A woman with mental health problems

Was your mood all over the place during lockdown? You’re not the only one

Posted by for Mental Health

Did you find it hard to keep your mood under control during ? You’re not the only one. Here’s how to keep yourself in check now that restrictions have eased again. 

Finally, the second lockdown has come to a close, and much of the country can breathe a sigh of relief as restrictions ease in the run up to Christmas.

But let’s face it: the many months of lockdown we have faced this year – not to mention all the other restrictions in between – have been tough. Going into lockdown 2.0, though, I thought I was much better prepared: I felt more comfortable in my routines, and I had come to value a walk  after a long day and got used to new ways of catching up with friends.

And sure, in some respects, my experiences of the first lockdown did help me second time around. Some of the common problems I experienced back in March, such as loneliness or anxiety, were a lot easier to deal with simply because I knew what to expect. I also made use of some of the coping mechanisms I developed the first time around.

With all of this being said, however, there was one aspect of the second lockdown that I definitely did not expect: the mood swings. 

Unlike during the first lockdown, my mood was all over the place. When I say I just couldn’t predict what my mood was going to be like from one day to the next, I’m not being dramatic: one moment I’d be happy as a clam, feeling motivated at work and aching to see the positive side of things, and the next, all I really wanted to do was climb back into bed and shut out the world.

I experienced anger and frustration – emotions which, on a day-to-day basis, tend to be quite foreign to me. Trying to keep up with how I was feeling had never felt so exhausting. 

A woman looking out a window
Lockdown mental health: “There’s been one aspect of this second lockdown that I definitely did not expect: the mood swings.”

And I’m not the only one who experienced this kind of mood fluctuation during lockdown 2.0. Indeed, as Stylist’s digital editor-at-large Kayleigh Dray tells me, she spent most of her days trying to keep up with her ever-changing emotions.

“I was, essentially, the modern-day equivalent of Jane Eyre’s Bertha in the attic, all eccentric murmurs, wild sobbing, and unnatural goblin-laughter,” she says. “I think it came from spending so much time alone and indoors, to be honest – everything felt more extreme on my emotions because they were rawer than ever, so the highs were vertigo-inducing and the lows were… well, they were really bloody low.”

She continues: “One minute, I’d be giggling over a meme I’d spotted on Instagram. The next, I’d be sobbing over a Christmas advert and wondering when life will be normal again. Within minutes, I’d be feeling warm and cosy and happy as I chat to someone on the phone. And then I’d be raging about the computer crashing and all of my work disappearing into the soulless void. It was exhausting!”

Megan Murray, Stylist’s senior digital writer, shared a similar experience. Not only did the second lockdown have a dramatic impact on her mood, but it forced her to think about her mental health in a way she’d never had to before.

“We know the pandemic has sparked a mental health crisis in this country, but while I usually find it easy to distance myself from overwhelming headlines like these, this time, I felt represented,” she tells me.

“It was a shock to experience my mood dip throughout the week – I’d go through stages of adapting to what was happening and making the most of it (sometimes I would even feel burning flickers of hope that there’d be something to look forward to soon), but then I would plummet again and feel like every day is monotonous and without meaning.”

She adds: “It felt like I was grappling for stability.”

A woman dealing with lots of emotions
Lockdown mental health: How to cope with mood swings and emotional volatility during the coronavirus pandemic.

While knowing I’m not the only one who was feeling emotionally spent is undoubtedly comforting, the reason why so many of us were feeling so all-over-the-place during lockdown 2.0 remains a source of confusion for me.

We know many people experienced poor mental health during the first lockdown – according to a survey of 16,000 adults conducted by the mental health charity Mind, more than half of adults said their mental health got worse during the first period of strictest restrictions – but what is it about the most recent lockdown that affected our mood in particular?

According to Healthspan psychologist Dr. Meg Arroll, our experiences of the first lockdown, paired with could be one of the reasons why our emotions were (and might still be) all over the place.  

“The vast majority of us found lockdown life a struggle the first-time round, so it’s not surprising that many would be experiencing underlying anticipatory anxiety, which can manifest itself in mood volatility,” Dr Arroll explains. “A recent survey of 2,000 people by Healthspan found that 57% were dreading this winter more than usual due to Covid-19 restrictions.”

On top of this pre-emptive dread towards ongoing winter restrictions, Arroll explains, the conditions themselves have likely been playing a part in our mood volatility, too.

“We are now entering some of the darkest days of the year and we know lack of natural light can negatively impact mood,” she says. 

“Even if you’ve never experienced a form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) before, the usual protective factors against low mood such as social connectedness and creativity are to some greater or lesser extent diminished by the Covid-19 social restrictions and guidelines, so I’m not at all surprised to see a surge in reports of mood instability this winter.”

Dr Arroll continues: “Basically, our cups are pretty full right now – full to the brim with anxieties, worries and stresses, of which we haven’t had the chance to heal as we’re still in the midst of the pandemic. There is also still regarding the future, hence why the usual challenges of the winter months may be leading to a bubbling up and overflowing of frustrations in the form of mood swings.”

When you take all of this into account, it’s hardly surprising that so many of us struggled to gain control over our moods during the second lockdown. On top of all the anxiety, stress and worry we experienced during the first, we also had to navigate the usual challenges of the winter months after an emotionally exhausting year. Who wouldn’t be feeling a bit unstable after all that?

How to cope with mood swings now that lockdown has lifted

Whether you’re struggling to keep your moods under control or are looking for advice for a friend, here are some of Dr Arroll’s top tips for managing mood swings.

Pay attention to your behaviours

“It often seems that abrupt changes in mood come out of nowhere, but often there are subtle signs and signals that can help alert us to an impending dark storm,” Dr Arroll says.

“These signs are easier to spot if we look at our behaviours – for example, are you reaching out for sugary or carb-laden comfort foods, pick-me-ups like caffeine, alcohol or nicotine, or finding yourself procrastinating? If so, take a moment to check in with yourself and see how you’re doing.”

Alarm clock
How to cope with mood swings: “You can set hourly alarms to create a more attuned awareness of how you’re feeling.”

Set ‘mood alarms’

“You can also set hourly alarms to create a more attuned awareness of how you’re feeling,” Dr Arroll suggests. 

“This only takes a couple of minutes and although you may feel you don’t have the time to do it, by regaining control of our mood, we create mental space and time. In other words, it’s worth the investment!”

She continues: “Our emotions are always running in the background so by tuning in to them on a regular basis, mood swings won’t halt us in our tracks. And by simply noting how we’re feeling, what we’re doing and who we’re with we may find patterns where none seem to exist.”

Use an app

“There are apps for tracking your mood too – Moodtrack Diary allows you to enter how you’re feeling as often as you like to identify triggers and patterns and see how your moods change over time.”

Identify your ‘mood band-aids’

“When you do see any of the precursors to a mood swing, can feel your mood change rapidly or you’re ‘coming down’ from a mood rollercoaster, turn to your personalised mood band-aids,” Arroll recommends.

“These can be as simple as the ritual of making a cup of tea, hot shower to reset or loud music to release the emotional bottleneck.”

Use supplements

“Research shows that low levels of B vitamins are associated with anxiety, irritability and mood, which makes sense as this important group of vitamins support the nervous system, emotional health and cognitive processes,” Arroll explains.

“With this in mind, you might consider adding a vitamin B supplement to your diet.”

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.