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Lockdown Lessons: What Have We Learned about Ourselves?

May. 22, 2020 Psychology Today

As the pandemic crept into the nation and then began burning through communities, all of us were being exposed to parts of ourselves that might have surprised us. While we all deal with some level of anxiety or concern during our days, those things may vary widely depending on individual identities. Some of us worry about having enough money to make it to payday. Others worry about being late for the party. Some worry about someone getting the last roll of our “favorite” toilet paper and others worry about running water and enough food to eat. Anxiety is part of the human condition. Most of us know the circumstances that tend to cause us worry. Some of us even go into “panic mode” when a minor hiccough happens on our way to fulfilment.

The pandemic and national lockdown, though, brought a huge number of us to a place we’d never before tread . . . face-to-face with fear of what we couldn’t see, couldn’t predict, and couldn’t control. The uncertainty factor of a virus probably took more than a few of us over the edge into a crisis mode that we might never have experienced before. Faced with an unknowable threat to our lives, our family’s lives, and our economic wellbeing, to boot, we likely were beaten down emotionally by the circumstances without knowing “why” we were feeling so exhausted, or confused, or hypervigilant. After several weeks, the total scope and scale of the pandemic’s power to change our lives in virtually every aspect imaginable began to hit us.

When we face a threat, many of us do so with courage and bravery – we work hard to throw ourselves into the fight. Some of us turn to humor and work hard to make sure we’re keeping our spirits up along with the spirits of those around us. Others retreat and look for safety and security and creature comforts – like comfort foods, trashy television shows, and sweats and pajamas worn 24/7. Others keep going as they have before, not even letting their thoughts turn to the potential risks they may face.

But after several weeks, most of us began to roll into a new phase of response – fatigue and exhaustion. Whatever “crisis response strategy” we tend to utilize, the persistent threat outside our doors – in the form of other people who we may even know and love, soiled doorknobs, tainted delivery bags, etc. – kept us actively engaged with the fight to protect ourselves. So now, as we begin to see the world try to get back to some new way of spinning, we may feel frightened to return to our normal routines. We may feel empty, irritable, tired, and emotionally exhausted. These are all normal responses, and it may take some conscious self-care and talking through these feelings to help us find a sense of wholeness, restoration, and readiness to go back to the lives we used to live.

For our essential workers who never had the luxury of escaping from their posts and curling up under a blanket to escape the outside threat, their “hazard pay” might not mitigate the emotional cost that their hazard duty required. They met others’ basic material needs, but their own psychological needs may need more than a “next day delivery” could provide. They met our medical needs and risked their own health in order to help us maintain our own. We owe them more than what they were compensated for the risks they all took for others. We need to remember this when we’re feeling impatient with others who are doing the best they can and who were there for us when we perhaps were not there for anyone else, at all.

What are some of the lessons that we may have taken from the past few months – during a time when our lives were put on hold and we were put on lockdown to confront, as a united front, a threat that we had never before experienced in this way? Here’s a summary of what people have shared with me:

  1. We are all connected. Social connections are essential to our physical and emotional well-being. Whether we rely on phone calls, video calls, texts, or visiting with masks and 6 feet apart, our lives have value because of the value we have in the lives of others.
  2. This worked as a “wake-up call” to the dependence all of us have on our “essential workers.” Our lives hum because of the labor of healthcare workers, warehouse workers, grocery store employees, truckers, delivery drivers. For those who are “essential” employees, one individual shared that being deemed “essential” means that “I have to be courageous, but it also validates that what I do truly matters.”
  3. Our kids are going to be okay, worrying excessively about them isn’t going to do them any good. There are benefits to having more time to connect with your kids, to talk to them about “real” things, big issues in a way they can understand, and just finding out who they are on their way to growing up.
  4. The government has a great deal of power to shape our daily lives – more than any of us may have ever realized before.
  5. The basics are absolutely enough. The “extras” are sweet, but the basics provide the foundation for everything. We should focus on making memories, not money, for the people we love.
  6. Skin hunger is real – missing the handshakes, the warm hugs, and the pat on the back is hard.
  7. The urgency we feel in daily life really isn’t necessary and it robs us of the peace that we should be finding in each day. We can’t realize the beauty of the natural world when we’re always rushing to move through it, not move within it. We need to slow down and be in the moment – not rushing to get to the next thing.
  8. We can’t “cure” the pandemic or “pick” the lockdown, so just be focused on the present and what you can do, personally and professionally. Turn off the news, stop giving in to “clickbait,” and attend to the things that bring you joy and a feeling of peace – don’t look for reasons to get riled up about things you cannot control.
  9. We can control our controllables. As one person shared, “I am in solo isolation, but I have found that I can be alone, but that doesn’t mean I have to be lonely.” Control those things you can, find solutions for the struggles when you can, and accept when you’ve done all that you can and let yourself off the hook for doing more than is truly possible.
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