How Lockdown Affects Our Mental Health: Finding the Silver Linings

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Since the first reported incidence of local Covid transmission we’ve lived under pandemic-related restrictions of one form or another. Eighteen months later we’re still trying to understand the full psychological fallout of putting people under prolonged movement restrictions and isolation.

It’s widely documented that the pandemic has contributed to greater emotional distress in our community. But what role does lockdown and other forms of pandemic-related restriction play in this? Are there any mental health silver linings to life in a global pandemic? And how should we take care of our emotional wellbeing in and out of quarantine and lockdown?

First, some definitions: Quarantine, according to the CDC, separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. Most governments during the COVID-19 pandemic require overseas arrivals or even local travelers to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine before being allowed back into the community.

Mandatory quarantine has been a governmental response to pandemics throughout history, including to outbreaks of Spanish Flu, Ebola, SARS and swine flu. The term has long incited fear and anxiety in citizens of affected areas. 

Self Isolation separates those infected with contagious disease from people who are not sick. This can be done within communities, households, and family units. It is a micro-scale quarantine. 

Social isolation, or lockdown, is a preventative strategy, usually the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction and access to public spaces to reduce the likelihood of contagion. 

One of the challenges of each of these restrictions is fear, anxiety and loneliness. They all remove you, to some extent, from your support network, connection to which is critical to happiness, wellbeing and healing. 

The manner in which pandemic-related restrictions are handled also increases anxiety. Changing policies and protocols, miscommunicated guidelines and loss of autonomy (not to mention social and economic impacts) can lead to psychological distress which can manifest as anger, exhaustion, irritability, and low mood.

But it’s not all bad news. 

A recent survey explored not just the worries and concerns of Australians about self-isolation and quarantine but also asked respondents about the ‘silver linings’ of these unusual conditions. Participants indicated that ‘Enjoying spending more time at home,’ ‘Enjoying spending time on my own more,’ ‘Doing things I wanted to do but didn’t have time to do before’ and ‘Reinvigorating old or developing new interests and hobbies’ were some of the upsides of quarantine or self-isolation. 

In fact respondents to the survey were, on average, able to list four silver-linings from their quarantine or self-isolation experience.

This exploration of silver-linings is important. It’s one way to harness a positive potential from a negative experience; a strategy that builds mental health. 

We know that what we focus on grows (tell yourself you won’t think about the chocolate in your pantry and it’s all you will think about). When we focus our attention, individually and collectively, solely on the negative impact of an event or experience we can be overwhelmed by the associated feelings of sadness, disappointment or distress. Misery is all we see. Looking for ‘silver linings’ balances our assessment, bringing equilibrium to our emotional state.

What silver linings have you discovered during life in a global pandemic?


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