On Emerging from Lockdown

Humans have a unique capacity for adaptability. This is often seen as a trait, something you either have or you don’t, an asset to put on your CV that hopefully not everyone believes themselves capable of, giving you that extra edge. If anything though, this past year has proven just how quickly we are able to become used to something and how easily we are able to adapt to a new definition of ‘normal’.

If I think about how I was feeling a year ago, I can identify that things are very different now. The early months of 2020 filled me with anxiety; I was particularly fearful of the discovery of this new form of Coronavirus in the world. I diligently read the news, falsely believing that if I had all the information then I was being provided with some kind of assurance or security. As the news broke about the effects this disease was having across world, I became more and more anxious. I saw no way that th­­e UK could be prepared for its arrival. 

I was baffled by the lack of action from authority figures, exasperated by the fact that it seemed for several years they had been trying to find any excuse to close the borders and now, when we could finally use our island status to our advantage, this was negated. So, come March when we finally entered into national lockdown – although we were thrown into a scenario that seemed entirely alien and completely dystopian – it did not take long for me to feel a great sense of relief and ultimately joy at not being asked to do anything that may pose a risk to my own, or my loved ones’ health.

April 2021 brings to the fore a very different set of feelings. The vaccine rollout is going well, although I worry about the effectiveness of something that hasn’t yet undergone long term testing. I don’t think this is unusual, and it hasn’t stopped me from getting my first jab. If there’s even the slightest chance that this will make us safer, I’m happy to oblige. News about potential blood-clots frightened me, but the risks involved with taking the contraceptive pill are far greater, yet that’s never been a national conversation, but that’s a piece for another time. 

I had quite an extreme reaction to my first vaccine, but this doesn’t appear unusual amongst young people and in the weeks following I have thankfully been fine. It was strange though, getting my first vaccine; I didn’t feel excited and in turn, that made me feel guilty. Getting my vaccination hasn’t posed a change in any of my behaviour. Those with vaccinations are still susceptible to getting the virus and passing it on to others, but hopefully the risk of its effects is minimized. I’m scared that having had the vaccine I could still pick it up and be asymptomatic, posing more of a threat to people I love.

Similarly, I’m struggling to summon any excitement for the roadmap out of lockdown. The self-critical voice in my mind is inclined to call me cynical but the rational part of me thinks its realism. We have been here before. It feels like over the last year the country has been plunged in and out of different forms of lockdown. The rules have been unclear, the use of the word guidance is vague, and I would argue that the North is one of those areas that has suffered disproportionately. 

Some have decided to make their own rules and others have diligently stuck to what has been suggested. Within all of this it hasn’t felt like decisions at a governmental level have been sensibly made. This apparent insistence to get the economy going again has consistently harmed the defence against the virus on numerous fronts. I’m reminded of one of the definitions of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For a large part of the past year this seems to be what has been happening, the same tactics over and over again with the expectation of different outcomes.

I’m to be forgiven for not being too excited about large swathes of the economy reopening on Monday. I will not be visiting a food and drink outlet to sit outside and endure a meal. I will not be clambering to get myself onto public transport in order to meet six friends outside for a long overdue catch-up. I will not be traipsing round retail outlets just because I can. I’ve never been to and do not intend to start going to a gym. I’m not even that upset about the fact I haven’t been able to get my hair cut for nine months. Lockdown has helped me to learn what it is I really need in my life and a lot of what was considered part of my ‘normal’, I don’t necessarily miss. I’ve become extremely attuned to the world we now live in. 

However, as with everyone, there are some things I ache to do. I want to see my grandparents, having not seen them for over a year, even if our regular FaceTimes do provide me with a level of entertainment I didn’t think possible. I would love to go to a gig. I miss live music and the rituals surrounding it. My boyfriend and I miss being able to go out for food – that was one of our regular treats. And I know there’s the opportunity to do that now, however the anxiety I feel is high. 

I don’t think I’m alone, but particularly for my age group (mid-twenties) I feel there’s pressure to be raring to go again, like there’s this insistence that we can’t wait to get back in pubs, see our friends and travel to the workplace. I feel the media have created a narrative where it is young people who are most likely to break lockdown rules and that we’re the age group who are the most fed up with restrictions. But if I look honestly at my own feelings, and if I listen to my peers, then this doesn’t seem to be the case. Yes, there are things we all rightly miss but actually the anxiety around getting the virus is real. And most of the time I don’t think my age group are worrying about what would happen to them should they contract it (although it seems that nobody knows just how different peoples’ bodies will react), but are more concerned with contracting it and passing it onto a loved one. 

Many people have had massive changes in circumstances due to the pandemic. A lot of young adults have found themselves back in the family home for a variety of reasons; losing work, not wanting to isolate alone, needing support, or finding that they need to offer support themselves to other family members. Many young adults are finding themselves living with people who may be more vulnerable even if they are not. 

This narrative of having a carefree attitude and just wanting to be able to get on and do what we want is simply that – a narrative. I currently live with my mother, who has an underlying health condition. The nature of her condition means her immune system can be easily compromised, however there has been little advice from the medical community on how Coronavirus may affect it. As a family we have been meticulously careful about Coronavirus for over a year now. Journeys that would usually require public transport, I have walked. I did not visit a bar or restaurant when they reopened last summer. I have done any non-essential shopping online and found innovative ways to celebrate birthdays and Christmas. We as a family have been so careful, it is nonsensical to change that now. 

I sometimes wonder if my response is still disproportionate but if there’s anything my twenties and the last year are teaching me, it’s that it doesn’t matter if anyone believes I’m overreacting, it is only important how I feel. Five years ago, I lost my uncle to seasonal flu and so my response to the pandemic has been different to what it may have been before that happened. I have a real fear of losing someone to an illness like this, as I’ve seen it happen. And I’ve seen it happen extremely quickly. I was abruptly introduced to the world of intensive care units and ventilators and last year’s reporting on the pandemic quickly started to bring up all those feelings again. 

My story isn’t unique. There will be many people who have had loved ones suffer from difficult illnesses, those who have lifelong underlying health conditions and those who have lost loved ones in traumatic and unexpected circumstances. It is okay that I feel the way that I do. I wanted to write this because I was feeling isolated. I had a conversation with the job centre on Tuesday in which I came away feeling panicked and pressured. I am genuinely fearful of the consequences of being ‘in’ the world. 

I am of the mindset that we should all just try and be that little bit more patient. The reopening of areas like hospitality on Monday is of little consequence to me when I am still unable to travel the length of time I would need to in order to visit my grandparents. It seems like extremely poor compensation. I still have friends who work in that industry (I am lucky in that I left just over a year ago) and I really feel for the levels of anxiety they’re experiencing and the confusion they feel over being asked to do certain things that aren’t expected of everyone.

I’m really fortunate in that my year of practical unemployment has happened to land at this point in everyone’s lives and I’ve been consistently grateful that I haven’t had to put myself in any compromising positions. But I know plenty of people who have. The argument that the economy must be restarted favors some members of society over others. All those employees on minimum wage, often doing the jobs that are the most high-risk, aren’t necessarily going to reap the benefits of that.

If I had it my way, I would wait until every member of the adult population had been offered their first vaccination. As a country, we’ve come such a long way from where we were last year. There has been intense loss, major sacrifices and it does now look like maybe we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just know I’d be far more comfortable if we were given the opportunity to wait until we were firmly in that light, instead of still tentatively taking our final few steps through that unfamiliar dark. 

For everyone, it will take time to adjust to whatever it is the world wants us to do next. Some people may feel naturally inclined to return to previous behaviour and for others, like myself, that transition will be much harder. The simple act of socialising with people I love requires far more energy now than it used to. For some people, the act of being forced to return to work on Monday may be a terrifying prospect. 

I don’t know when I will feel safe meeting people in a public place like I used to, maybe it will be a case of when I’m forced to re-enter the world as I get a job then that will be when I have to face it. Maybe the choices that I currently have the privilege of making are keeping me locked in an element of fear. I don’t know. What I do know is that for me the route out of lockdown will be taken with care. I will not be throwing myself into situations I don’t feel are safe. I will be trying to push through this last part having thankfully not experienced this virus in anyone close to me. 

I also know there are things I have learned and experienced over the last year that I want to keep. I have found so much joy in the act of simply being without the pressures of what society used to consider ‘normality’. I have spent more time outdoors and more time with myself. Even in amongst all the madness and turmoil that parts of the past year have brought I have actually been the happiest I have ever been. However long it takes me to feel comfortable returning to those elements of ‘normal’ we are destined to keep, the happiness and the sense of calm I have experienced through large parts of the last year are the things I intend to prioritise. If we are being offered the chance to find different ways of living then I want to embrace that, and surely, I’m not the only one. 

Saffron Rain lives and writes in Stockport. She was born and raised around Manchester, only moving away to get her degree and subsequent MA in English Lit in Sheffield. During this time she wrote ardently on the North, particularly female writers and filmmakers. 

Her preferred form is the personal essay and she enjoys writing about topics that she connects to on a personal level. Some of these have appeared in independent publications and she shares longer pieces on her own blog. She loves to read, particularly women, and will take any opportunity to crowbar Joan Didion into a conversation. 


How my tools as a Design Researcher have helped me handle these tumultuous times

Words: Ishika Mukherjee
Ishika Mukherjee

What a time to be living through. In the last few months we’ve seen the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, endured lockdown, witnessed the fall of major economies, mourned the tragic deaths that led to the urgent acceleration in the anti-racism movement and infinite more conflicts emerging or saturating across the globe. On a personal level, people have lost jobs, been furloughed, or have had to work remotely – each in its own way drastically changing our lives and more often than not, our priorities.

I’ve been one of the luckier ones in the fact that I’ve been able to keep my job and continued working remotely. As a design researcher, my role is to connect with and understand people – dig deep into their implicit behaviour, their needs and their pain points in order to design integrated services that empower people and the planet. To do this, I use an array of techniques, tools and skills. 

Of late, what’s been interesting to me is that a lot of these design research tools have come in quite handy, as I’ve navigated the tumultuous times we’ve been faced with. The most obvious (and yet underrated) was thoroughly checking my sources. Now, while the majority of my work is to do with actually spending time with people and learning about them first hand –  we also do a significant amount of secondary research. This includes reading through and taking insight from research that has already been done –  like market research or research papers or surveys. The decision as to how we choose what information to take in, comes from evaluating the source and understanding their accuracy. This practice came in super handy when the Coronavirus first hit and we were all left to sift through piles of unregulated information (and misinformation) regarding the virus we knew so little of. It has since kept me well-armed to cut through the noise of often exaggerating media, and focus on reliable sources like government websites, WHO and medical experts.

Another practice that has kept me sane, has been the 5 whys –  asking a sequence of whys to get to the root of our users’ needs. In design research, we use this to better understand our users so that we’re not left solving superficial problems without reaching the core of the matter. But lately this is how I’ve handled my anxiety around the uncertainty of the future as well. Every time I’ve found myself thinking of catastrophes, I’ve asked myself why I think that could happen and then followed that up with a number of why’s (or questions) to reach the crux, which is usually the fact that I don’t possess enough information that actually signals doom. 

The 5 whys have also come in useful when trying to educate myself and the people around me about anti-racism, micro-aggressions and implicit prejudice. We all have biases, and to discard them, we first have to undress them and understand where they’re coming from – hence, a sequence of whys. 

Another tool – one I almost left out because of how much of a buzzword it has become of late – is empathy. In research, the whole point of conducting user interviews, focus groups, and such, is to understand the user as they are – not as we think they are, or even as they think they are. How we do this, is by listening deeply, reading between the lines and observing people –  their body language, their pauses and the emotions that flicker across their eyes. All cues to what they’re actually feeling. Operating in this space where all our mental states are shaken up, instead of asking people the “hi, you okay?” I try to notice, ask questions like “how are you today?” Or “what’s been occupying your mind lately?” and really listen, not just listen to respond, but really listen to how people are.

There’s also going one step further and listening without judgement. As researchers, our job is to understand, not change our users’ state or behaviour – at least not immediately. So we tell the people we speak to that ‘there are no right or wrong answers’. We give them the space to be themselves even if that might not be what I want to hear. We also make sure of that by not interrupting people or countering their statements with “but why don’t you try…” or “have you considered …” or “when that happened to me, I …”. IRL this looks like having unselfish conversations –  instead of offering advice, just listening, instead of thinking about what I would have done, thinking about what they did. This has helped me connect better with my friends, colleagues and family, helped me feel less alone, and more purposeful. This has also helped me take better care of my own mental health and become less judgemental and more conscious of my own thoughts and patterns. 

Now, while I’m very thankful for the practice of design research for teaching me the tools that have played out to be so crucial in these wary times, on further introspection it struck me odd. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? Wouldn’t it make more sense, if being a more human human made me a better researcher, as opposed to the fact that being a good researcher has made me a more human human? 

Which led me to ask, why is it that I had to be a researcher in order to be a better equipped human? Answer: because the tools to question, think critically, listen actively, and be empathic were not given much importance through my years of schooling. These are known as ‘soft skills’ in a world that applauds ‘hard skills’. 

Why? Because since industrialisation, we’ve aimed for maximum efficiency and productivity over everything else. 

I could ask why, but I gather you see where this is going. So I’ll ask ‘what if’? What if we make the shift to valuing our human-ness, our interpersonal connections, our deeper consciousness and ability to think critically without prejudice, more? What if we lace our education system with more ‘soft skills’? What if we change empathy from being a buzzword to being elemental?

Ishika Mukherjee is an interdisciplinary designer and researcher with a background in design research, service design, content creation, editorial writing, and architecture – and an acute interest in social innovation. She uses research from human experience and behaviour, distilled into actionable insights to aid the process of creating optimistic design that empowers humans to be more human. She likes to tell stories, drink strong coffee and read compelling fiction. And eat cake.

You can follow Ishika’s work on Instagram.

A beginner’s guide to yoga in lockdown

Words: Rachael Chrystal

There are very few people who have been untouched by the change, uncertainty and fear that the pandemic has brought. This has had a huge impact on our mental well-being, with significant numbers reporting stress, anxiety and low mood associated with lockdown and COVID-19. Our usual exercise routines have been disrupted, meaning that lots of us are feeling the lack of physical activity and the resulting negative effect on our mental health. 

This has led many people to look for ways to manage their psychological well-being as well as bring more movement into their day. As the lockdown restrictions are lifted, this brings new stresses and worries as we try to work towards a new normality, despite things being very different.  

Never before has yoga been more needed – yoga provides us with the space and time to relax and connect with ourselves, as well as giving us some much needed time for physical movement. For me, time on my mat gives me time for my brain to unravel and lets me release the tension, fear and unknown of the ongoing situation through movement and my breath. It simultaneously gives me energy and helps me to calm my anxious thoughts.  

Rachael Chrystal

The good news is that you can do yoga anywhere and you don’t need to get changed or gather any special equipment. You can use whatever time you have – starting with as little as 3 minutes – and you will notice the benefit to your physical and psychological well-being after just a few short sessions. 

Yoga alone is not a cure for mental health difficulties and it is recommended that you also seek professional support via your GP or appropriate local services if you are struggling. Yoga can however be used alongside more traditional treatments to support good mental health.  

Here are my tips for starting a home yoga practice, along with a simple but effective routine to settle your mind and gently move your body. This is suitable for beginners as well as seasoned yogis – the poses are still beneficial whether you are doing them for the 1st or the 1000th time. The sequence below will take 5-20 minutes depending on how long you choose to stay in each posture.  

How to set up your space for yoga: 

Ideally find a quiet, private space where you have space to move around. In an ideal world we would all have a luxury yoga studio adjoining our houses, but in the absence of this find a space that works for you – it most likely won’t be perfect but that’s ok. It’s nice to add a candle which you might light whenever you practice, or some plants – making the space inviting adds a certain sense of ceremony for when you do practice and can make it feel extra relaxing.  

Use a yoga mat if you have one, or you can put a towel or rug down on the floor. A blanket and a cushion can be helpful to have handy to use to help you feel comfortable.  

Grounding and arriving:

Start off by lying on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You can place your hands on your belly. Breathe in and out through your nose gently, without forcing anything, just feeling what comes naturally. Continue to breathe here for a couple of minutes, closing your eyes if you wish.  


This pose is great for bringing your attention back into the body and gently mobilising the spine. It is simple and quick and makes a huge difference to how your back feels! 

Come onto your hands and knees, with your hands under shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.  

Inhale and lift the tailbone and the chest, arching the back, feeling the collar bones open – this is “cow” pose. From here, exhale, rounding the spine, pushing the floor away with your hands, looking down at the floor, coming into “cat”.  

Continue to move through cat and cow, guided by the breath for 10 repetitions.  

Extended Child’s Pose: 

Child’s Pose

This pose is my go to for whenever I need to switch off and focus on my breath. Because of the inward energy a Child’s Pose creates, it works really well for calming anxious thoughts. It’s also a good stretch for the back, shoulders and hips.  

From your hands and knees, sit back onto your heels, with your forehead resting on the mat. Keep your arms outstretched in front of you, palms flat on the mat and feel a stretch under your shoulders. If your hips don’t easily rest back on your heels, placing a pillow or cushion under your hips can really help. Feel the breath move through the body and notice the upper back expanding with the inhale. Rest here for as long as you need – anywhere from 5 breaths to 15 minutes. 

Downward Facing Dog:

Downward Facing Dog

A yoga staple, this is an energising pose which stretches out the whole body.  

From extended Child’s Pose (above), come back up to all fours, then tuck your toes under, pressing through the hands and lift up your knees, coming into Downward Facing Dog. Bend your knees as much as you need to start with, keeping the back long. Once you are comfortable, straighten your legs, bringing the heels towards the floor. Gently roll the shoulders away from your ears and feel your shoulder blades down your back. Hold here for 3-5 breaths or longer if you feel comfortable. To come down, exhale, whilst bending your knees and lowering down to the floor.  

If you have time, you can repeat the sequence up to this point so far as many times as you like, depending on how long you have to practice. Following this, move on to the below:  

Bridge Pose:

Bridge Pose

This pose helps to open the chest muscles and increases mobility in the spine, and is great if you have been on the laptop for too long.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hands resting by your sides. Inhale and tip your pelvis forward slightly, press through your feet and lift your hips as high as is comfortable. Hold here for 3-5 breaths, pressing through your feet and engaging your glute muscles to support your hips. Slowly lower down, rolling down each vertebra at a time.  

Legs up the wall:

Legs up the wall

This pose is deeply restorative and rejuvenating perfect –  just before bedtime or whenever you need a rest.  

Sit sideways against a wall, then lie down and swing your legs up so that your legs are outstretched, your feet resting on the wall and your back is flat on the floor.  Get your hips as close as is comfortable to the wall. Rest your hands at the side of your body or on your belly. Close your eyes and rest here for as long as is comfortable, up to 10 minutes.  

Why not aim to try this sequence three times over the coming week? Commit to when you plan to do this in your diary at the start of the week, which will make you more likely to stick to your plan.  Making a note of how you feel at the start and end of the session and any improvements can be helpful.  

If you enjoyed this short sequence, please do get in touch and let us know how you got on. 

About Rachael:

Rachael Chrystal is the founder of Conscious Calm Yoga + Wellbeing. She helps individuals improve their health and wellbeing through an intuitive process using yoga and related practices and firmly believes that yoga is for all bodies regardless of ability or size.  Rachael also works with corporate organisations to help them to develop the wellbeing and happiness of their staff and clients, as well as teaching specialist public yoga classes in Manchester (currently online).  The rest of the time Rachael is busy working as an NHS GP, where her interest and expertise in helping people improve their health stems from.    

For more information or to join one of Rachael’s online classes, go to: www.consciouscalm.co.uk

Follow @consciouscalmyoga

The stairway to self-love in a pandemic

Millennial Empowerment Coach, Bethany Wright explains how best to overcome the anxiety and worry in these uncertain times with her tips on daily rituals, reduced screen time and realistic expectations.

As the uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic continues to unravel, it would be fair to say that the fabric of our everyday lives has been completely disrupted. There’s no overnight remedy or expiry date that can be applied to cure the situation, leaving us with little control over life as we once knew it. Understandably, this is causing agitation in households across the world. A global crisis with global anxieties to match.

We’re all used to asserting control over our daily agenda, travelling through the day with activity after activity, wondering where the time has gone. Fast forward to the now, where we feel we’ve lost control altogether and are often left staring at the clock wishing the time away. But, there’s plenty of discovery to be had. And there’s powerful strategies you can implement in order to create your calm. 

Audit, detox, reboot 

There is so much that is out of your control, but focus on what is in your control.

Although it may not feel like it right now, we do have control over what we are available for. We get to choose what we show up for (predominantly in a virtual setting) and what gets our attention; it’s how we invest our time. By working out what your triggers are, you can then establish your own set of boundaries that are unique to your situation. 

If you’re finding that the news is impacting your mood, think about what forms of control you can exercise here. It may be that you need to switch off the notifications popping up on your phone screen, or perhaps avoiding primetime TV where you know the updates are going to be relentlessly paraded. 

It’s important, now more than ever, to be aware of your surroundings and how they make you feel – how is your environment serving you? This also applies to the virtual space. With so much more time at our disposal, it’s likely that you’re spending greater time scrolling through your Instagram feed. And what does that do? Well, it is a surefire way to kickstart comparison. Allow yourself to do a virtual declutter and remove any toxicity that is impacting your headspace. If you find yourself feeling rubbish when you stumble upon certain accounts, temporarily mute their notifications, or unfollow together. You want your space to inspire you, not tire you. 

Be mindful about the words you’re telling yourself too. It’s not just about what you’re externally consuming. Your own self-talk is often more powerful than the words of anyone else, because often you’re the first and only audience to be subject to them. So, be gentle and kind with yourself. This is unchartered territory, trust that you’re doing the best you can. 

Lean inwards: the power of right now

Lead your day with love. We often look to external resources, forgetting our most powerful resource: ourselves. By tapping into your core, you’ll be able to keep yourself grounded in the midst of the madness. We’re all going to have wobbly weeks, wobbly days even. But if you do, take note and listen to your body. There’s just as much power in a pause as there is a pivot, so give yourself a breather and allow yourself to shut off and unplug. Because to relieve it, you’ve got to feel it. 

If you find your mind is running away with itself, worrying about the what ifs, zone in on what you have in that moment. Replace the “what if” with “in this moment, I am” and follow the sentence with 3-5 things that you are. For example, it may sound something like this: “In this moment, I am safe, loved and sheltered.” This surthrival exercise helps you to home in on the present moment, enabling you to shut off from the anxieties of future possibilities. 

Another great technique to practice is gratitude. By writing down a list of things you’re grateful for each morning or night, it can help to raise your vibe and transform your mood. Especially when you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed. Think about your blessings; what good happened in the day, what made you smile. Ultimately, it comes down to looking at how you be, do and have. So, block out some time in your day and start journaling away. 

Breathing is also a powerful self regulating system that brings you back to the present moment. A simple reminder to yourself that you can get through it. So if anxiety is showing up for you, remember to take a deep breath. Focus on the breaths you take, and visualise a calming view. 

Do what feels good 

It’s time to create your own aesthetic and trendset your way through the quarantine. If you fancy a day Netflix and chillin’ with ice-cream and pyjamas, then go for it. If you feel empowered to maintain productivity and commit to your online business, all power to you. 

We’re all going to have different priorities. Some days we’ll feel on top of the world, whereas others we may feel burnt out and lack energy. It’s a rollercoaster, and we’re all trying to ride the highs and lows. 

In this time, tensions are high and we find ourselves dipping into the panic zone a bit more frequently without the usual comfort blankets we’d normally turn to. So, it’s important that you take a step back and re-evaluate. What do you really need today? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. So remember to drop the pressures you may be putting on yourself and do what feels good for you. 

Choose yourself and take ownership over your happiness. Make it your primary intention and allow yourself to let go of your expectations. Embrace the happening, be compassionate and travel through the hours with acceptance. Because when you feed into yourself, you can feed into others. 

Bethany Wright, Empowerment Coach at Her Empowerment Room

Bethany is a Millennial Empowerment Coach who works with young women from all walks of life. She combines a mindset and performance coaching approach to help clients create their narrative by design, not default, and embody an empowered self that’s free of inner shame and guilt. 

Book your free discovery call via https://herempowermentroom.as.me/ 

Find her on Instagram at @herempowermentroom