How can we prevent psychological problems during lockdown

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  • When facing an unknown situation, our brain searches for known stimuli or situations it can control.
    When facing an unknown situation, our brain searches for known stimuli or situations it can control. Source: CC.
We are facing an unknown situation, in which uncertainty, the lack of information regarding the virus itself, can arouse feelings such as fear, frustration and even symptoms compatible with anxiety and depression.

Montse Marsà

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Adult Psychotherapy and Health Coach COPC.

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Montse Marsà
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COVID-19. Using protection masks. Washing your hands with soap and water. The COVID curve… What about the psychological measures we have to take? What psychological effects can lockdown cause? How can we prevent disorders or psychological problems during lockdown?
 
We are facing an unknown situation, in which uncertainty, the lack of information regarding the virus itself, can arouse feelings such as fear, frustration and even symptoms compatible with anxiety and depression. 
 
Whilst fear and frustration are adaptive and normal feelings (there is nothing pathological about feeling fear when facing an unknown situation), if we allow this fear to “contaminate” our daily lives, to paralyze us, to draw us to ruminating worrying thoughts, it will thus prevent us from managing the lockdown in an adaptive way and it will be probably lead to other more problematic symptoms.
 
Lockdown is a new and unknown situation. When facing an unknown situation, our brain searches for known stimuli or situations it can control. What can we control during lockdown?
 
We need to pay attention to aspects we can control and make us feel comfortable. That’s why the following measures are indispensable for our brain: maintaining as much as possible our daily routine (e.g. working hours, the usual waking up time, bedtime and mealtimes), the time we invest in leisure, family routines. Our brain will then perceive that, even though we are going through a lockdown period, certain aspects are maintained. What is actually maintained up to a certain point is a sense of calm which makes us feel more comfortable.
 
These are some of the possible reactions caused by lockdown:
  • Emotional reactions: Helplessness, fear, sadness, frustration, guilt, irritation, etc.
  • Cognitive reactions: Difficulty in concentrating or decision-making, ruminating thoughts, denial of the situation, etc.
  • Physical reactions: Chest pressure, dizziness, stomach pain, tiredness, insomnia, trembling, etc.
  • Behavioural reactions: Verbiage, uncontrollable crying, difficulty maintaining self-care conducts, difficulty disconnecting from work, etc.
It is key to be aware of them and to find strategies to control them. It can be very useful sharing emotions with those around you, participating in videoconference calls or online games with friends, starting relaxing and meditation practices, avoiding overinformation, watching the news or reading the paper once or twice a day only, avoiding whatsapp groups and not continuing to propagate unverifiable confusing or even false messages. Being informed is very convenient, as long as the information is true and from official sources. Let’s not participate in propagating fear and discomfort to those around us.

The reason behind certain behaviours such as compulsive toilet paper buying

FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) is defined as a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent and is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing. Am I missing out on something? Will I be left without essential products (e.g. toilet paper)? If everyone else is panic buying and I am not ... am I missing out on something? Let’s be aware of this apprehension which makes us loot food shops, toilet paper, etc. 
 
It’s important to remain calm in these situations, be aware of this fear and avoid its propagation (i.e. sending/uploading pictures of fridges full of food at home and of empty supermarket shelves). We will reduce discomfort to those around us, and more importantly we will be developing solidarity actions towards a society and world which is experiencing the same situation. 
 
Now more than ever, promoting feelings of solidarity, humbleness and gratitude is key to making the lockdown as adaptive as possible. 
 
If you are in need of help or psychological assessment, consult a psychologist. We are many psychologists who are currently working online (adapting to the patient’s schedule and available software). Moreover, the Catalonia School of Psychologists has made a phone number available to all citizens for initial assessment and to subsequently (if necessary) forward them to different psychological services currently available. 
 
As Joyce Meyer said, “Being patient isn’t just waiting for something – it’s having a good attitude while we’re waiting”.

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