communicating with them overall can have a positive impact on how you manage to live together. This can also help move away from feeling isolated into a bedroom which can be detrimental to our wellbeing.”

After 20 months at home, Charlotte hopes to move back out from her parents soon. “I’m potentially looking to move between February and March next year. I’m just looking forward to feeling independent again.” Natalie is also planning to move out next year. “Two years is enough,” she says.

How to protect your mental health when moving back in with your parents

Dornan stresses the importance of boundaries for our independence and wellbeing, and that everyone deserves the right to set them.

“If you are concerned about feeling a loss of independence, perhaps an open conversation with your parents to set these boundaries can help,” she explains. “For example, if you enjoy cooking for yourself, voice that this is something you don’t want to lose touch with so you would like to cook for yourself. If you’re worried about your privacy, what boundaries would you like to set with your parents to prevent conflict over this?”

“Open discussions over topics such as rent and their comfort surrounding friends or partners visiting are all valuable and valid to have. Focusing on what you are in control of rather than what you feel you aren’t can be extremely helpful in this period.

“Ensure there are places other than home that you can go to so you don’t feel so limited or somewhat controlled in your environment – perhaps a friend or a partner’s house,” she continues.

“A consistent self-care routine can also be helpful to support your mental health whilst adapting. A mix of social, physical and independent activities inside and outside of home is proven to lower feelings of stress, isolation and enhance mood. You could shape your routine more around being out of the house at times to encourage feelings of independence and adulthood.”

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