Long-term psychological consequences of lockdown
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
In sum, we don’t know the answer to the above because we have never been in this situation before.
There is some research available with regards to the psychological consequences of quarantine (traumagroup.org) but these studies really only focus on the negative consequences and there is nothing that tells us with any real insight what we are likely to expect in the long term.
This short blog was written now because we will undoubtedly be hearing as the weeks go by, more and more forecasts and predictions about the large scale mental health impact of this pandemic, the gist most likely will be that it is bad news for us humans, further increasing anxiety.
But what if, for most people, it isn’t bad news? ...
This blog has been greatly informed by the COVID Trauma Response Working Group who are currently working hard co-ordinating a strategic trauma-informed response to best support our NHS staff and their patients (for more info, visit www.traumagroup.org). The gist of their recommendations can be useful to all of us.
As we have no template for responding to this type of situation, it might be helpful to start with this position:
Consider the most adaptive strategy is to prioritise thinking about how you can respond to lockdown in a way that:
Reduces the risk of developing mental health difficulties in the longer-term.
With this in mind, here are some helpful things to think about:
Try to acknowledge that right now you are doing really important and difficult work in some shape or form, even if you aren’t a key worker or if it doesn’t feel like it. You will be making sacrifices, some extremely precious, for the greater good and that is both important and difficult to do.
Over the last few weeks you will probably have found that there were times when you felt anxious, stressed, scared, sad, overwhelmed, angry, guilty, helpless or even numb. These are all normal responses to an extremely challenging situation. Expect to experience different emotions at different stages of the pandemic. For example, early on, you might have felt anxious thinking about what could happen or you may have been in a heightened state of “readiness." At the peak phases you may experience surges of adrenaline. Over time you may feel more like you are “running on empty”. There may be times to come when you feel guilty about difficult decisions that you have to make. Or you may not feel any of these things. There may be times when you feel you are coping well and times you feel that you are coping less well. Everyone is different, and everyone will experience different emotions at different times. Try not to compare yourself to how others are coping.
Try to remember you are being responsible, not selfish to look after yourself right now. It will be helpful in the long-run to prioritise your attention right now to thinking about how you are taking care of yourself. Use your support networks, take breaks, do things you enjoy, lower your expectations about what you can achieve, etc.
Our brains do not like change. Maintaining a routine as much as you can will also help - this is hard and will probably take some effort but it is an investment of effort that will pay off in the long run.
It may also be reassuring to remember that human beings are generally resilient. We are resourceful and have huge potential to innovate and adapt to any situation, to learn, to develop and to grow.