“You might not get this opportunity ever again,” says Darren Britton. “To sit in and do absolutely nothing.”
Surprising words from a sports psychologist? There may be some wisdom in them. The thought of embracing our current lockdown lives for even another second can seem hellish to some, given how close the end now feels.
However, experts in resilience say this final stretch of the winter lockdown is about reframing our thoughts to get us over the line to freedom. And, if it’s possible, trying to find the benefits of the final weeks of what has felt like an endless season of nights in on the sofa watching TV.
“It’s about focusing on the opportunities now available to us,” says Britton, a lecturer in sports psychology at Solent University who works with professional athletes. “Restrictions are lifting [soon], so reframe the situation to do the things – or *not* do the things – you’re going to be expected to do in a month’s time.”
From March 29, people in England will be able to socialise outdoors in two households or groups of six. From April 12, pubs and restaurants should be able to start serving people outdoors. Spring has sprung, but these weeks may feel like the toughest wait yet.
An end is in sight – but just out of reach.
It’s the sort of situation sportspeople have extensive training to manage, on golf courses, running tracks, out on the pitch and on the court. Excitement can build when the end of something is in sight, but at that point – much like for many of us now in lockdown – staying in control is essential.
“Close to going down the final stretch, [athletes] get very excited about winning a big tournament, they get over-excited and they can potentially start making more mistakes,” Britton says of how excitement may throw our feelings all over the place in these final weeks. “So you could potentially liken it to that.”
One way to avoid frustration is to learn from our activities or non-activities we’ve engaged in during the pandemic, and all the thinking time we’ve had, to find themes we can take with us into our post-lockdown lives.
“It’s like what lots of us do each December – that kind of analysis of the year and setting our goals for the next year,” says Josephine Perry, a sports psychologist who runs the Performance In Mind service for athletes.
“See this period as a little bit of that,” Perry adds, “reflecting on what you did do well, what you learned, what you enjoyed, what you’re grateful for, to see which bits you want to keep going forward, which bits you never want to do again, so that you can almost draw it to a close.”
Perry has used this approach while working with athletes to keep their morale high during lockdown, too. “They can feel much more confident that they haven’t been treading water for the last few months, they’ve actually been moving forward,” she says.
As well as looking back, it can also be useful to focus on the future. Setting goals for the summer, by planning events or deciding on the type of approach you’ll have to post-lockdown life, can be another fruitful way to spend time.
″Rather than watching another boxset, it might be thinking: when I come out, what would I like to be doing well?” suggests Perry. “Maybe setting a goal for July time and asking yourself: How can I start working towards that now?”
Schools are back with all the flurry of activity that brings. There’s the promise of lighter evenings and weekends to lift our mood. But the changing of the season can put a spotlight on these last days of confinement.
I know I have noticed myself feeling more impatient for ‘real life’ to begin again – and worse at managing to cope with the daily struggles of lockdown. All the while, others have found themselves feeling confused by the current waiting game, torn between wanting more and less lockdown at the same time.
As Britton emphasises, we can only focus on what is within our control, and lockdown has removed much of what is typically controllable.
But with an end in sight, it may be apt to make like sportspeople and train ourselves to handle the final mile best – it’s what sets us up for the win.