Two and a half weeks into the UK’s formal lockdown, you are probably beginning to notice a few transformations in the way you go about your day and your mood. Is this normal? And what further changes might you expect over the next couple of weeks?
We explore some of the psychological shifts that people in Italy and Spain experienced during their first four weeks of social distancing to see if we can gain some valuable insights into what to expect for our own wellbeing over the next couple of weeks in London.
In the weeks preceding the first formal lockdowns in Europe, life was continuing pretty much as normal. Many of us had seen media reports about the effects of coronavirus was having elsewhere in the world but it had not really affected us.
Then all of a sudden – before the introduction of social distancing restrictions – unexpected and unusual things began to happen.
Supermarket toilet roll shelves went from full to empty in the space of a day, leaving many of us wondering what was going on. Shop staff were equally bewildered and promised replacement stock in a day or so. They were wrong.
Instead of being replenished, those empty toilet roll shelves were soon followed by bare tinned foods, pasta and egg aisles.
Within days most supermarkets looked as if they were selling off unwanted remains before closing down. Shop attendants shrugged hopelessly when asked about new stock.
Rapidly increasing reports and fears of the virus becoming a worldwide pandemic were creating panic buying and stockpiling issues.
That was Italy and Spain at the beginning of March this year. Two weeks later a very similar scenario was being played out in the UK.
Italy announced a formal lockdown on 9 March, followed by Spain five days later on 14 March 2020.
Most people found themselves glued to their TV sets for the next few days awaiting every news updates. The daily government updates became the focal point of the day.
The rest of the day was a muddled mix of working from home whilst attempting home schooling, home cooking and home-to-home video calls.
The dated 80’s fad of home exercise videos suddenly became fashionable again through live streamed training sessions. As the endless stream of viewers comments testified, this was not just a way to keep physically fit whilst cooped up at home – it also offered a degree of mental relief by allowing us to connect with the world outside.
Nobody complained about receiving countless lockdown videos and memes, in fact we looked forward to them.
Supermarkets urgently replaced buy-one-get-one-free promotional placards with buy-one-get-no-more notices.
And finally, at the end of each day, overloaded with virus facts, figures, jokes and worries you logged in on Zoom or Houseparty and shared it all over again digital-face-to-digital-face with friends and family.
Sound familiar? People around the world have experienced much of the same during the first two weeks of lockdown and social distancing restrictions.
So, what happens next?
By the end of the second week, things start to change.
Psychologists report that our actions in the first two weeks are largely due to us not being accustomed to being forced to stay at home. We act in ways that we might not usually, because our whole situation is unusual.
But after around two weeks, our mind begins to accept the restrictions as normality.
Not going out for work or fun slowly begins to feel standard. It is then that we begin to revert to our more normal selves in other ways.
After the first two weeks, people in Italy and Spain started becoming less involved in group messaging chats and video calls. Importantly, they were not detaching themselves completely – just reverting back to pre-lockdown involvement.
Friends and family didn’t take offence; they were feeling much the same themselves.
Online content creators watched viewer numbers drop back down to regular pre-lockdown levels.
The stockpile of food began to feel a little embarrassing than completely essential.
The daily news briefing was no longer the focal point of every day. Even the daily death toll, as awful as ever, became less shocking.
Our bodies are amazing machines. Our brain is built to cope with all kinds of unexpected stresses through adaptation. It might take a while but over time we begin to adjust and realign to the new reality. So, if you find yourself cutting down on some or many of the things that you suddenly began after lockdown, do not fret. It is completely normal. The first two weeks was the adjustment period.
It was frantic, scary and even exciting at times. Now things should start to feel a little more settled, a little more normal, albeit far from the longer-term reality that we all hope for.
It is important however to recognise that whilst it is completely natural to reel back some or even many of the activities you may have got involved in during the first two weeks, you should watch out for changes beyond that.
Finding yourself becoming less keen on things that you were usually interested in before social distancing and lockdown restrictions were imposed can be an indicator of excessive anxiety and early steps towards depression.
Mental health is fundamental for overall good health. One of the best ways to avoid serious mental health issues is early recognition and remedial action.
A recent review of the psychological impacts of quarantine funded by Kings College London in association with Public Health England found the most reported negative psychological effects of lockdown quarantine periods to be “stress symptoms, confusion, and anger” caused by “longer quarantine duration, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information […and…] financial loss”.
We often talk about how massage can help with mental health. From talking to your therapist to helping you fall asleep and forget stresses for a few hours. It may not be possible right now to book a professional treatment, but you can still rebalance your mind during lockdown restrictions by being mindful when you go for your daily walk and giving yourself (or someone you live with) a foot massage at home.
You may be alone but that does not mean you have to be lonely. We are all in this together.