WHY DO OUR EMOTIONS CHANGE SO MUCH DURING LOCKDOWN?
This piece was written by one of our highly talented associates, Gemma Bullivant. Gemma is an HR consultant with a background in psychology. She’s also a qualified coach and specialises in change and loss training. As we start to come out of lockdown – albeit ever so slowly in small steps – there’s a strong chance that businesses, and HR in particular, will need to be ready for increased workloads and a range of personnel issues as staff adapt to new ways of working. Here are a few thoughts from Gemma on how the lockdowns affect people’s emotions.
The many consequences of the pandemic are forms of significant change and loss that evoke a grief response
The Covid-19 pandemic has unquestionably been one of the biggest change events we have experienced in many years as a society. Will spending many weeks, or for some, many months in lockdowns affect people’s emotions?
We may not associate this change event with grief, but there are many similarities to be drawn – from the fundamental change in our daily lives, to isolation and separation from our loved ones, and the longer-term fears and uncertainty we might feel about the future – these and many more consequences of the pandemic are forms of significant change and loss that evoke a grief response.
Some of the more typical grief and change emotions are described in the Kübler-Ross change curve:
Typically, an early response is one of denial that the change event has happened. We saw evidence of this when lockdown first began, with some people choosing to ignore the social distancing instructions being given by the government. We can be quick to berate these people, and in some cases rightly so, but when someone ignores or refuses to adhere to the government instructions such as social distancing, it could also be a sign that they are in denial. I say this not to excuse the action, but simply to improve our understanding of it.
The change curve is not linear, so we will continue to see denial occur as we move further through the lockdown, possibly driven by boredom, frustration or impatience.
How can we approach this? When we or others are in this frame of mind, we need repeated, clear and firm instruction to comply, clear and repeated reminders of the reality and importance of the situation, and consistent reference to facts and expert advice.
Another typical grief response is anger. Lashing out at the world, or individuals, in relation to the actions they are taking or the circumstances they are in. As the pandemic continues to evolve we might experience anger towards the authorities, the government, or other people we see who are not following the social distancing guidelines.
How can we approach this? When we are in this frame of mind, we need to take a step back and consider whether our behaviour is helpful. And when we see others, pause before responding or lashing out, to give yourself time to take a more measured (and hopefully more successful) approach to the situation.
Some people may experience a form of bargaining – making a pact with the universe along the lines of “If I do X, it will be OK”.
Here, we are taking a slightly more rational, considered approach (denial and anger are more emotional and less rational). We are trying to regain a sense of control and order, and come to some form of agreement with the universe on how this might all play out. Of course, not a wholly rational approach, but it’s a start.
How can we approach this? When we are in this frame of mind, we need reminding that the entire situation is not within our control, but there are elements of it that we can control. Think about the coping techniques you applied at the start of lockdown – whatever these might have been for you, from establishing routine to minimising social media and staying in touch with friends and family remotely. Do the exercise again now we are several weeks in – what have you noticed, what do you need to stop, start and continue doing as some restrictions are lifted and others mean even more change to how things can be done.
At various points during lockdown you might be feeling a sense of overwhelming sadness and despair. You may also have noticed you have ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’. Sadness is an entirely normal emotion to feel during a time of significant change or loss. “When will this ever end?” and “Life will never be the same again” can feel overwhelming for some people.
How can we approach this? Give yourself and others permission to experience sadness from time to time, and don’t feel despondent if this ebbs and flows from day to day, and instead accept that you may feel differently from day to day. Take each day as it comes, and don’t try to compare. Continue to take proactive steps to introduce a greater sense of control into your life, as mentioned, in terms of limiting exposure to social media, taking steps to protect mental health and wellbeing, and working out what helps and hinders your own sense of wellbeing. If you are worried for someone else, continue to do what you can to keep in touch and offer support, to minimise the isolation for them.
This is where we have come to accept the reality of the situation is where we can rationally take the steps needed to recover and rebuild. We may not like or agree with the situation, but we accept that it is happening to us and we need to respond productively to it. Unsurprisingly, this is the first sign of recovery in grief. It marks the point in time where we can take constructive steps forward to adjust to the new normal. However, as is the case with all of these emotions, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will stay here without experiencing any of the other emotions described. We will inevitably zig zag between all of these emotions from time to time and differently to others in our social bubble.
Proactive, helpful response: Seize these moments and make use of them – they enable us to make positive choices toward our future within the new normal. Don’t be disheartened if you yo-yo to other emotions over time – this is not a linear process. Just know that when you are in this frame of mind you can do great things to improve your perspective, response and adjustment.
Coaching Questions for reflection:
Take a moment to consider which of these emotions you may have experienced or observed in others.
- To support your personal resilience, take a moment to consider how you are emotionally responding to the lockdown and the thought of the lockdown easing?
- How can you reach the point of acceptance, or enable yourself to remain in that frame of mind for longer, in order to make the necessary adjustments in your world?
About Gemma – Gemma is an ICF qualified coach and HR Consultant, with over 20 years of experience in senior HR roles. She has combined specialist change and loss training with a Masters in Positive Psychology, to add to her coaching qualification and senior HR experience, and uses this blended skillset to offer a range of proactive change-related wellbeing webinars, training and coaching programmes to coach and support individuals to positively address and recover from all forms of traumatic change and loss, including bereavement and redundancy.
Our thanks go to Gemma for her thoughtful understanding of how a lot of people might be feeling at the moment.
If you have any questions, our team can assist you as usual via phone or email.
Hoping you found Gemma’s article helpful; keep safe and well