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Lockdown: “why planning for when we can travel again is helping my mental health”

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Megan Murray
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Lockdown affects us all in different ways. Here, writer Megan Murray unpicks why having something to look forward to is so important for her mental health, even if the instability of the UK’s current situation has taken that away from her. 

Everyone is going through their own version of lockdown and honestly, I feel like my quarantine reality has gone abnormally well, leaving me with a guilty feeling every time I go to moan about it.

I live in the countryside so I’ve got plenty of opportunities to get fresh air and go on long walks. No one I know has become ill and my work life has carried on pretty much as normal. I’ve kept in good contact with my family and friends, and living with my boyfriend has meant I’ve always got someone to pick me up when I’m having a flat day.

But as the weeks drone on I’ve noticed a peculiar feeling. Every morning, it’s like a grumpy, grey cloud hanging over me. As I open my eyes each day something is clinging to me, a foreboding sense of dread that just won’t go away.

It doesn’t feel as gripping as anxiety and hasn’t affected me so much as to throw my day off course, but it’s there; nipping and nagging, telling me something isn’t right.  

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Of course, there are lots of things that aren’t right. One look at the news or a few minutes of letting your mind wander across the stats of people who have lost their lives, worries for the economy or job prospects for the future could all bring down your mood and effect your mental health.

Though these are all very real threats, I’ve instinctively known that what I’ve been feeling has been less about the big things and more a sense of mourning for sweet spots of joy that make my life what it is. Like my little torch of optimism is slowly extinguishing.

Today I realised exactly what I’ve been missing and why it’s so important. You see, although we don’t really know when it will be safe to enjoy theatre shows, bars and hotel stays again, me and my partner fantasised for fun about what we do with our first weekend entirely free of lockdown restrictions.

As we talked we became quicker and more feverish in our exclamations, reeling off where we’d go and what it would be like. This glimmer of having something to look forward to sent an excited tickle down my spine, making me realise that it’s this exact feeling I have been missing. 

"I don’t need to go on holiday or hold a dinner party tomorrow, but I think it’s an innate part of who we are as humans to look to the future with hope and optimism."

Throughout lockdown the UK has been doing its best to tolerate, hold on and be patient with a situation we have no control over. It’s effectively like sitting in a massive waiting room with no appointment time to work towards. 

The precariousness of the situation and blind resignation that we’ve been forced to take waiting, week after week, for the world to open its doors again has stopped me (and I presume others) from making plans. It’s this, the looking forward to something, that I think has finally got to me.

In my friendship group, I’ve always been the planner. Part of my job as a lifestyle journalist is to find new restaurants, bars, places and experiences to recommend to readers and it’s a huge part of who I am as a person, too. 

If I’m going away for the weekend with my friends or partner, my role always involves months of research into where we’ll stay, what we’ll do and how we’ll do it. I love putting the pieces of an experience together and so having nothing to plan for has taken its toll on my happiness levels.

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I don’t need to go on holiday or hold a dinner party tomorrow, but I think it’s an innate part of who we are as humans to look to the future with hope and optimism. 

It’s what gets us through a dull week at work, knowing the weekend is at the end of it. It’s why we scroll through a thousand profiles on a dating app, because we have hope that one of them will eventually lead to something positive. We can withstand times of difficulty because we have an optimistic image in our minds of what’s to come.

Now, I can’t promise that we’ll be able to take that life-changing holiday next summer or that those with autumn birthdays can throw a big ol’ party, but if you’re feeling the same as me, first of all know you’re not the only one. 

Personally, I’m going to start planning again. No, I won’t have a date in mind or even check for availability at the places I’d like to visit, but I think it’s time to create a post-lockdown bucket list and every time I read an article, see a post on social media or have a thought about something I’d like to do when this is over, I’m going to write it down and make my hope that it will happen real.  

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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