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How to cope with lockdown cabin fever

Lifecoaches Judy and Adrian Reith have a new guide to living the life you want in retirement but realised its lessons are just as relevant to everyone who is finding being cooped up at home tricky. Here they give Alex Spencer their tips on surviving the coronavirus lockdown.

A bit of extra time with the family, what could be so hard about that?

Spending 24 hours a day with our nearest and dearest now the country is in lockdown is new territory for most of us - and according to Cambridge life coaches Judy and Adrian Reith it could turn out to be harder than it seems.

They have seen plenty of couples heading into retirement come unstuck when the routines of work are gone and they are faced with being at home all day.

Adrian and Judy Reith (32520528)
Adrian and Judy Reith (32520528)

And they have written a manual, called Act 3, on how to face that challenge and negotiate good relationships with your family- which they say all relates to the current situation the country is facing.

What’s more, they reckon that by using their tools, many of us could have discovered a new purpose in life and even decided to swap careers after we come out of lockdown.

“A lot of the situations we cover in our new book, Act 3, are relevant to all of us coping with the changes to home circumstances brought about by the coronavirus,” says Adrian, who has been an executive coach for business leaders for the past 15 years.

Judy, who has had a long career in coaching and is a parenting expert, says of the lockdown situation:"

“There are people home working who are not used to working together at all. We will say to people, keep redrawing the contract if you want to make this work.

“Some people are also really worried about what this will do to domestic violence problems and alcohol problems in the home because we are not used to having to be alongside each other constantly.”

Like many other families, they are now living with grown up children who came home before the lockdown and are facing having to treat each other as adults and negotiate a different style of relationship, because if we fall back into our old ways of living together we will come a cropper, explains Judy, a parenting coach.

“I'm already doing a webinar to help families with this isolation,” says Judy. “And we will be sitting down with our adult children to do exactly this.

Act 3 by Judy and Adrian Reith (32520531)
Act 3 by Judy and Adrian Reith (32520531)

“We know they will be living with us indefinitely and I’ve welcomed them with open arms and clean bedding, but we need to face one another around the table and say we were not expecting to live together at this stage - how can we make this work?”

Adrian adds: “We will probably say you are adults so the dynamic needs to be different from how they were when they were kids.”

How to set family ground rules

Take a piece of paper and split it down the middle into “needs” and “wants” columns. Then write down what each person needs to do - such as have two hours a day uninterrupted for work meetings - and what each person wants to do.

Judy says: “This starts the conversation on how do we do this without driving each other nuts. Because in the current situation many people are not used to being cooped up together but, just like seeing that retirement is coming or that your working habits are changing, it is about recognising what you all need and want and making a plan to help that happen.

“ We write in the book about transition and how in anyone’s lifetime there have been big bits of transition. At some point you probably made a decision to pursue a certain career or take a job or buy a home with a partner or perhaps have a child. So you have experience from your past life about moving into the unknown and this is one of those experiences. It needs to be thought through and for everyone to have a commitment to keep talking about it rather than being resentful.”

The success of this exercise will be down the the plan that you negotiate. Failing to plan is what the couple describe as “walking into the future backwards,” and they say it a phrase that resonates in their Act 3 retirement planning workshops.

Adrian adds: “If people have been laid back and not used to saying the things they feel, as feelings get bigger and more powerful in people living in close proximity there's a possibility if explosions. So you need to listen, own your feelings and respect other people’s feelings which might be different to yours and at loggerheads with yours. Out of those conversations comes a plan”

Tackling your fears

We’re living in scary times and anxiety levels are bound to be higher than normal. Adrian says: “We cover this in the book and it very much relates to the coronavirus. Fear is a big problem when we can’t name our fears or articulate them. We get clients to write down all their fears on a piece of paper in private then we can go through the list and talk about each one to see if it can be looked at another way or if there is something they can do to help it.

The four roots of life (32520514)
The four roots of life (32520514)

“After a simple exercise like that which may take an hour, people feel entirely different about that list because it begins to show people how they could do things another way. It is about getting things out in the open in a safe way and enabling people to process the fear.”

When sharing this list of fears with other people in the family, it is important they don’t make light of them.

Judy adds: “We ask people to be respectful of people’s fears because to them they are real fears. Don’t say don't be ridiculous, try to keep to listening with kindness. Our view is that you feel is what you feel.”

Plan for different scenarios

Write down everything you are worried about happening - from running out of toilet roll to one person in the family having to isolate. And decide in advance how you would cope.

Judy says: “If you have a plan you will feel much calmer.”

The couple have already discussed what would happen if one of them had to be hospitalised with the virus.

Judy says: “This is relevant to me right now. I’m asthmatic and I said the other night if I end up being carted off to hospital because I can’t breathe would I want Adrian or our children to come and see me in hospital and run the risk of getting ill? I’m not sure I would actually. We may have to have that conversation at greater depth as the weeks go on.”

How to change your life after lockdown

In their manual to a better retirement, the couple discuss ways to live a life without regrets after retirement. Although they say time during coronavirus lockdown is a good opportunity to look at this too. And through their workshops they have discovered there are four roots to personal happiness, which are your attitude, values, key relationships and purpose.


Your attitude to life can determine whether you thrive in later life, according to the couple. “There’s a lot of evidence that people who have a more constructive and positive attitude towards ageing do better,” says Judy.

“Even Viktor Frankl who wrote man’s search for meaning, said that living in the concentration camps during the war the people who believed they would get out and survive. A lot of them did survive, whereas a lot of the people who gave up were more likely to fall victim to it. If you are in daily risk of starvation and being shot and your attitude can help you, how much more can it help the rest of us?”


Knowing your values can point you in the direction you want to go. But it’s important they are your own values and not those of someone else who wants to tell you what to do, says Judy. “Don’t listen to the ‘shoulds’” she exp;lains.

“Don’t think, I should be a volunteer because my neighbour is one and I feel guilty. Don't operate out of fear and guilt.

For some people it is straightforward to work out their values, for other people they have to do more work to free them up because they may have lived for 50, 60, 70 years thinking I'm not allowed to do that or think like that. I’m not allowed to put myself first. I should be thinking of others.”

They give participants in their workshops a pen and paper and get them to write a long list of their values, then question whether they are ‘shoulds’ rather than their own, genuine values.

“There's a lot of buzz around the word kindness at the moment. It was a hashtag on social media when when Caroline Flack died. But what do you mean by kindness? s Do you mean its important you keep in touch with your neighbours? Or is it something else?

“It is about helping give themselves permission to think about what they want to use their time and resources for before it is too late.

“We quote the hospice care worker who collected and wrote the five regrets of the dying and the most common regret from people was I wish I had given myself permission to live the life I wanted to live. She said almost every man said he wished he hadn't worked so hard.”

Meanwhile, Adrian explains we show our values by the way we act. “Values are how you go about doing something when it takes you by surprise. So if something happens that surprises you when you are busy, and the pressure is on and you don’t really have the time and yet you deal with that person kindly then I'm guessing kindness is a value of yours.

If you want everything done right now and you prioritise focus on performance and delivery you will behave in a different way.

“What actual values do you want more of in your family, in your life?”


Next comes finding a purpose to life. Judy warns that retiring couples often think they will spend their time golfing or going on cruises, “But they will be surprised when that doesn’t always make them happy.”

It's not for us to say what someone’s purpose should be, and it doesn't have to be huge,” says Adrian. “Someone we interviewed for the book said when they got a dog it gave them a real sense of purpose. They were living alone and had never had a dog because it enabled them to get exercise and meet other dog walkers. It is not all about huge, save the world stuff. And everybody has to come up with their own.”

This key part of preparing to choose the next direction to take in life can be as simple as giving yourself permission to choose something new.

Adrian: “ You’re also looking for those things you enjoy doing so much, whether it is a hobby or voluntary work, that you don’t notice time passing.”

Adrian gives an example of one of their clients who found his purpose. He says: “A man told us he had spent his career in the video business but he had really wanted to be a dancer all his life but his parents had told him that was ridiculous. He has danced at an amateur level all his life, just privately, but now as a 60 something he has joined a professional company of dancers who are older and they have danced at Sadlers Wells and went on a world tour. That for him was a burning desire to do something different.”

Closer to home, some of their friends with grown up children decided to adopt three young children.

“Our jaws hit the floor and I couldn't stop laughing for a while because it was so mad but they have done it,” says Adrian.

Another client retired from academia and opened a cafe where he serves the food and drink in his homemade jugs and bowls. “He couldn’t be happier” says Adrian.

Key relationships

To remain happy, whether in lockdown or retirement, requires regular honest conversations about relationships, says Adrian.

In the book we show people how to initiate a conversation about their relationships. For instance, Judy and I have an annual ‘where are we going?’ kind of day. We usually go somewhere into the countryside and walk and have lunch, just the two of us, to talk about what we both want from the year ahead and what needs to be changed in our relationship and our life together.

“You service your car every year and you probably service your boiler every year but when do you service your relationship?”

Judy adds: “We do it in a way that is constructive but we are not shy about saying difficult stuff. We try to make sure we keep away from shaming and blaming and unhelpful language but we have to be clear that there are areas to change. We have been married more than 30 years and, with better health, if we have the chance of another 30 years we try on a yearly basis to decide how to make it as good as we can. We start by talking about what's going well, then we talk about the challenges and ask ourselves what decisions we are going to make.”

  • Act 3: The Art of Growing Older, by Adrian and Judy Reith, is out now priced £12.99

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