Life in Lockdown : Coping (and not coping) with isolation

It’s a cool Autumn evening and I’m curled up in a jumper and warm socks after finishing work for the day. Normally, I think this would be bliss. Today I wish I was anywhere else.

Just over four weeks into Coronavirus lockdown with stage 3 restrictions still firmly in place and not looking to be lifted any time soon and I have hit my limit. I’ve tried to be proactive in self-care, productive with the new found “spare” time and gentle with myself on the inevitable bad days and I honestly felt like I was doing ok. Come this week though, and my coping mechanisms have included emptying the house of leftover Easter chocolate and hot cross buns, walking 20,000+ steps a day around the same 5 block radius just to be somewhere other than my house and crawling into bed with a blanket over my head.

Not so healthy, really.

A recent survey, participated in by over 2000 Australians indicates that:

  • 57% of respondents are feeling stress as a result of the lockdowns
  • 49% were stressed about losing jobs, 38% about losing their homes and 60% about not being able to pay bills
  • 77% of respondents were struggling with not seeing family and 71% with not seeing friends
  • 70% are drinking more than they normally would and 1 in 5 Australians have purchased more alcohol than usual during the crisis

The numbers around loss of income and the associated financial stress of not making ends meet are not surprising. What stands out though is that the highest percentage of stress comes from lack of interaction with other people.

Humans are not made to be alone.

Social isolation has been shown to be detrimental to our health, causing effects such as increased depression and anxiety, changes to sleep patterns, lack of focus and mental clarity and aggression as well as higher blood pressure and cholesterol. More critically in the current situation isolation has also been linked to a lowered immune system – the last thing any of us needs right now.

Our brains are wired for human connection and it appears that while we are not in total isolation, relying almost entirely on remote forms of communication is just not enough to tick all the boxes.

Some of you may be familiar with the concept of love languages – 5 ways we give and receive love. My love languages are quality time, followed by physical touch. I share a house with my husband and 2 cats so I’m not entirely lost on opportunity to fulfil these needs but my avenues for them have decreased dramatically. I’m suddenly very aware of things I would normally take for granted, like sitting in my parents living room catching up over a cup of tea, walking to the local café to spend an hour chatting over coffee and hugging my niece and nephew.

There’s also an element of having lost control. I probably would have stayed at home this evening but I would have chosen to do so. Having that choice taken away adds another layer of stress, I am not only missing these things in my life, I am being denied them. Part of my brain wants to resist and fight back and this leads to further anxiety and restlessness (and 20,000 steps around the block).

With restrictions now reported to be continuing for at least another month, it seems inevitable that we have to find a way to cope within the current environment, despite all the reasons it is against our nature to do so.

I could list all the advice that’s being given – create and maintain a routine, stay physically active and reframe the message from being “stuck” to being “safe”. Sometimes these things are not enough. For myself, I can only take it one day at a time – some days I will do ok, other days (today) I will cry in between my video meetings with work and then crawl into bed with a glass of wine. Some days I will straighten my hair and put on pretty earrings and other days I will wear my oldest leggings and avoid all the mirrors in the house. Some days I will make art and other days I will hide my camera in the back of the cupboard.

See, humans are not only social, we’re complex and messy and I think maybe that’s how we get through this. We don’t have to pretend it’s easy, we don’t have to handle it with elegance or grace or composure or clarity.

We just have to come out the other side with enough sanity left to build back up.

note: you do not have to unravel gracefully

Alison Malee