Ruth Davidson: Lockdown meant introducing coping mechanisms to keep my head above water
Knowing that I have struggled with periods of mental ill health in the past, I work hard to try and manage situations which may take me back there. Periods of disrupted routine, stress, pressure, the removal of trusted and supportive loved ones – like lockdown – clearly fall into that category and set off the warning bells.
So, when lockdown started, I tried to put in place lots of coping mechanisms to keep my head above water. Being able to focus on work and making sure I feel like I have some control of other factors by sticking to the mechanisms I’ve set myself has really helped. At the point of writing, I think I’ve done OK at not letting this affect me too much, but I know the longer this goes on, the harder it gets.
Because of sticking to the disciplines I set myself, I actually feel as if I’m broadly on top of my mental health. With a significant workload that matters, a partner also working full-time from home and a toddler to pass between us, I’m keeping busy and am going to bed tired every night. This is helpful for keeping me on an even keel; however, I am aware that this may be fragile, and a big hiccup could throw me off.
The main coping mechanism is purposeful activity. With a city centre constituency, taking in hundreds of businesses, shops, bars, theatres, cinemas and tens of thousands of workers, the number of people contacting our office looking for help, advice and direction has been high. We have tried to turn all COVID-related requests around in double-quick time to give people the information they need, and the team has been brilliant on keeping on top of that. I also set up a local volunteers group for my part of the city, which I’m helping to run with my neighbours, and which is doing good work.
In terms of personal coping mechanisms, I resolved to reduce my alcohol intake to almost zero; exercise every day; plan healthy meals; regular timings for going to bed/waking up; setting short and medium-term goals, e.g. writing lists and ticking off; and keeping in touch with a core group of friends/family by video in order to feel connected.
Finally, when faced with events I can’t control, I find it helpful to find something to focus on which I can exert control over. Something with multiple measurables that I am able to effect. In this case, I chose multiple health metrics: calorie intake, percentage macros (protein/carbs/fat), steps taken, minutes active, weight, body mass, percentage fat, etc, which will hopefully have the added bonus of a desired outcome at the end of all this (taking off some of the weight I’ve put on in politics) as well as allowing me to have a control focus every day. Numbers are solid, not shapeshifting, and if I’m obsessing about a single issue I’ve set myself, it helps stop that obsessive part of my brain continually turning over everything else.