How I’m Staying Sane During Lockdown

With so many countries in lockdown, we have all been trying to stay sane during this unprecedented, scary time of our lives. As someone with crippling anxiety who massively struggled with the idea of a lockdown in the weeks before it was enforced in the UK, I have been trying my hardest to survive. Now, a couple of weeks in, I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing in case it helps anyone.

Mental Health Pre- and Post- Lockdown

Before this whole thing started here in the UK, I lived in fear. Italy was being locked down. I was worried about my family, my elderly grandparents, about not being able to travel back when I wanted to. Then I worried about a holiday in Germany, which I had to cancel. Then – and this was the worse time – I worried about not being able to survive without earning money, and without seeing my partner. Some of you probably saw a lot of crying pictures on my Instagram stories when the travel restrictions were first announced.

Like many couples, my partner and I are self-isolating away from each other. Like many people, I’m away from my family and I’m worried about life after this. Similarly to others, I can’t fathom when this will end – and as a ridiculously anxious person who gets by through planning, the virus has killed all my coping strategies.

The Harvard Business Review wrote what’s probably the best definition of what we’re going through globally, and what I know I went through and I’m still going through:

“We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

“There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

“Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.

Harvard Business Review

So this is why I’m sharing my small, sometimes silly, but definitely life-saving steps of acceptance during lockdown.

Setting Alarms During The Week

When I’m really depressed, I tend to go on a social media checking loop until late at night to then refuse to wake up in the morning. On my worst days, I wake up at 1 pm and then feel like a failure.

I can’t afford to live like this knowing that I am locked down until I don’t know when, or the loop will become even more toxic. So I’ve started setting my alarm at 8 am every morning.

This has been massively helpful because my sleeping patterns have become more regular, and I don’t wake up feeling angry, tired or confused. Plus, 8 am is a good time for me: I wake up and have breakfast, pottering around for an hour or so before getting down to work on whatever I’m meant to be working on. So I really recommend you stick to your alarm, even if your WFH schedule is irregular like my academic-ish one.

Making To-Do Lists – Lockdown Style

As I’ve already mentioned, the lockdown has thrown my CBT coping mechanisms out of the window. Anxiety generated by the news, by everyone’s fears, by the inability to even know what will happen next month left me in a position of standstill, without being able to do anything.

I am trying to solve this by writing daily to-do-lists on pen and paper and ticking off small tasks – even if they’re just “make the bed” or “teach” or “work out”. This makes me feel less of a useless blob and it gives me at least a bit of a drive to start my day.

Planning Healthy Meals

In the early days of the lockdown, when it became quite obvious that I wasn’t going to see my partner for a long time, I struggled to eat. I generally have two or three meals a day – a breakfast and a lunch/dinner thing around five, or breakfast, lunch and dinner – but I was just not hungry.

I was so sad I couldn’t even finish my breakfast, which is my favourite meal of the day, the one I always get to feeling absolutely ravenous. I couldn’t find the will to cook anything or to keep anything down. After a while, I realised this was not sustainable – especially considering how much I am teaching and working despite the lockdown.

So I’ve started planning my meals too. Not in a strict, X calories, “if you don’t eat this you’ve failed” way. More in a “this is what you can look forward to” way. I write down my meals as part of my daily to-do-lists, and making them, enjoying them, focusing on them instead of on work, the news or sadness makes me feel like I’ve done something good for myself.

Cheeky Lockdown Takeaways

The closure of London restaurants took one of my favourite hobbies away from me: as a lifestyle and travel blogger with a passion for restaurants and cafés, I love discovering new places and trying new food.

So at least once a week I am making a point of ordering from one of my local businesses, to both help them in this terribly difficult time and give myself a treat, keeping at least a glimmer of my old lifestyle.

Recently, I’ve been ordering pizza and Chinese from two recently-opened Hackney businesses, A Slice of Blue and Lucky and Joy. Really recommend them if you’re in the area – but if you’re not, think of treating yourself and helping one of your locals this way.

Remote Teaching

In case you missed all my Insta spam, I’ve upped my teaching hours a lot during this lockdown. Rather than the three weekly hours I taught before Boris shut us down, I am now teaching five hours a week with my studio Exotica Pole Dance, plus a variety of private classes and workshops I’m being asked to lead via Zoom.

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What a time to be alive, uh? If last month you’d have told me I would have been using @zoom_video_communications to teach #poledance, #twerk, #lapdance and #floorwork online and see so many beautiful sassy booties work it on screen I would not have believed you. Yet here we are: as all our lives move #online even more, we’re watching new culture being made. So as a #poledancing #academic with no chill, here’s a post about my experience of teaching #onlineclasses with #Zoom, including tips and considerations – link in bio. Also, if any baby is conceived after a lap dance I’ve taught you, I own 10% of your baby and they should be called Carolina as a middle name no matter the gender. Know that. 👶🏻👶🏻👶🏻 Special thanks to @aurorasparklez for being in my video and for being my first US based student!

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This has actually been a manna from Heaven – not only because it’s a form of income on top of my very small university teaching salary, but also because I have found that seeing and talking to my students is a great way to cheer myself up. Teaching is a type of social interaction that doesn’t need to go deep into sadness and anxieties, and focuses on having a good time together. It’s exactly what I need in this difficult time.

Plus, creating new twerk, lap dance, pole and floorwork choreographies every week for my students is forcing me to get creative with songs I’ve always wanted to dance to, to focus more heavily on different styles and moves, complementing and improving my dancing technique.

It’s also keeping me super active – so much that it isn’t unlikely that, by the middle of the week, I will have trained about nine hours between teaching, privates and my own training. Way more than I used to – hello endorphins!

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Exciting times ahead! At @exoticapoledance we’ve cooked up a whole schedule of group online #danceclasses + #fitnessclasses you can do from home – with or without a pole! I’ll be teaching some of them on Mondays and Tuesdays starting today. Monday 1️⃣1: 30 PM Twerk (45 min) 2️⃣ 5:30 FloorWERK (1 hr) : A new class for which you just need heels and to get ready to WERK every surface of your house – Walls, chairs, tables, floors etc 3️⃣ 7 PM Exotic pole (1 hr) for everyone who has a pole at home (check out my blog if you wanna buy one btw – there’s a post called “House Poles For Dummies” that can help Tuesday 1️⃣ 1 PM Twerk (45 min) 2️⃣ 7 PM Lap Dance (1 hr) : A lap dance choreography to make the most out of self-isolation if, unlike mine, your partner is in your house 😅 Head over to Mindbody or to our website to book! I’ll also still be teaching 1-1s where you can pick a song and I’ll do a choreo to it for you – already got 2 of those on this week on top of all of these classes. Pray for me 😂

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Pole Dancing At Home

A natural consequence of the above teaching is that I’ve been savouring my solo training so much more. Having a pole in my house has been super helpful, because I’ve been planning my days alternating tricks and flow training, making up routines I’ll use in the future, dancing to songs I like and working on keeping and improving my skills.

While before the lockdown training had started to feel rushed and samey, I’m going through a period of new-found love for it. I’m finding it a fantastic way to express my feelings, my frustrations, my vulnerability, and to create new things.

  • If you are looking to set up a pole room in your house, read this.
  • If you are struggling to find the will to train at home, read this.

Home Photoshoots – The Lockdown Edition

This might sound terribly silly, but as someone who’s often quite active on Instagram and social media, I was getting SO bored of mirror selfies. I wanted new content, and I wanted to distract myself from bloody Corona talk.

Luckily, in between Instagram challenges, new outfits I didn’t take the chance to take a picture of before the lockdown, and just plain vanity mixed with boredom, I’ve been putting some make-up on, doing my hair as if I were about to go out, and taking pictures.

I got myself an iPhone tripod from Amazon with a bluetooth remote to improve my skills, and I got creative. Here are some home photoshoots I did.

Femme Luxe Finery

If you read this blog you all know I’m a sucker for Femme Luxe Finery’s jumpsuits, dresses and general cracking outfits. Sadly, it will be a while before I get to use them outside of my flat, but it doesn’t mean I can’t get dolled up and wear them at home, for Skype dates or photoshoots. Here are some of the outfits I have been loving and shooting this month, from bodycon party dresses to joggers and lounge wear sets.

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Femme Luxe Finery Wine Bardot Cowl Neck Ruched Midi Dress
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Femme Luxe Finery Camel Ruched Midi Bodycon Dress

In all seriousness, I spend most of my working week wearing leggings anyway – lockdown or no lockdown – so putting some make-up on, wearing some nice clothes and taking some pictures always meant “weekend” to me. During this difficult time, when days blend into each other and we forget what time, day, week or month it is, changing into something that isn’t my PJs, leggings or underwear really helps. Even if it’s a slightly more fashionable set of joggers and a crop top.

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Femme Luxe Finery Light Pink Cuffed Joggers – Lizzie
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Femme Luxe Finery Houndstooth Short Sleeve Boxy Loungewear Set
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Femme Luxe Finery Houndstooth Short Sleeve Boxy Loungewear Set

*Femme Luxe Finery gifted me these four outfits, but all opinions are, as always, my own.*

#PJAtHome

In case you missed it, Pole Junkie launched a “cooking up a storm” set of picture challenges on Instagram, with the possibility to win a £50 voucher and online private classes with some of the coolest pole stars out there. This was the perfect occasion to showcase some new sets I’d bought… and to eat some damn fine spaghetti.

Not gonna lie, the fitness challenges are draining me and I’m ghosting the majority of them. But this was totally worth it, especially because of the carbs.

#30DayNudeChallenge

I’m an Internet researcher focusing on online abuse, so the idea of sharing nude pictures has never been something I’ve warmed up to. My policy on nudes is that I wouldn’t send something I wouldn’t post on Instagram to anybody. And especially considering how naked I am on Insta, I mean… what else do you want? A gyno scan?

But considering my partner and I are away from each other, I have been worrying about keeping our intimacy up digitally (more on that later). ComeCurious’ #30DayNudeChallenge, an Instagram challenge prompting people to take nude selfies either for yourself or for the ‘Gram, has been massively helpful towards that.

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Brightening up your day with some of my @comecurious # 30daynudechallenge (hello shadowban) pics to actually ask for your #digital #intimacy tips 📝 Yesterday I had a massive cry on the phone with my guy because images/ nudes or videos or films have never done anything for me – I am all about touch and feels and obvs that’s not available to us now. I’m also very sad and anxious so not feeling very up for any sort of sexy time atm. How do you keep up long-distance / #quarantine / #selfisolation relationships digitally? Hit me up with your digital intimacy tips in DMs or comments, would love to hear about your experiences (but I don’t wanna see your dicks) 🤞🏼 TIA!

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Taking nude-ish pictures for myself has helped me normalise the experience, keeping up a form of intimacy with my partner while also enjoying the pictures, the normality of them, just for myself. It helped me consider my boundaries and reflect about safety.

Ultimately, I’m still not very ‘visual’. Dick pics or videos don’t do it for me – and my partner isn’t one of those either. But taking these pictures made me reflect on what I find arousing, and helped me maintain a form of closeness… and, when I started taking them with a tripod, it actually made me really horny. Which helped on the digital intimacy side.

Using The Right Apps (In Moderation)

As I mentioned just above, digital intimacy has been a worry of mine during this lockdown. Which is why I’ve been trying to be mindful of the apps I use to communicate with my partner.

Through Telegram, you can send messages, videos and images that self-destruct with a timer of your choice. Telegram’s secret chats are encrypted, and they are a great resource if you don’t want your sexting on record. Of course, you have to agree not to save or screenshot anything – which leads me to open the inevitable parenthesis about sexting, shame and revenge porn.

I recently taught seminars on this and was stunned to hear older colleagues advise students to never send nude pictures or sexts. In 2020, this isn’t feasible. Revenge porn and sexting come with an element of shame – often towards women – while they are merely repeating offline inequalities. So it’s necessary to take the right steps while engaging in this type of behaviours: even if you trust your partners 100%, you can’t know what they’ll do with your content, or if it will be leaked by the apps you’re using. So I sleep at night by thinking my partner and I are equally ‘blackmailable’ if things are shared or leaked, and by using encrypted apps.

The Wire app has also been a life-saver in this time, for encrypted video chats.

Wire gives you encrypted voice calls, video calls, and messaging. It uses wireless data (through a mobile plan or wi-fi), which can help save money on phone calls and SMS charges. This is great for those of us who want to call or text our friends without eating up an expensive phone plan. It also supports most major operating systems.

On Wire, conversations are end-to-end encrypted, meaning that no one except the conversational participants can read the messages. It’s open source, meaning that its code is publicly viewable. This also means it can be examined for security holes. After responding to security audits, the team has developed a fairly hardened, yet simple messenger that continues to improve.

Martin Shelton, Wire For Beginners.

Finally, TikTok is not an app for sexy time but damn, is it entertaining during the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. If you’re considering starting a TikTok profile, read my article about its relationship with pole dancers and techniques to grow your audience here.

Working On My PhD

I’d just managed to have my monthly PhD supervision meeting when the university announced it would close the following day. This allowed me to power through it for two weeks, submitting all I could submit to my supervisors for my next, remote, meeting.

I’m sure I’m not the only PhD student whose work is benefiting from the lockdown. With all the pleasures in life limited to a minimum, and with the reduced loss of time due to commuting, I am finding myself spending whole afternoons diving into my PhD editing.

I’m in my third year and I’m hoping to submit as soon as possible. I’m 100% over my topic, just like many third-year PhDs, and I just want to move on, get a stable academic role, do new research. I study better when I’m upset, because I’d do anything to not focus on my feelings, so for now I have felt like the PhD is driving me to do at least something. Which brings me to my next point.

Writing Academic Papers

I’ve been quite lucky with academic publishing – I’ve had some chapters from my PhD, book reviews and a book chapter published already. But it’s never enough, and I’m trying to convert more bits of my thesis into articles for journals, and I’m trying to write more about algorithm bias under an academic perspective.

Once again, the lockdown is allowing me to nerd out and do just that, maintaining a focus on the future even if that future is on hold.

Blogging and Content Creation

Similarly to PhD work, my blog is also benefiting from the lockdown. Considering that the content I had planned – restaurant reviews, London round-up, travel pieces – would not work right now, I am getting creative with content about my experiences as a remote teacher, about Zoom as an app, or about home workout tips.

I’m also trying to improve my TikTok game and embrace different aesthetic and skills. I still think I’m a crap actress, but I really enjoyed shooting this video to promote a class.

I think my main thing as a content creator is to show as many sides of me as possible. This is my weird side, and there isn’t enough of it online. So maybe I will do more videos like these.

Limiting My Working Hours

I’ve gone all werk werk werk in the paragraphs above but I’m trying really hard to balance my productivity with down time. I try to stop working on my PhD, my research work or related things after 6 PM, and I always try to never work out beyond 7.

This is because that way I can chat with my partner when he finishes work, and because I need to properly get rid of the adrenaline work and pole give me, or I wouldn’t sleep properly.

Limiting My News Intake

Just like with work, I am trying to stay informed but reasonably and responsibly. Many experts have already said to stop watching the news in a loop, and that has been working for me too.

I had adopted really unhealthy news behaviours in early March. When the situation started escalating in Italy, I found myself glued to the news, from early in the morning to late at night, even having the 24-hour BBC News channel on throughout the working day from home.

The situation worsened when it became apparent that traveling wasn’t going to feel safe or enjoyable, but I felt stupid at wanting to cancel my trip, so I kept watching the news for reassurance, eventually cancelling. After calling off the trip I felt slightly better, but when the government announced travel restrictions, changing the situation for me and my partner, the unhealthy behaviour increased and I couldn’t stop watching. I even had a few arguments with friends and family because, as soon as I would turn the news off, they’d update me via DM or voice message.

Now I’m trying to stick to the morning and 6 PM news, switching everything off in the meantime to focus on chill or fun playlists. It’s really helping and I recommend that everyone should do that.

Using CBD Oil And Related Products

I had been using CBD Oil to help with my anxiety since last year, but in January, when my last bottle finished, I decided to go on a little break and see how I felt. Unfortunately, CBD can be quite expensive, and while I found that it helped with my sleep, anxiety and muscle soreness, spending spending £20-30 on a small, 10 ml bottle sometimes felt like a big ask.

Yet, when lockdown was enforced in Italy, when my Germany trip was cancelled and when changes in our lifestyle were enforced all over the world, my anxiety, powered by the fear of not seeing my partner, went through the roof and my sleep was patchy, sweaty and stressful. So I had to suck it up and go back to taking CBD oil before bed in the past few weeks.

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More recently, I’ve been trying other CBD based products because, like everyone during lockdown, I’ve suddenly turned to skincare as a hobby. The lovely folks at Serenity Box gifted me one of their gift boxes, featuring CBD Oil from Clearly but also, crucially, a CBD body balm and a CBD hand and nail lotion.

I found the CBD-based lotions particularly helpful since the pandemic outbreak: I have been so nervous about washing my hands that I have been overdoing it, and if you mix that with the liquid chalk pole grip I use to train, my hands were breaking out with painful rashes. After just a couple of days, my hands were back to normal.

Serenity Box Co is a boutique CBD subscription box company offering new, exciting and innovative ways to relax, rejuvenate and enhance your wellness. They want to make the discovery of CBD wellness convenient and cost-effective.

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I really liked trying out Serenity Box because, right now, shopping in normal stores is massively stressful, and being able to try products I am not familiar with was a nice treat.

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What’s in the box? Serenity Box co’s boxes also include CBD tea and cocoa CBD spread. Yum!

Trying out new products has kept me busy and relaxed, and it has reminded me that if CBD makes me feel better, it’s definitely worth sucking it up and using it.

Tarot Meditation

I already know that my friend Thomas is going to respond to this with a load of unimpressed memes – he thinks I’m a new age loon – but my small witchy rituals and tarot meditation have been a massive help in calming me down.

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Every time I felt lost or stuck, my tarot readings helped me connect with my subconscious, follow my gut and make the right decision for myself. Plus, focusing on something that isn’t my phone or a TV but that helps me use my head has a calming force for me.

Because I’m still learning all the meanings behind the cards, my tarot meditation sessions are very long. I tend to note the meanings down and try to interpret them in a diary, to remember how I was feeling at that time and to remember what each card represents. I do that by candlelight while burning incense, usually before bed, and I feel set up for a better sleep after meditating that way.

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Reading

The extra time given by staying in has been a great excuse to read more, whether that’s academic papers I need for my PhD or research or fiction and lifestyle mags.

I took up my local bookshop Pages of Hackney’s offer for book recommendations and door-to-door book delivery, another way of supporting my local business while also treating myself. I’m now reading Bernardine Evaristo’s much loved Girl, Woman, Other and I’m extremely glad they recommended it.

Sticking To My Pre-Lockdown Anti-Social Routine

Aaand, last but not least, I’m all smiley and shit but my people intake is actually very limited. As someone who has to talk a lot while teaching both pole and criminology, I try to have at least one day a week to myself, where I don’t talk to anyone and don’t go out.

So aside from the lack of freedom, worry about the future, feeling of grief and loss… actually, the lockdown for me is kinda like one of my self-care days. BUT because we’re all locked down, we’re getting more social in different ways: more people are calling me or texting me than usual, there’s virtual hangouts, Skype and Zoom dinners and the like. Which can add to that feeling of being always on, never stopping, never resting.

So I’m trying to limit that. Initially during lockdown, my family would call me quite often, and some friends would message a lot. But I’ve had to say I had to take a step back, because my brain was exploding. And that’s OK. Remember to do what makes you feel ok. Even if that means joining the anti-social, no I don’t want to download House Party club with me.

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