How to deal with psychological effects of the lockdown

It's normal to feel anxiety in an unknown situation.
It's normal to feel anxiety in an unknown situation. / SUR
  • Even for those who normally enjoy being at home, enforced isolation can be a bit of a struggle

We have unexpected free time at home at present, but it doesn't actually feel like a good thing. Isolation, a different routine and the concern that everyone is feeling in a situation that nobody has experienced before will, if it has not already, have a huge emotional impact on people.

Even for those who normally enjoy being at home, enforced isolation can be a bit of a struggle, and adults are more vulnerable than children because they are the ones who have to deal with the psychological effect of the lockdown and have to organise everything, including meals and entertainment.

"Recent studies have shown that in Wuhan, where the pandemic began in December, two weeks after the lockdown began 42.6 per cent of 18,000 people surveyed were displaying signs of anxiety and in another survey of 14,000 people, 16.3 per cent presented symptoms of depression," warns psychologist Álvaro Bilbao.

He has some useful advice on identifying psychological effects of the quarantine and how to overcome them. For a start, he says, don't be surprised if you feel nervous or tearful.

"Nobody should be scared about this. When adults lose control of a situation, it is natural for them to feel anxious. What is important is to carry on and not lose direction," he says.

The reasons

In Álvaro Bilbao's opinion, three factors lie behind the possible psychological effects of isolation: firstly, the uncertainty created by an unprecedented experience, about what will happen with the virus situation in an entire country; secondly, the enforced confinement itself, bearing in mind that human beings survive in groups and have an emotional need for family and friends; and finally, the social stigma.

"You don't have to test positive to suffer this. The fear of being stigmatised is going to appear as soon as we discover that a family member has the virus, or if we cough in a public place. Fear of being stigmatised is deep-rooted in our DNA because, as we have just seen, we can't survive without other people," says Bilbao.

He concludes that many varied symptoms can appear during the lockdown, in addition to stress or anxiety: a feeling of melancholy, apathy, disturbed sleep, irritability, a feeling that everything is strange, low morale, loss of appetite or quite the opposite - a need to raid the fridge at all hours.

"Adults are more vulnerable to anxiety because of our need to control things. And in this situation we feel precisely that we are not in control so that affects our emotional security," he says.

As the days go by our mental balance can be "broken" and we may suddenly find ourselves having panic attacks, crying or feeling that we can't breathe.

"All this is absolutely normal at times like this. Our brain finds it hard to deal with the changes in lifestyle, the uncertainty and the isolation," he says.