Although many of us spent months waiting for government-enforced lockdown restrictions to end, the current situation is bittersweet — rates of infection are spiking across the country even as others are coming down. Yes, some of us can do more “normal” things, but even for those of us located where restrictions are loosening, we’re also re-entering the world without a vaccine or clear understanding about how the next phases will go. It feels like uncertainty piled upon even more uncertainty.
Because of this, it’s entirely reasonable that some of us might not feel comfortable with the new set of rules and prefer to continue self-isolating. You might not want lockdown to end at all and feel frustration or anger that others are sitting on patios or shopping in malls. Throughout this time, we’ve learned that we have different personal situations that lead to vastly different feelings and responses. We’re all doing what we need to soothe feelings of anxiety and that might mean sticking to lockdown-style guidelines.
However, it can be helpful to discuss your feelings about coronavirus with a therapist to make sure you’re not relying on behaviours that could become a bigger problem in the future. A therapist can help you develop tools to find balance in your daily life between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Instead of focusing on what you’ll miss, you can try to integrate those healthy elements into this new normal.
The Impact of Lockdown
Between social distancing and self-isolating, coronavirus has created the environment for a massive worldwide psychological experiment. There are several researchers looking at the impact of this lockdown on our mental health — their findings are concerning but not altogether unsurprising. Essentially, people living under a form of quarantine for an extended amount of time develop stress-related symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, anger, and general emotional exhaustion.
Our personal situations also play a role in the impact of lockdown. Parents with young children, for example, are four times more likely to have higher post-traumatic stress scores. Healthcare workers are more likely to develop avoidance behaviours (e.g. minimizing contact with patients and not showing up for work) as well as alcohol and substance abuse. As we transition to the next phase of the pandemic, it’s important to bring our empathy with us. We have had different experiences in lockdown and we’ll carry different long-term impacts after restrictions are loosened.
Managing New Situations
When we say that we’ll miss lockdown, what are we actually talking about? It might be the break from busy schedules, sense of safety in our own homes, or opportunity to look inwards and connect with our deeper self. Re-entering society could feel like a loss and could trigger some feelings of grief. Additionally, we’re not coming back to the world we lived in before lockdown. There are many new situations to navigate that require flexibility, resilience, and patience.
In some ways, there is a sense of simplicity to lockdown. We knew that we had to flatten the curve by staying indoors and separate from each other. Now, there seems to be a lack of clarity around how we should behave or feel. Can we really go eat on a patio? Do we need to wear a mask every time we leave the house? Should we get tested if that option is available? Coupled with mounting financial stress and increasing cases in many areas, we might even long for the early pandemic days of March and April.
It’s possible that you need new support for these new situations. If you got through lockdown with relative ease, that doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way now. Try to notice your stress levels — automatic thoughts or reactions in our body can provide clues that cortisol, our stress hormone, is rising. It’s important to increase your self-care and seek support from close friends, family, or a therapist to navigate this phase of coronavirus.
Take the Good, Leave the Bad
Although reports show a negative impact on mental health, there are also studies that reveal some positive outcomes due to the coronavirus lockdown. Research on students and workers in Spain, for example, reported over 65% of participants identified confinement as improving their relationships with others in their home. We’ve also witnessed an endless stream of creative hobbies posted to social media and a dedication to working out that only matches the fervor of New Year resolutions.
With self-reflection, many of us have examined our lives and thought about the adjustments necessary for a better future. Without as many distractions, we’ve been given the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. What were the benefits of less events in your schedule? How did it feel to improve your physical space? Who did you speak to more frequently? Could it actually be possible to harness your higher self from this difficult situation — a phoenix from the flames.
If you’ve developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms (e.g. alcohol or substance abuse) in lockdown, the lifted restrictions might be a good opportunity to address why you needed those behaviours to cope with what is admittedly a very difficult time. This can also be the case if you were zoning out to TV too frequently or ruminating on negative thoughts. We shouldn’t be judgmental about these coping behaviors. It’s far better to ask yourself the questions with curiosity. The same way that we can take the good, we can leave the bad — but we have to acknowledge what wasn’t working.
Although we might not know what the future has in store, developing improved mental health and effective coping strategies will likely make everything a bit easier.