Lockdown – why it’s so hard on your mental health
Estimated Read Time: 6 minutes
What a strange week, hey?
With the world currently on hold, I thought I would use this freetime (literally three weeks of it) to talk about dealing with such a rapid, isolating upheaval of your everyday life. Over the past week, I have found myself flicking between deep sadness and calm acceptance.
These are unprecedented times, and I thought I’d give some insight into why, for many, it is so taxing on their mental health. Perhaps you will relate…
Time has slowed
Our daily lives, freedom of movement, work, access to loved ones etc, have been overhauled in a matter of weeks. Three weeks ago COVID-19 was something that would briefly catch my eye whilst scrolling down my Twitter feed, happening in faraway places like Italy, China and Spain. I, like most, showed little attention to it because it did not affect my life.
Then, almost overnight, I had to say good-bye to my grandparents for an unknown amount of time. Next to go was my ‘work’ – with it my purpose that got me up in the morning. Then it was lockdown – a big, uncertain, full stop to life as I had known it. I’m sure many will agree, all that happened pretty dam quick. But at the same time stretched days into weeks, weeks into months. This level of change in such a short space of time is simply mind-boggling.
We have had no chance to adapt, no chance to accept it – we are being dragged wherever this virus-driven wind is taking us; like a first-time sailor caught in a hurricane level gust. We have no control over it, we don’t know when it is going to end, or what to expect next. Like the economy, the human brain does not like rapid change, it does not like uncertainty.
As citizens of a modern, liberal country, we have grown up being able to go where we want, when we want. Assuming we are not breaking any laws, we literally have the freedom of choice to decide how we spend our days. Coffee with a friend, visiting grandparents, a few drinks in the pub; all these things, until recently, we took for granted. The idea that even one of these would be taken away from us would have been incomprehensible. Why? because we have the choice to decide. That freedom of choice to do what we want, when we want.
It is that freedom of choice that makes us all so wonderfully individual. All our daily lives are slightly different because of it. We have different passions, different ways we like to spend our time. I like to attend the gym, you may prefer to spend that time shopping. I love to watch football with my friends, you may love to watch the latest film at the cinema. But, for now, and for very valid reasons, these things have been taken away from us.
The phrase ‘social distancing’ is something that is now thrown at us multiple times a day, again, with very good reason; it is essential in order to slow the rate of infection – but it comes at a cost. One that goes against the most primitive part of our brain – human connection. The single biggest reason for the success of our species since we split from our ape ancestors around six million years ago can be found in our ability to work together. We are tribal animals, that would not survive on our own. For this reason, over millions of years, our brains have evolved to be emotionally hardwired to love, hug, and connected with each other.
This is why it has been so hard to enforce social distancing. This is why the government has had to implement deterrents in the form of fines if we are found to be outside of our homes for ‘no good reason’. In a toss-up between the rational, more modern area of your brain, that knows you should stay away from friends and family. And the older, more emotional area of your brain, that sub-consciously craves human interaction; the latter will often win, hence why these deterrents have to be in place.
We have touched on the fact that your brain doesn’t like not being in control, it doesn’t like being isolated, and it definitely doesn’t like uncertainty. So all those things happening at one time, literally overnight, is, to put it lightly, pretty bad for your mental health. Your brains primary focus is survival; uncertainty, in the brains eyes, is a potential threat to life – this can trigger your bodies fight or flight system. Chronic, low-level anxiety and agitation is normal in moments like these because we have no clue what the hell is going on, or when this is going to end.
To what level your mental health is being affected will depend on your individual mental resilience and circumstances. This is a really key point – some will be coping ok with all this. Others, like myself, will have moments where their world is falling down. It is important not to judge each other’s individual reactions. Basically, be very understanding and compassionate (like we should be all the time anyway).
On a positive note, this situation has made it glaringly obvious what is truly key to human happiness. It is not expensive, materialistic things. Instead, ironically, it is the things that cost nothing at all – freedom, friends, family and health. We have been reminded that it is the simple things, that, until recently, we took for granted, that are the key to happiness. Hugging your friends and family, being free to do what you want, being healthy and safe – all these things cost nothing. Only the heartache of having them pulled away from us has revealed there true importance.
As I sit here typing this, surrounded by expensive technology, wearing ‘branded clothing’, looking through the window at my new car sat on the drive, I realise how inconsequential they all are in relation to my day to day happiness. I am sure many of you will be having this same epiphany moment. Perhaps, when all this blows over, we will remember this moment when deciding what really makes us happy.
If someone had told me six months ago vast sways of the world would be on lockdown, with no set end time, because of a virus, I probably would have rolled my eyes and said: “that shit only happens in films”. Well, here we are, living in a time so bizarre I wake up every morning questioning if this was just a dream (or should I say nightmare).
What I will say, is that it has made us become more real. No wealth, status or culture is above this virus. We are, for the first time, all on the same vulnerable playing field. All worried, all confused, all realising what is really important to us – health and happiness.
Be nice to yourself, let yourself feel whatever emotion is there in that moment. It’s ok to feel lost, sad and confused. It’s ok that you may not be coping as well as others. Remember, this will come to an end at some point, and you will be a much stronger, compassionate, and ‘real’ human for it.
Sending you virtual support and hugs,
Sam Jones Fitness