Kindness Is Key: Adapting To The New Reality Of Life Under Lockdown

A psychiatrist offers tips on how to navigate the unfamiliar terrain of limited freedoms and isolation

Dr Prabha Chandra Updated: Jun 15, 2020 18:33:10 IST
Kindness Is Key: Adapting To The New Reality Of Life Under Lockdown Image used for representative purposes only. (Courtesy Pixabay)

Social contact and interconnectedness offer human beings a sense of identity and a way to deal with our emotions. In the last few years, many of us have become comfortable with online connectivity. However, some things cannot be replaced—the comfort of sharing a cup of coffee with a friend in a café, the thrill of finding a favourite book in a second-hand bookshop with your child or trying to find that perfect cotton summer dress in the aisles of a favourite store.

The lockdown is making us miss these small joys we took for granted. Instead, today we are confined to our homes, with partners, kids and in-laws, attempting to navigate a new normal at a time of great anxiety and uncertainty.

It is not a surprise then that many of us feel out of our depth. The first week, of course, seems easy, board games are whipped out, cakes are baked and phone calls made to all the relatives you hadn’t spoken to in a year. But once reality hits home, that even a quick run to the shops or going for a walk in the park could expose you to risk of infection and illness, disappointment, resignation and even resentments follow closely.

Those who live alone face their own unique challenges. Everyday routines feel dreary and it may seem pointless to even do ordinary tasks. Lounging around the house binge-watching shows or scrolling through social media becomes the norm. Single people are likely the first to miss their ritual weekend outings with friends, paving the way for feelings of loneliness and vulnerability.

For those who live with others, staying indoors with the family or roommates 24/7 makes one excessively sensitive and annoyed about other people’s behaviors that are normally ignored. Parents’ patience with children run thin, couples may spat with each other and without the usual ways of letting off steam, resentments tend to linger. In addition to this are the losses that we might be facing which lead to what psychologists call ‘disenfranchised grief’—grief that is not acknowledged by society—such as the distress of being laid off, a graduation cancelled or celebrations being called off.

woman-sad_041320022155.jpgThe ongoing coronavirus pandemic can have adverse effects on the mental well-being of people caught in a lockdown. (Image used for representative purposes only. Image: Wikimedia Commons)

How does one find emotional resources to cope with this very unusual situation? Here are some possible solutions:

1. Develop cognitive flexibility

The ability to find novel solutions and adapt oneself to different situations—is key when routines are suddenly thrown out of gear. For example now that the option of getting exercise is more limited due to the lockdowns, perhaps switch to smaller, more frequent meals. This may bring about some novelty in meal planning and menus. Encouraging each family member to innovate and find something new for themselves is often a rewarding experience.

2. Learn to let go

Messages all around us are asking us to be productive, work from home, learn a new hobby and, ironically, ‘be positive’, but the truth is that many of us may just barely be able to get through the day, let alone learn how to crochet or knit. If it is not possible, don’t fret. Try and lower your expectations from yourself and others. If the dishes are not cleaned perfectly, if the bed is not made to your satisfaction or books and newspapers are not kept back in their place, let it go.

3. Be kind to yourself and others

Finally, nip disagreements in the bud and be mindful of your emotions and those of others so that conflicts do not escalate. The very idea that all the frustration or irritation you may be feeling is likely just how your partner or parent or child will be feeling as well can help dissipate your own annoyance and result in a kinder response.

Dr Prabha Chandra is a professor and head of psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS).
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