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Why is this lockdown so much harder?

By Luke Rix-Standing
January is difficult at the best of times, but with lockdown three in full swing for many, a simple glance at social media, or a chat with friends and family, reveals that many people are struggling more right now than at any other stage of the pandemic, and it doesn’t seem set to let up soon.

We spoke to Julia Faulconbridge, vice chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology at the British Psychological Society, about why this lockdown is quite so punishing, and the little things that might make it better…

A seasonal thing
In large part, of course, we can blame it on the weather. From long winter nights to short, freezing days, the world is simply less friendly than it was in spring – whether you’re in lockdown or not. “The season is a major factor,” says Faulconbridge, “and lockdown in the depths of winter is just intrinsically harder with so many fewer opportunities to be outdoors.

“At the far end of spectrum there’s people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, for whom light levels have a significant impact on their mental health, and January and February are tough times times if you’re having a tough time.”

Dashed expectations
It’s the hope that kills you, and Faulconbridge argues that full transparency over the scale of the crisis could have set people up more effectively for the challenges of the pandemic.

Some messaging has arguably led to many believing “that things were getting better – ‘Once we get to Christmas, everything will OK,’ and so on – and then you get knocked back because you thought the end was in sight. Everybody I know now feels plunged into a much darker place thanks to the realisation that this is still for the long haul.”

It’s not the world’s cheeriest message, but if you manage your expectations, you’re far less likely to be disappointed. Faulconbridge cites an ‘information shortfall’ regarding virus information, that is helping to fuel conspiracism and anxiety. “[Some] people are turning off the news as a coping strategy, so messages don’t always get through. For example, a number of people don’t know that one dose of the vaccine doesn’t grant you immunity.”

Lockdown is still hard
There was a hope back in October that after spending months cooped up indoors earlier in the year, we might be better braced against further lockdowns. But in 2021, lockdowns are still just very hard.

“You get a pressure cooker effect building up for people over a long period of time, and at the moment, if you’re in a stressful situation there’s very little that can relieve it.” Not all lockdowns are created equal, and Faulconbridge cites a popular metaphor which states that, although we’re all in the same storm, some of us are in very different vessels.

“There’s the often isolated elderly, people cut off from their extended families, children, particularly poorer children from less affluent households, young people without a social life, single people that can’t get relationships going, and people feeling pressured to go to work in unsafe environments to earn a living,” says Faulconbridge. “There’s so much complexity in people’s circumstances, and for many of these people the longer the pandemic goes on, the harder things may be.”

Coping strategies
Some people will have coping strategies in place by now, but when the going gets tough Faulconbridge recommends kindness and compassion – not only to others but to yourself. “There isn’t a person not affected by this,” she says, “so try to understand the pressures operating on everyone. They might get angry more quickly, or more withdrawn, so don’t rush to judgement with them or yourself.

“Don’t think, ‘I should be managing better’, because we’re all managing as best we can, and accept that for this period, normal ways of life can’t continue. It’s not just you that isn’t coping.” And knowing that in itself can provide a little comfort at least.

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