'People are tired, worried, exhausted. They’ve run out of steam'

Prolonged lockdown causing anxiety and frustration, psychotherapists say

Psychotherapist Maura Davis: ‘The uncertainty means people have more time at home to ruminate and overthink and go around in circles. People are lonely and isolated.’ Photograph: iStock

Psychotherapist Maura Davis: ‘The uncertainty means people have more time at home to ruminate and overthink and go around in circles. People are lonely and isolated.’ Photograph: iStock

 

The modest easing of pandemic restrictions has been welcomed by psychotherapists who say the prolonged lockdown is causing anxiety and frustration for people.

“There’s a huge amount of anxiety. Particularly for anyone with a disposition to anxiety already,” says Maura Davis, psychotherapist and founder of the online resource counsellingandtherapy.com. “The uncertainty means people have more time at home to ruminate and overthink and go around in circles. People are lonely and isolated.”

Davis thinks that even minor changes to the restrictions will be appreciated. “People are pawing the ground to get out. We’re hardwired for social connection . . . you lose your social skills if you don’t keep in touch with people, you become introverted. I think there’s going to be a bit of social anxiety.”

She worries about how wary people have become with each other. Interactions with neighbours and strangers “give us vitality. It’s not just the people we go to dinner with, it’s going to the shops or the garage. Those are the weak ties that help us feel acknowledged, noticed and remembered. You nod hello at each other and that’s very affirming for both of you. Everyone is waiting to get the vaccine and get back out and resume their normal lives . . . there is going to be a period of recovery to be sure.”

Davis believes most people understand the importance of the restrictions but will feel nonetheless disappointed that things aren’t opening up more quickly. “People have found this last stretch the toughest of the whole lot. They’re tired, worried, exhausted. They’ve really run out of steam . . . I have heard from people, ‘I really can’t take that much more of this.’” She thinks people are more frustrated with the Government than they were the last time around, but most will continue to obey the rules.

We will get over all this, she adds. “There will be people who have been really frightened or had a long time to think about all this . . . but, in general, people will bounce back.”

‘Deep processes’

Last March The Irish Times spoke to psychotherapist Sarah Gilligan about how people would cope at the outset of the pandemic. “Oh my God has it been a year?” says Gilligan.

How would she describe how people are doing? “A lot of frustration, a lot of thinking, a lot of fed-upness.” She laughs. “I know that’s not a word . . . There’s very deep processes happening all the time for people right now.”

They’re thinking, she says, about “what it means to socialise. What it means to feel lonely. What it means to have a community. A huge amount of individualism has kicked in. We’re down to small little groups of people. It’s just a very different version of life for everybody.”

In general, she says, everyone’s life has been on pause and each time the restrictions change they recalibrate. “They’re trying to figure out if plans can go back into action, the smallest things or biggest things, ‘Can I move house?’”

People are cautious about getting their hopes up. “There appears to be a little bit of optimism with a rollout of vaccines and the seasons changing and the sun coming out, but maybe what I’m hearing is more a muted optimism . . . There’s a lot of stuff under the surface about trust.”

As things slowly open up, she says, people might find themselves being emotionally overwhelmed. She’s also conscious that everyone will react to the changes in different ways and that those differences can create points of conflict. “Everyone has an opinion on what other people are doing.”

Have we experienced a collective trauma? “There’s definitely trauma happening,” she says. “It’s a combination of grief, a change of future and what that means, and a really profound existentialism.”

And when it’s over, she says, we’re going to have to grapple with the experience. “There’s a sense of loss,” she says. “We have to find meaning in it.”

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