Writer Megan Murray is finding the third lockdown harder than ever before for one big reason: darkness. Here, she explains why shorter days are so debilitating and what to do if you’re feeling the same.
I have, of course, experienced winter before. In fact, I’ve got nearly 30 of them under my belt, so, I am familiar with, for example, the short evenings. Like, the moment you look around at a darkened sky suddenly, thinking: “How has it possibly just turned 4pm?”
Or, when the boiler breaks in the middle of December, which is a classic. Mine did one year in university and I remember running from the shower back to bed, to get under the covers to pull on my clothes.
But this year, winter feels different. Because, as we all know, this is not a normal year. The third lockdown of the pandemic was announced on Monday 4 January by Boris Johnson. After headlines talking about new strains, some more contagious or less affected by the vaccine, it was obvious that action needed to be taken to keep the country safe. But what a depressing time to do it, eh?
Facing the coldest, darkest month of them all with the news that we are now only allowed outside for exercise once a day, to me, felt so much worse than the first and second lockdown. While the first lockdown seemed to drag on forever, it was at least through spring and summer.
Now, though, I only have one window of time to make it outside during my lunch break, with darkness trapping me inside before and after work.
And this is what has been bothering me. Previously the inky blackness of night felt exciting, especially, when you’re venturing out to dinner or drinks at a glitzy new bar.
Now it feels smothering. Waking up when it’s still dark outside always makes getting out of bed more difficult, but when you simply have to make the train to go to work there’s no other option than to haul yourself up.
But when your office is your bed, it becomes so much harder to kickstart the day. Personally, this leaves me feeling lethargic, low in mood and unable to prise my eyes open. As the day goes on and I’m beavering away on my laptop, my stomach starts to sink as I see the room slowly getting gloomier again.
By the time the late afternoon has arrived and dusk has set in, I’m already tired. I feel like a sapling struggling to find sunlight to grow towards, never getting the energy boost I need. By the time my working day is over and I’ve got time to myself, it already feels like night again and my enthusiasm is gone.
I’m not the only one. Meredith Jones, 28, says that dark mornings in lockdown are already making the experience more difficult than before. “The seemingly never-ending darkness is becoming a big problem for me,” she says to Stylist.co.uk.
“I hate that the days feel so short, it makes the lockdown feel even more constraining – something I wouldn’t have thought was possible when we were going through it last year. Doing a walk around the block doesn’t quite cut it either, I know I need to find a way to get through the next few months and not feel totally overwhelmed by the constant darkness.”
If you feel the same, you might be interested in some of the techniques the Stylist team have adapted to make the darkest time of year a little easier.
Stylist’s business development director Hannah Coorg has been doing a fake commute to ‘the office’ ever since working from home. Every day she gets up at her usual time, gets ready as if going to work and walks around her neighbourhood – even wearing a handbag and a takeaway coffee like she would have done before the pandemic. Not only does it get her out of the house to see a peek of daylight, but it also helps kickstart her day.
“Fake commuting helps me as it’s a way to start the working day motivated. It’s helped me cope specifically during lockdowns as it’s offered a type of morning energiser and formed a predictable action for me to take before sitting down at my desk,” she says.
“Some days I don’t enjoy it that much, especially if I’m tired or I wake up late, but I still make sure I head out the door every morning because if we still had to go into the office, the commute would still be a compulsory routine.”
Change your attitude to your environment
A friend of mine is candle obsessed and told me that she craves dusk because it means she can really get cosy. This taught me to totally transform my mindset and try and will myself into enjoying the positive things about darker evenings.
First I tried repeating mantras to myself about how lovely and cosy it is to sit in my living room, surrounded by candles and snuggled with a blanket on the sofa. I thought about this moment throughout the day and deliberately pictured it in a positive light. I also stocked up on candles, both scented and long dinner candles, which I lit around the room so that every corner has a warming glow. I added to this with a snuggly throw and put the Netflix fire on my TV screen to create an atmosphere.
Willing myself into believing that evening is a cosy, calming time is helping me to see the positives in this time of year. I’ve tried teaming it with indoor-friendly activities, too, like an at-home pottery pack and DIY restaurant kit, so that I don’t finish work and feel hopeless about the rest of the evening.
Get organised and get out
If you’re also working from home doing an ‘office job’ then you might have a strict hour a day to work with to get outside, too. It sounds obvious, but the best thing you can do according to Stylist’s SEO manager Lucy Robsen, is make sure you’re using it.
“I’m awful for pottering around, so, some days I’ll end up missing making the most of my lunch break because I need to go to the supermarket, put a load of washing in the machine or sort out some life admin. Something I’m really trying to prioritise now that we’re in lockdown is keeping that hour in the middle of the day for myself,” she says.
“For example, I’m trying to think ahead so that I do a food shop in the evening, with food in the fridge ready for lunch the following day. Or, I’ll set my washing machine to an overnight spin so that it takes up less time in my day.”
It’s worth noting that if your mental health continues to worsen or begins to interrupt your day-to-day functioning, it’s important to seek help from a GP or qualified mental health professional.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.
For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.