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I recently wrote a piece on looking after your mental health through the lockdown period based on the Mental Health Foundations guidance.
As the car world is ever the provider of interesting connections, this piece was fortunately featured on Evo Magazines website, albeit a slightly condensed version.
So here is the full original piece with all the extra bits included.
With the current lockdown imposing more downtime than most people are used to, it’s important to understand some of the ways in which you, the car enthusiast, can look after your mental health. Most of us are used to a regular routine, frequent socialising and, above all, getting out for a drive. These are all key ways our brain stays healthy and happy, and they’ve pretty much all been taken away by the lockdown. With that in mind, I’ve compiled The Takona Guide to Surviving The Lockdown With Your Sanity, using the Mental Health Organisation’s guide, but translated into the life of a car enthusiast.
Maintaining a routine is beneficial for your brain, as this is normally governed by work and social activity, the lockdown has given us an open-ended time scale with no fixed points to follow. So, it’s important that we self-impose a relative routine to our lives. The first thing every car enthusiast has probably done since lockdown is to give the car a good, thorough clean. You might even go as far as to call it a “detail”; cleaning everything, including the inside of the petrol cap. This probably took care of the first day, maybe even a full weekend, but now it’s out of the way, what’s left?
Make a list of the jobs you need to get done. Re-paint those brake callipers, check the fluids, finally put some washers under the top of the gear stick so it sits straight when tightened (that last one may not be on everyone’s list, but it is on mine). Once you know what you want to achieve, it’s then possible to plan your routine. Spread activities across a week or two, tie in those other non-car related jobs that need doing into your plans to spread out the car activities as little rewards. This gives you something to keep focused on, gives your body and brain some regularity and helps to prevent procrastination and the guilt that wasting time brings.
Keeping active reduces stress, makes us more alert and can help with sleep. Physical movement is clearly linked to a healthy lifestyle. As we can’t currently do a 15 mile walk around a car show, we need to find alternatives.
A quick look online at the moment will show the treasures being driven for essential trips, with every enthusiast utilising the emptier roads and great weather to clear the cobwebs from their pride and joy. This means that car spotting is becoming a great activity to get you out of the house, get some active hours in, and find out some of the previously unknown treasures lurking in the local town. Wikipedia states the average walking pace is three miles per hour, so one and a half miles each way in your hour of daily exercise. For example, the town I live in has a twenty-five-mile radius, this gives me two weeks’ worth of one-hour walks just to go around the edge.
Keeping yourself relaxed and focusing on being in the present moment helps maintain mental wellbeing and reduces stress levels. Any car enthusiast who has tried to loosen a nut that’s been over tightened already has the basics to do this; a few deep breaths, maybe some expletives, take a step back for a moment and then try again, this time with more groaning and a heap load more WD40.
The Mental Health Organisation suggests trying different meditation or breathing exercises to see what helps. Now, I’m not suggesting we all go and sit in an empty car and chant “ohm” to ourselves (if you want to try that and find it helps then great), but focusing on a low stress, repetitive activity can work wonders for clearing your head and helping to focus on the task at hand. For anyone who’s spent several hours hand polishing and waxing their car, spending the time meticulously going over each panel to ensure a quality finish, you’ll know all about low stress repetitive activity. Turns out that you’ve been practicing an automotive form of meditation all along. Now you have to find an ancient sounding word to give it for when you explain to your partner how it’s essential that you spend the weekend in the garage.
There are several apps and services that help with mindfulness and relaxation such as Calm and Head Space, even a simple exercise in colouring has shown to be of benefit. To help with the lockdown I created a free to download car colouring book which can be found on the Takona website.
This is a step that all car enthusiasts are well versed in. The automotive community has a way of making the world a smaller place; there’s not the territorial ferocity of football, the elitism of horses or sailing, nor the obscurity of mountain unicycling. The automotive world brings people from all cultures and classes together. The man with the multi-million-pound Aston Martin, will happily chat suspension set ups with the kid in the ’90s Mazda without condescension or entitlement. This is a fundamental part of the car community – it’s what encouraged me to start Takona – but currently it feels like it’s been taken away from us.
This means we need to find alternative ways to connect. In a world with more connectivity than ever, it’s easier to do and the options for what works for you are almost endless. Online car groups, social media, virtual car meets in online games, the ever-faithful forums, emails, text, Facetime - the list goes on.
Unfortunately, this can’t quite replace the real connections that you make with people in person. Simple things like eye contact and another person’s full attention are what really bring people together. Supermarkets are now limiting numbers of customers in store, creating Alton Towers-esque queues with no fast track tickets available. It provides a potential opportunity to arrange your essential shopping trip times with a friend, spend that hour long wait to get in, talking from a safe distance. It surprises me that no local car groups have arranged to do their shopping at the same time (within reason), park a space apart from each other, and spend the time queuing catching up whilst admiring the cars in the car park.
In these times of limited structure and the lack of normality, it’s important to acknowledge achievements, no matter how small. When planning your daily routine, include time to reflect on your accomplishments, what it is you’re grateful for and what you hope to achieve the next day. Finally got started on that project car? Great! Got out of bed before 10? Smashed it! Fitted that new part you ordered six months ago but never got out of the box despite how many times you’ve tripped over it? Your partner and your toes are grateful!
I realise that these may seem like over-excited, bombastic comments from the worst corners of social media. However, when you’ve spent a couple of weeks without a routine, getting out of bed later and later each day before flicking through all the films you’ve seen before on Netflix, the ability to keep stock of the things you’ve accomplished and keep your sights set on the things you want to achieve will have a surprisingly profound effect. It will be something you’ll wish you’d done sooner.
Being compassionate to yourself means that you accept you haven’t achieved everything you wanted to, but you also accept that that’s okay. Don’t be too hard on yourself, that bolt will come off eventually, you’ll get the oil change done, the world will continue to turn and you can try again tomorrow. If you accomplish one thing on your list then you’re doing well. If you had a day off to relax and do nothing, that’s fine too. You can have a weekend (if anyone remembers what those were) to sit and watch old James Bond films on ITV-2.
A regular sleep pattern is essential for mental wellbeing; getting up and going to bed at regular times are key ways to keep your brain healthy. Without the normal routine of work and weekend car meets to keep us in our circadian rhythms, this is a factor that we need to tie into a daily routine.
Setting a time to put the phone down, turn the laptop off and start getting ready to sleep is a great way to help with this routine. Spend an hour before bed reading through that stack of car magazines you’ve got on the coffee table. Or take the hour to work on that car drawing you’ve been trying to perfect since it started in the back of a maths textbook. Or find an old Haynes manual and read until you nod off from the endless list of technical specs. We’ve all felt the guilt when the screen time statistics pop up at the end of the week reminding us that we’ve spent 6 hours a day looking at our phone with 75% of that scrolling through the Autotrader app. With minimal order to life currently, it’s important to keep some regularity. Having plans in your day will give some extra motivation to take that step out of bed (see point 1).
We are living in an unpredictable time, facing unforeseeable challenges, both globally and personally. Whether you’re locked in at home or you’re a key worker bravely keeping the world turning, these current circumstances are hard. But there is hope and there are opportunities for great things.
If nothing else, this is an opportunity to check in on those around you, see how they’re doing, and talk openly about how you’re feeling. It’s a great time to start discussing mental health more openly, without fear of judgement. The planet is showing a display of global community and compassion – let’s make that more normal and after all this is over let’s continue to be kind.
The goal of Takona is to help combat the growing epidemic of men's mental health by getting the automotive community engaged and involved with one another. The biggest problem facing men today is themselves, and the biggest creator of this issue is the stigma that men can't talk to one another. I want to change that.
For anyone needing help and advice on their mental health, there is a list of available support resources at https://www.takona.co.uk/mental-health-and-support.