Alastair Campbell, Writer, Communicator, Strategist, Speaker and TV Analyst
Good morning fellow isolators … after this week’s announcement, it looks like we really are in it all together now.
I’ve pretty much been in self-isolation since Sport Relief eleven days ago, not because of symptoms but because by then, having read so much about the virus and how it was operating in different parts of the world, I was pretty sure we were going to end up roughly where we are anyway. Added to which, a history of respiratory illness in the family, and my lifelong asthma, led me to think I should.
I am not great at any kind of isolation to be frank. I don’t mind my own company, but I enjoy it best when I am travelling, working in new environments, doing new things. There is not much of that available within your own four walls, and with every speaking engagement in my diary between now and June cancelled. I also have a bit of tendency to hyperactive periods (he writes, at 455a.m) and that too is not conducive to this new life.
But I also have a lot of experience of depression and its flipside, anxiety, which the current crisis, and its consequences, are unlikely to help in those who have it, and likely to encourage in many who don’t.
So my last blog having been 20 tips for Boris Johnson to improve his press conferences, today I am going to try 20 tips to help ward off depression and anxiety.
My experience of depression does not make me an expert in the illness; it just makes me an expert in mine. Everyone will be different, so some of these ideas may not work for everyone. But I hope that within them, there is something for all.
- Try to stay active. When your mood is low, your energy is low. The temptation to do nothing is strong. Try to resist it.
- This is going to be more important, and for many more difficult, than ever. It is so easy to think ‘ah well I can’t go out, so I’ll sit and watch telly all day, and raid the fridge and the cupboard every half hour.’ There is so much capacity for exercise in the home. Walking/running up and down stairs. Press ups, squats, star jumps and running on the spot don’t require lots of space. Watch out for the explosion in online exercise classes. Think about joining.
- Watch your diet. See the ‘raid the fridge’ point in 2. Shopping trips are going to be rare. Make the most of them, and try to eat as healthily as possible. For many people, boredom = eat. Dislocation = eat. Loneliness = eat. It’s important to be aware of it, maybe keep a food diary, in which you record what you eat, and share it with someone doing the same thing, swap ideas.
- Watch the booze. Someone tweeted the other day ‘this is like Christmas without the fun!’ I think we all know what he means. And most know the temptation to drink more at Christmas, or on holiday. Best to resist. Especially important for people used to drinking a lot in pubs and restaurants. Try to drink less than you were, not more, at home.
- So, so important. I know I am not practising what I preach here as it is not even light and the whole area seems to be asleep apart from me. But it is partly because I occasionally do have insomniac nights that I am so focused on the need to sleep well. An early night is a good night, and let’s be honest, we have lots of opportunity for early nights in the coming weeks and months. Use them!
- Read books not newspapers. Of course, I read papers from time to time (especially The New European). But I think it is important not to overconsume media at a time like this. Books that have nothing to do with the current crisis, fiction or non-fiction, can be such a wonderful release.
- Cut down on social media. Again, there is so much happening, things are moving so fast, and it is natural to want to try to stay on top of events. But endlessly scrolling through social media feeds is not the best way to do it.
- Listen to music regularly. So much better for you than the radio or the telly!
- Even better – make music! I should alert the neighbours that my regular bagpipe playing is going to become a lot more regular, and I will be trying out new tunes.
- ‘Think in ink.’ I bet you can’t guess who said that. It was Marilyn Monroe. And it is one of my life rules. That’s obvious you might think, since I am an author and journalist. But thinking in ink can help us all, whether you plan to publish what you write or not. Why are lists so helpful/common? Because we think in ink. Why do so many people write diaries and journals? Because there is a therapeutic benefit to committing thoughts to paper. Oh, and I should warn my agent and publisher I am close to finishing another book, even as we decide whether to proceed with mid-May publication of the last one.
- (OK, I guess Number 1 ought to be the most important one, but actually this one is.) Really look after the people closest to you. Be as nice and as kind as you can possibly be. I am very lucky in that if I was only allowed one person to be locked away with 24 hours a day (and most of the time she feels the same), it would be my partner Fiona. But I dread to think what it would be like to be going through this with a partner or a family you don’t want to be with, let alone a relationship of abuse and violence. I am trying to do something, each day, that I don’t normally do, to make sure she knows I know how lucky I am. That can be anything from telling her that I know how lucky I am to – wait for it, kids – unloading the dishwasher in the morning. Yes, I did, at 445a.m.
- Keep in touch with the people you would normally be in touch with.
- Get in touch with someone you’ve lost contact with.
- Do something good for someone else every day. Right now, put NHS and other public services staff top of the list. And think about how we can help charities and foodbanks, many of which are going to be devastated, but which are going to be needed more than ever.
- If you are finding it hard to do difficult things, try a few easier ones first. When I am depressed, and I know my mood and energy is going to be low, I make a big deal in my mind of little things. I challenge myself to brush my teeth and when I have done it, I tell myself how well I did. I tell myself that shaving is a hard thing to do, and when I’ve done it, I feel better. If I can turn the radio on, I can turn my mind on.
- Stay curious. This is related to points 6, 8 and 10. This really is a time to expand knowledge and try new things. Here is where the internet is a joy.
- Enjoy nature, in or out. I watched Blue Planet for the first time at the weekend. Wonderful. If you follow me on social media, you will know by now I have been posting Tree of the Day photos. I cannot tell you how much pleasure I have got on our morning walk with the dog deciding which tree to pick. It is especially wonderful right now as the birds are starting to sing more, and the absence of aircraft in the sky (though a problem in other ways of course) means the birdsong is more noticeable and appears to be louder.
- Remember that all crises end eventually. All good things come to an end, and so do all bad things. Clearly, by the time this one is over, there will have been a lot of death, a lot of grief, a lot of suffering. But it will end, and most of the world will still be here. That is not a bad thought to cling to. So …
- Keep things in perspective. Don’t panic. And finally …
- See an opportunity in every setback. The whole world is going to have to take that approach when this is all over, but we can all do it in our own lives now.
‘This is a nightmare that we are locked down like this’ = ‘You and I can spend more time together.’
‘There is nothing to do’ = ‘Shall we tidy out the cellar?’
‘I wish I had more time to do a course or learn a new language or a musical instrument’ = ‘you’ve got time.’
‘Christ, is this ever going to end?’ = ‘When this is all over, we will have learned so much about ourselves.’
Have a nice day.