Mental Health

Mental health in lockdown: “Why is my mood all over the place at the moment?”

Have you found it hard to keep your moods under control during lockdown 2.0? You’re not alone. 

Going into lockdown 2.0, I was confident that I knew what I was doing.

Let’s face it: the first lockdown was tough. But through experimenting with working from home routines, learning to appreciate the value of a long walk and getting used to Zoom calls with friends, I felt better equipped to take on the latest bout of restrictions.

And sure, in some respects, my experiences of the first lockdown have helped me this time around. Some of the common problems I experienced back in March, such as feeling more tired or struggling to concentrate, have been a lot easier to deal with this time simply because I knew what to expect. I’ve also made use of some of the coping mechanisms I developed the first time around, such as setting up regular dates with my long-distance boyfriend or practising self-kindness.

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

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

I’ve been experiencing a lot of anger and frustration, too – emotions which, on a day-to-day basis, tend to be quite foreign to me. Trying to keep up with how I’m feeling has 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.”

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

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

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

Megan Murray, Stylist’s senior digital writer, shares a similar experience. Not only has the second lockdown had a dramatic impact on her mood, but it’s forced her to think about her mental health in a way she’s 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 feel represented,” she tells me.

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

She adds: “It feels like I’m grappling for stability.”

A woman with mental health problems
Lockdown mental health: “It feels like I’m grappling for stability.”

While knowing I’m not the only one feeling emotionally spent at the moment is undoubtedly comforting, the reason why so many of us are feeling 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 this lockdown that’s affecting our mood in particular?

According to Healthspan psychologist Dr. Meg Arroll, our experiences of the first lockdown, paired with our dread of a lockdown during winter, could be one of the reasons why our emotions are all over the place.  

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“The vast majority of us found lockdown life a struggle the first-time round, so it’s not surprising that many may now 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 a winter lockdown, Arroll explains, the conditions themselves are likely 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, exercise 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 a great deal of uncertainty regarding the future, hence the usual challenges of the winter months may be leading to 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 are struggling to gain control over our moods during the second lockdown. On top of all the anxiety, stress and worry we experienced during the first lockdown, we’re also having 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 during lockdown

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 alter 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.”

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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.”

For more information on taking care of your mental health during the second lockdown, you can check out our guide.

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 jo@samaritans.org.

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