Why is lockdown 3.0 so much more difficult to manage?
We're here again, folks, and have been for quite some time.
Lockdown 3.0 has reached its midway point, and even though it sometimes may not seem like it, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Although some people may be coping with each lockdown magnificently (and others have felt like lockdown never ended), for a lot of us, it's the third time in 12 months that we've been shut off from our friends, family, and anything resembling fun.
January is thankfully over, but with at least another month of lockdown ahead of us, it's likely that those feelings of dread, isolation, and frustration are going to remain will us. But why do they feel so much worse this time around?
Mental Health Ireland CEO Martin Rogan says that although we've done it all before, the repetitiveness of lockdown has fatigued much of our coping mechanisms.
“The duration is different, we’re depleted," he tells Her. "Usually when you’re anxious it’s because you can feel something coming over the horizon. It’s a familiar looming feeling and you brace yourself for it.
"Last year, we knew this was coming and we braced ourselves. We thought it would be a short, sharp shock, maybe three weeks of lockdown and then we’d be back to normal. Now we’re responding to something a little different.
"If you’re told you’re going to be stuck in a cave for three weeks with a box of candles, you’ll light all of those candles over that three week period. But if you knew it was going be a year, you’d use those candles differently. And now we’re literally burning our candles at both ends. No one can sustain that."
Martin says that although anxiety can be debilitating, it's also a protective mechanism designed to keep us out of trouble. It's a warning sign, urging us to proceed with caution, unsure of what's around the corner.
But in the midst of the country's third total lockdown, many of us already know what's around the corner - we've already been through it before. And unfortunately for us, that anxious feeling is still there.
"Anticipatory anxiety is the kind you’d feel when you're going to the dentist, and then once you arrive the anxiety leaves because you can’t run away anymore," says Martin. "There’s nowhere to go so you deal with it.
"What the difference is this time around is that people's coping strategies are exhausted. Most of us have a utility belt of coping strategies for dealing with anxiety. You chat to someone, you go outside for a walk, you reflect, you rationalise.
"There’s a seasonality to it too, we weren’t designed to hibernate but we were designed to rest. We’re naturally a bit flatter this time of year, January is always difficult. You’ve got people trying to boost themselves through it with diets and exercise, but this year that same sense of enthusiasm isn’t there. We’ve already used up our reserves.
"We’re looking at the Covid numbers and thinking, look at all of this effort we’re putting in and are we really any further along? But the reality is that yes, we are. If you’ve gotten this far and you haven’t been directly impacted by Covid, whatever you’re doing is working. This is highly infectious and it’s widespread, so if you haven’t been affected, then your self management and self care is working."
So, what can we do to manage this repeated anxiety until things are "back to normal"? Martin says that despite the fact that a third lockdown might feel like something we've all done before, it's actually an entirely new experience and should be treated as such.
He points to standard actions for good mental health like a healthy diet and regular exercise as means of coping, but also to Mental Health Ireland's 'Five Ways to Well Being' to keep our anxiety in check and minimise its negative effects.
The simple actions, which can be found online here, include connecting with someone, staying active, learning something new, taking notice of your feelings, and giving something back.
“All humans are incomplete, we need each other to survive," he says. "Social distancing has affected that but it hasn’t removed it entirely. There’s no social foraging anymore, but we can still pick up the phone and ring someone, we can still make contact with a person we haven’t made contact with in a few months.
"It’s something fresh and new, and that person will appreciate it too. To know someone is aware and cares about you is a powerful message."
As well as this, Martin suggests sitting in a public place alone just to be seen, learning something new like a craft or an instrument for a sense of internal achievement, and taking note of your progress - no matter how small.
"People expect their lives to be predetermined but that certainty isn’t always going to be the case," he says.
“Be gentle with yourself and with the people around you. Postpone the things you had planned to do, don’t cancel them. Rework things.
“We’ve never been as confident as we are now that people have the strength to resolve these issues. 35% of all GP visits relate to mental health every year, it’s healthy and rational to feel a bit low with Covid. You’re not losing it but you do have to surf the wave."
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123.