Many people are finding the COVID-19 social isolation measures really difficult. We know that families are finding the juggle of ‘work from home’ and home-schooling really tough and that kids are missing their friends and social connections. However, you may be someone that doesn’t mind the restrictions at all like Poppy.
“I live with anxiety about my health and the health of my kids every day. I am surprised but right now during the pandemic my anxiety is at an all time low. My partner is home more and able to help (even though they’re working) and we are not really leaving the house. This is perfect for someone like me who has anxiety because it means that I can stay home and not feel guilty about it!” Poppy
Anxiety can take many forms including social anxiety, panic disorder, general anxiety and specific phobias. While they are all slightly different, the common feature of these conditions is avoidance. You may avoid public places, eating out, dirt and germs or situations that induce panic. This key feature is also what allows them to continue. The cycle below explains how, in the long term, this avoidance of feared situations does not allow you to test your coping mechanisms or disprove your theories that these people, places or things are indeed scary.
Often, you also have negative feelings and beliefs about yourself when you avoid situations. When you have children, this can also create additional self-guilt if you frequently avoid going outside or taking the kids to places they would enjoy (like parks etc). This can actually make you feel worse as you beat yourself up, adding layers of guilt and regret on top of already difficult feelings.
In the current COVID-19 climate, you may be finding that your levels of anxiety have actually gone down. There may be several factors contributing to this including- extra support with partners home more (even though they might be working, there would be less time commuting or even less stress and pressure with their current workload) and feeling both safe and secure inside your own home. Importantly, you may also feel a sense of relief that you’re ‘allowed’ to stay home during this time and have reduced that added layer of pressure/ guilt on yourself to go out.
We know however that this situation will not last forever and at some point, people will be going outside again doing shopping, taking kids to the park and going to work. So, what does this mean for you who has come to enjoy the period of isolation? There are a few things that you can take away from the COVID-19 situation:
This time has helped a lot of people work out what is important to them and what they want to prioritise.
Some people might also realise that they don’t need to say yes to every invitation or offer and can chose to stay home if needed for their mental health.
With partners home more this is also a good time to think about asking for help and being able to accept help from loved ones.
Families might have tried new schedules that actually work much better- having this opportunity to change the way things have been done previously can be enormously beneficial and you might decide to keep some of these in the future.
But if avoidance makes anxiety worse in the long run what does this isolation period mean for you and your anxiety levels?
There is certainly a risk that this period of isolation might lead to increases in anxiety once the conditions are lifted. This is like a rebounding effect and you might find that your anxiety increases to much higher levels than you experienced previously. However, one of the ways that you can overcome anxiety is to understand how it works. By knowing that this cycle exists and having strategies to use when your anxiety increases, this can help to manage day to day situations that might cause you distress. If you normally have a fear of germs or getting sick, post-COVID-19 life could seem very risky right now but once the social distancing measures are lifted it will be important to gradually ease back into a normal routine.
If we were to graph how your anxiety might go over this time it might look something like this:
You can see that once the lockdown and isolation measures are lifted there may be an upswing and perhaps an increase in feelings of anxiety. The value of knowing this information is you can prepare for it. If you think this could happen to you, you can start to develop and solidify your self-management skills now in preparation. For example, practicing controlled breathing, using meditations daily and honing your other skills that you have found useful in managing your anxiety like journaling, daily gratitude or exercise. And remember, that you can continue to talk to your perinatal psychologist via telehealth to start to prepare for the return to normal life.