On not writing a blog article in March
I usually write two blog articles a month, one for fellow professionals interested in the psychology of eating and weight loss, and one for a general audience of anyone interested in changing unhelpful eating habits.
But in March, I wrote nothing. Not a single word.
- Partly because I didn’t feel I had anything useful to say about the covid19 situation that anyone else hadn’t said.
- Partly because I thought that writing about anything other than covid19 was irrelevant, as it was literally all anyone was talking about.
- Partly because I felt like I just wanted to hide away and only come out again when it was all over.
Four weeks in, I’m back at my keyboard
In the four weeks since I brought all my files home from my consulting rooms and moved all my work online, I’ve had online therapy sessions with 21 different clients. A lot of the work with those clients is regular Clinical Psychology – individual therapy with adults who have a range of mental health problems – as well as my Appetite Retraining weight loss work. Those 21 people have a range of issues they are working on, from anxiety and depression to eating disorders and post-traumatic stress, as well as people working on changing their relationship with food.
These 21 people have helped me see that although we might spend a few minutes at the start of a session talking about the lockdown or the virus, what we’re working on in the sessions is what we’ve always been working on in the sessions. The virus may be bringing some problems into particularly sharp relief, but the problems are the ones that were there before, and that’s what people still want to focus on.
So I will be back this month with a regular blog article or two, but for now I’m reflecting on the 21.
We are all different, so our reactions to lockdown are different
As ever, experience shows me that whilst we all have a lot in common, we are also all different. Of the 21 clients,
- 13 were struggling (4 of whom are finding the lockdown extremely difficult)
- 5 were in-between, saying that they would prefer to be able to go out and do normal things, but are finding some significant benefits from enforced staying at home
- 3 are actually finding life easier under lockdown than they find life usually.
There are some obvious fundamentals which influence your experience of covid19 and the lockdown – whether you or someone close to you has the virus, how much space you have in your home, whether you have access to a garden, whether your job is under threat and if you have a job whether you are under greater stress at work than normal. Of the 4 of my clients who were finding things extremely difficult, two are doctors working in highly stressful hospital wards. But beyond the context of your enforced isolation, are psychological factors that will influence how you’re managing.
Why are our reactions so varied?
1.Personality type – introverted or extraverted
One aspect of our personality is the extent to which we need to interact with others in order to feel OK in ourselves. More extraverted people need higher levels of contact with others, and having this contact helps them feel good. Social interaction recharges their batteries. Others who are more introverted may enjoy time with friends and family, but need solitude to recharge their batteries. Two of the three clients who welcomed the enforced isolation are naturally quite introverted and for whom the change mainly means not having to go out when they don’t want to. One of the people who is really struggling is an extravert who lives alone and craves more social contact.
2.Who you are with (or aren’t with).
How you are experiencing the lockdown will have a lot to do with the company you’re locked down with. If you are with people you get on with and who are supportive and fun, your experience is going to be entirely different from someone isolating with an abusive partner or simply someone you have a strained relationship with. And if you have children at home, that’s another big influence to factor in. Being stuck at a distance from the people you love will make it harder, and for some, living alone will be hard.
3.Whether your usual activities are still in place or disrupted by lockdown.
The things that make you tick – your hobbies, interests and how you socialise – might be things you can only really do outside the home like going to the gym or quiz nights at your local pub. Or they might be things you do in front of the TV, like knitting or puzzles. Some of us can work from home and some can’t, so for some, finding a new routine for working will be needed.
4.Whether you can use your usual coping strategies to deal with difficulties.
Each of us uses particular coping styles and strategies to deal with difficult feelings. When circumstances change in life, coping strategies that have worked well for us can stop working so well and we need to adapt them. This lockdown is a change in circumstances, which arose quite quickly and unexpectedly, so our old ways of coping may not be available to us, or may not be so effective. One of the people who is really struggling has moved in with his mother who was abusive when he was young, and he is finding that not only is the relationship currently strained, but his old traumatic memories are being triggered frequently by his mother’s words and actions. His usual coping strategy is intense exercise, which isn’t easy to do now, and he hasn’t yet found an alternative that works in this new situation.
5.Your life stage
Psychologist Erik Erikson suggested that there are eight stages over the course of a lifetime, each with its own psychosocial task. The task of your twenties and thirties is to find your niche in the world, through establishing yourself in work and in relationships. In your forties and fifties the focus shifts to future generations, and passing on skills and knowledge, and in your sixties onwards, the task is one of reflecting on your life and achieving a degree of satisfaction with how you have lived. Enforced isolation has different implications depending on which stage you are in.
Dealing with the lockdown
Perhaps the best advice is to be careful about whose advice you listen to. A lot of enthusiasts on social media are energetically encouraging us to cope in particular ways, and that could well just make you feel inadequate if you can’t. Some very low-key suggestions of mine are here, and if they don’t resonate with you, ignore them.
- Recognise the amount of adjusting your brain is having to do to your new situation. Professor Aisha Ahmad has written really helpful articles on adjusting to lockdown, based on her experience of living in war zones. Her advice is tailored to academics, but the principles apply to the rest of us.
- Create new expectations for yourself, and allow yourself whatever time it takes to get used to the new normal. For some the new normal means working in more stressful and pressured environments, whilst for others having no work to do, or children to teach at home will mean a dramatic change from normal.
- Connect with people who make you feel good and distance yourself as much as possible from those whose company leaves you feeling worse about yourself. This is a good strategy for life in general and is good for your mood, and it may be one positive thing to come out of this time. You may be surprised at who is good to connect with right now – it may not be those who are closest to you who lift your spirits most.
- Find activities that soothe and uplift you. Whether that’s watching heart-warming or cute videos on social media or boxsets on TV, or reading or making things. Again, doing things that make you feel good is beneficial for your mood and general wellbeing whether or not we’re in lockdown.
I will be posting articles and anything I think might be helpful over the course of the lockdown, as long as I’m fit and well. I’ll tell you about training events I’m planning and if you’d like to receive what I write as soon as it’s published, sign up for my newsletter as that’s where I post things first.