Davina McCall’s Life In Lockdown: ‘It Felt Like The World Was Collapsing’

The presenter tells HuffPost UK her brain 'went to mush' without work, but meditation and community kindness helped.
Elisabeth Hoff

In What Works For Me – a series of articles considering how we can find balance in our lives – we talk to people about wellbeing and self-care.

With her infectious love of fitness and ceaselessly optimistic demeanour, Davina McCall was the on-screen poster girl for self-care long before it became fashionable. But behind closed doors, the 52-year-old admits her wellbeing routine can quickly crumble when life takes over.

“Before lockdown I was extremely busy and, of course, the first thing that goes when I’m busy are the things that really help me, like exercise and mindfulness,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I hadn’t trained properly for quite a while. I’d done 10 minutes here and there, but not my usual 40 minute-workout three or four times a week. And I hadn’t practised mindfulness for a few months.”

The pandemic provided a wake-up call, though, as Davina quickly recognised the need for a self-care intervention. “When I got into lockdown, I experienced something I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced before,” she says. “I just woke up really anxious.”

With two of her three teenage children due to take A Levels and GCSEs this year, Davina was worried about school closures. She’d also lie awake thinking about the future of her work – or if it was even safe to go to the supermarket.

“I’ve never been so...”, she trails off and pauses to consider the magnitude of the past few months. “It felt like the world was collapsing,” she says, slowly. “It was an extremely stressful time for everybody, I think. Life seemed so unfair.”

In the early weeks of lockdown, when the death numbers kept increasing, Davina says everything felt bleak. “I didn’t want to listen to music or watch television, which was a really weird experience for me,” she says. “I was left thinking: ‘So, what do I do?’”

She started practising mindfulness using the Headspace app – something she’s done on and off since 2013 to carve out much-needed stillness in her otherwise busy life. “It just really grounded me,” she says. “It’s the thing that’s always helped me in a time of darkness, when I’ve felt worried. But this was next level worry. I thought: ‘I’ve never felt like this before.’”

Practising mindfulness helped the anxiety to subside, she says. She also started filling her time with podcasts and audiobooks – something she plans to take forward now that restrictions are easing.

Learning something new from a podcast or audiobook appealed, because she felt her “mind going to mush” without the usual stimulation from work. Now, she’ll listen to audiobooks while walking the dog, which, she says, provides “focus” amid the uncertainty in her life. She strides with her phone firmly in her pocket, putting an end to the mindless scrolling we’re all so used to.

“There used to be a time when my bath was the really relaxing place I’d go – and then I started to take my phone in the bath,” she admits. “The number of times I’ve dropped my phone in the bath! It feels like our phones are just attached to our hands and if we have a spare minute we pick them up.”

Elisabeth Hoff

The uncertainty surrounding work is tough, says Davina. Despite pubs, restaurants and hair salons reopening, TV is still unsettled, she says, adding that she has “no idea” about Big Brother’s rumoured revival.

“TV is in such turmoil at the moment, as far as what’s going to be made and what’s not going to be made,” she says. “I’ve got no idea if there are any plans on the table for Big Brother – all I know is that I loved presenting that show with Rylan.”

Despite the challenges, this period of slowing down has had its perks, and like many of us, Davina has been able to connect with people in her community for the first time, “in silly, small ways”.

Where her neighbours would once walk passed one other “like repelling magnets,” the pandemic has brought them together. They started nodding at one another in the street, then chatting, and before long they were bringing each other groceries from the supermarket. She’s recently moved, but hopes this new sense of community and culture of kindness continues around her new home.

“I do think that loneliness was the biggest problem in lockdown for people, you can feel very isolated,” she says. “So I would try to just talk to anybody who would listen and make sure that everybody was alright.”

None of us know how the country will respond to lockdown restrictions easing, or if a second wave is on the way. But to keep anxiety at bay amid the never-ending question marks, Davina is making her much-loved exercise routine and mindfulness a priority once more.

“I feel less stressed, less worried,” she says. ”After 10 minutes of just giving my head a bit of a holiday, I come back, open my eyes and think: ‘It’s okay, I’m on it.’”

Headspace x Boots gift cards are available from Boots.com for £30, and come in one of four content themes Mind, Health, Sleep and Focus.