Mental health lessons from lockdown

Mental health terms (Jewish News)
Mental health terms (Jewish News)

Here we are, another week into lockdown. If you are anything like me, you have read countless articles about managing anxiety and maintaining positive mental health at this time. Advice has been widespread and varied, from mindfulness to yoga to how to speak about the coronavirus to your children.

As the country crawls towards its ‘peak’ in this crisis, whatever that may look like, many of us are figuring out how to surf the ups and downs of isolation.

We are learning the balance of alone time and connection, exercise and stillness, productivity and receptivity.

Managing our own concerns and also comforting others. Drawing our own rainbows and noticing those around us. We are learning new and creative ways to give, to make a difference and to keep happy while also keeping safe.

They say it takes 30 days to develop a new habit. I am noticing myself and those around me growing weirdly accustomed to the ‘new normal’ in which we have found ourselves, while at the same time, hoping desperately for this all to end soon. So how can we take this experience one step further and proactively develop mental health resilience for our families that will serve us well throughout Corona and beyond?

A big emotional consequence of the lockdown is that our social feedback loop has shifted. All of us develop our social identity partly by responding to feedback of those around us during social interactions.

This process is ongoing and we constantly redefine ourselves both on an individual and collective level. Now that our interactions with wider friends and family have become mostly virtual, an entire experience of tactile social feedback has been lost from our daily lives. This means that many of us, during this lockdown period, will be reconfiguring our feedback loops and thus our sense of self. For teenagers and young adults this may be even more significant as during this stage, social identity is at its most formative. It seems that this unprecedented lockdown experience has provided a gaping opportunity to help to build and shape the self-esteem of those around us.

Self esteem on an individual level can be built in many ways. Praise is helpful and is best when concise, recent and specific. Remembering stories of success is also important, so that our family recall who they once were, which informs who they still want to be.

And pointing out each other’s achievements is key so that we can recognise and build on our strengths. The other evening, I reflected on how each member of my family had dealt with this crisis in their own unique yet valuable way. I noticed that this gave them stronger confidence and sense of self.

Yet on a collective level, as Jews we have an extra resource. It is true that as a people, we have visited this place many times before. Perhaps not here at Corona in particular, but definitely here at persecution, isolation, fear and exasperation. As Jews we know about resilience and as Jewish families we also know about how to get though in our own different ways.

Every family has sayings and beliefs that they have used in the past when the going gets tough. If we speak to grandparents and relations, listen to their experiences and of those before them, we can access that resilience once again. We can dig up these strengths, dust them down and redeploy them in this time, each family in their unique way.

So I would urge you to not only focus on each individual’s strengths and make an effort to point them out to each other. But also, to discover how your family has found its way through challenges in the past and the lessons that our ancestors would be telling us if they could be with us today. Let’s all hope that we can recreate a positive new identity for ourselves and our families that will carry us all through until we can eventually all meet again.


About the Author
Chana Hughes is the Rebbetzin of Radlett United synagogue in Hertfordshire, England. She works as a psychotherapist for the NHS in St Albans as well as privately. She helps adults and young people with depression, anxiety and other mental health related issues as well as couple and relationship difficulties. She lives in Radlett with her husband and family.