By Lee Jay
Image courtesy of the cool kids at Thought Catalog.
Day (who the heck knows) of lockdown and my mind has become a yo yo, swinging from the thoughts reserved for the pits of despair to "what's for dinner?"- all the while reflecting on a tangle of conflicting COVID-19 updates. The reality of this 'new norm' is slowly hitting home and I'm beginning to crumble.
Wishy washy 'facts', uncertainty looming like a moody cloud, and finding meaning ways to remain busy outside of work get weirder by the day. As the 'stay at home' message finally sunk in, we, like other households, scrambled to concoct creative ways to entertain ourselves. I discovered my partner has a penchant for constructing forts out of sofas and blankets; is enthusiastic at baking cakes from melted Oreo centers, and enjoys pinging me articles on bioceramic, geodesic dome homes. It's a strange time.
Some days, productivity and routine is suffice to soothe the mind. We cling onto a glimmer of hope that life, as we knew it, will soon resume. Other days, I cultivate the worst case scenario and mental preparing for the outcome.
As a human race, we need stimulation and connection, and right now, trapped as we are, there's no escape."
Although the majority of us are coping as best we can, the story is bleaker for others. "Routine gives structure, which, for a person with any type of mental condition is a coping mechanism, and without this, they risk fall apart," explains Tova Lane, PsyD, Psychologist. "When you're not in your best frame of mind, another way to improve one's mood is through connection with others, either in the outdoors, at the office or simply meeting up with friends. We feed off this energy which draws us 'out of our head' and helps balance emotions. As a human race, we need stimulation and connection, and right now, trapped as we are, there's no escape."
The world's 'biggest psychological experiment', a term coined by the media, sees billions around the globe in full or partial lockdown; the implications of social isolation taking its toll as these unprecedented times reveal new findings on just how this pandemic is impacting our mental health by the day.
"There are some groups who are finding the situation a lot more challenging than others, such as those who have recently separated or are far away from their family or partner. That feeling of disconnection and physical touch is magnified and can resurface negative feelings and emotions; we're social creatures, after all," explains Lane. "And for anyone who has endured abuse or assault, feeling trapped is extremely unsettling and often terrifying at times, given the recurrence of distressing emotions from the past".
Alongside this are the millions living in unfavorable conditions: cramped spaces, living in others' pockets and isolated with formidable family members, not to mention those with underlying health conditions, where the fear of traipsing the virus through the door is an ever present fear. "When a living environment is unhealthy, there is a sense of feeling trapped, which can increase anxiety and spark old, unhealthy thinking patterns to return," outlines Lane, adding: "I've heard a fair amount of reported cases where clients are backsliding into old patterns, given a lack of distance from the situation."
A refreshing outlook
Embracing life in isolation has its positives for some, who have adapted to a new reality which works in their favor. "As the world applied its brakes, I've heard accounts from couples who have grasped the opportunity to re-connect with one another, where daily fighting has been replaced with improved communication, and where life distractions have made way for a stronger connection," says Lane.
The same can be said for many families, couples, flatmates and individuals who have welcomed a slowed pace of living and sense of calmness into their homes."For many who struggle generally with daily stresses, there's something to be said for taking a deep breath, reflecting and re-evaluating. Families, in particular, can enjoy uninterrupted bonding time and blossom together,"explains Tova."As people are forced to lift their foot from the gas, many amounting pressures are no longer present and it's been a chance to hit the refresh button".
One day at a time
For the moments when anxiety creeps its way back in, Lane suggests building a list of everything you can currently control over, and give them laser focus. "Remind yourself this is not forever - it too shall pass". There's much to be said by holding on to hope, where we can reflect on our past struggles and celebrate their positive outcomes. In difficult times, a short moment may feel like 'forever', but past experiences teach us otherwise.
"Stick to your routine which mimics what was important in your life before the pandemic erupted," states Lane."Start and end day at the same time, maintain contact with people on a regular basis, work towards having no 'zero days,' whereby you achieve at least one goal daily and celebrate the smallest of achievements".
A reminder for all: Life will return to 'normal' in due course, so keep that chin up.