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Lockdowns. Emotions & Addictive Impulses.

We need to find new ways of either rewarding or distracting ourselves.

Although Covid lockdowns are undoubtedly the best possible solution to limit the spread of the virus and keep the number of sick people from climbing and overwhelming hospitals and other front line workers, the disruption on people’s everyday activities certainly has psychological consequences.

After reading lots of studies from various countries around the world, they commonly reported that participants in long lockdowns became more angry, anxious and fearful. What’s really interesting, is that some people only experienced a slight decrease in positive emotion, yet others experienced a high level of negative emotion. The difference between the two groups seems to be how they managed boredom and stress. If we don’t find healthy ways to cope with change, stress, boredom and uncertainty, it can have us leaning into old addictive habits, looking for an instant fix.

Situations or events that put pressure on us, especially ones we have no control over, along with our reaction to being placed under pressure, is what most people find difficult to cope with emotionally. That’s exactly what a lockdown does.

When life is disrupted and interrupted and we have no control over that, it tends to increase fear and frustration. When we get told what we need to do (as a whole nation) and how long we need to it for, we are pretty good at complying. But, as the days extend, it can have a tendency to either make people feel scratchy or irk the rebel within.

The unpredictability of a global pandemic puts our nervous systems on high alert and pops up a lot of challenges. 

For most of us at some time or another we may experience uncertainty, moments of boredom, a messed up routine and reduced social support. After all, it’s an unusual time in our history, one where we are collectively, globally affected by a direct threat to our lives and livelihoods. That can feel quite dark and dismal. 

When a lockdown occurs, there are so many different stressors for different people which may include worries about finances, work, health, education, access to supplies and concerns about extended family and those we may be separated from. Being in confined quarters can add a level of unexpected strain and increase irritability and stress for some flatmates, couples, relationships and families. 

Because there are way less distractions in a lockdown, there can be more discomfort managing strong emotions. 

Stress itself, can throw up feelings of fear, anger and sadness. That’s when a percentage of people will want to reach for substances in the hope that it will instantly alter the way they feel. They want a more instant fix to either feel better, or to numb feelings completely.

Some may have learnt from the first lockdown that’s it unhelpful as a long term coping mechanism to turn to unhealthy things, such as smoking, drinking a lot or eating too much. The scales, non elasticised trousers, or the doctor may have reinforced that overindulging is never really a fix and if we continue to reach for solutions that harm us, a dependence can be created, which could in time become an addiction. 

When people feel more isolated than usual and are unable to get the kind of supplies they’re used to because couriers are so overloaded, it doesn’t mean it should be a ‘free for all’ time. 

  • We need to aim to be less impulsive. 
  • We need to stay away from (and not return to) the cigarettes completely. 
  • We need to step away from stuffing feelings with food even if our Facebook feeds are full of high fat high sugar delights. 

Just like we might avoid the lolly aisle in a supermarket, we need to not click on the ads inviting more booze to be delivered to our door either. It might seem acceptable to drink more in a lockdown, but remember that half an hour after consuming alcohol our body starts to purge the toxins which makes us feel uncomfortable and stressed. It puts a load on our immune system which we could do without. Wanting to drink a lot more can wipe out all sensible adult decisions and leave us making bad decisions that could impact quit success. Not only that, it can change our behaviour and impact those we live with. Swap it out. Vape don’t smoke. Limit the days and amount you drink or swap that out too for alcohol free drinks. Stick to more of your usual pre-lockdown routines and limits.

It’s also a common belief that smoking helps people to relax. In reality, smoking increases anxiety and tension and doesn’t reduce stress or deal with the underlying causes.

We need to do whatever we can to reduce stress and develop emotional resilience, because it’s vital for quit success. 

We need to keep finding other ways to cope with these changes that don’t involve addictive substances. 

We need to build our emotional resilience, which is not just our ability to bounce back, but our capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances. Most challenges in life have creative solutions, we just need to find what they are.

So what can we do?

  1. Limit our access to overwhelming bad news and only educate ourselves from credible sources.
  2. Accept that what’s happening is outside of our control, and look to change the things we do have control over.
  3. Keep to a regular routine in regards to eating, sleeping, and work schedules and connect in with loved ones via technology when we can.
  4. Look to notice, and send packing any supercharged, unhelpful thoughts that grind us down. Reframe our thinking and get on top of our feelings.
  5. Say that this really will pass. It’s not going to last forever.
  6. Adopt some positivity to our outlook. 
  7. Move more, because it reduces emotional intensity and helps to clear our thoughts.
  8. Increase moments of calm in our day.
  9. Do something nice for ourselves. 
  10. Do something nice for someone else.
  11. Listen to inspiring podcasts, Ted Talks or music. Connect with uplifting people, posts and activities.
  12. If you have extra time on your hands why not learn something? Or teach something?
  13. If you know that a certain activity helps you feel more relaxed, make sure you set aside time to do it. Like having a bath, taking a pet for a walk, or stretching.

In summary, the key is to have on hand alternative sources of satisfaction, and to find positive ways to soothe and comfort ourselves in times of emotional turmoil.


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