These are some of the effects that confinement can have on our mental health.
The first measure adopted by all the governments of the world as a result of the health alert for the expansion of the coronavirus has been to decree the confinement of people in their homes to stop massive infections. But human beings are social beings, that is, we need contact with others for our survival.
For this reason, quarantine is an unpleasant experience for us because it is a mandatory social isolation that implies breaking with our day to day, our routines, our leisure, our relationships with friends, partner, family, our loss of freedom, the appearance of boredom, etc.
Suddenly, our life has come to a standstill and we have to temporarily adapt to a new unimaginable situation and all the possible consequences generated by it: loss of work, reduction in monthly income or managing the fact of living 24 hours with our partner, children , relatives or roommates.
Indeed, this situation has a powerful psychological burden on us that can lead us to feel great anguish and sadness. For this reason, certain emotional changes will be present in us during the confinement, although it does not have to be always.
Psychological consequences of confinement
It is possible that at certain times our mood remains stable, bordering on normality, but the longer the confinement lasts, the more unpleasant emotional disorders may appear such as sadness, loneliness, frustration, boredom, nervousness , fear or anger, but also irritability, uncertainty, anguish, worry, stress, depressive symptoms and / or sleep problems, among others.
At the very least, anxiety, fear and apathy can be the main protagonists of our state of mind in these days of confinement. These emotions are the consequence of uncertainty. Above all, due to ignorance.
Indeed, if there is something that generates this situation, it is uncertainty. We need to know what is going to happen next so we can anticipate what is going to happen. Human beings constantly try to control everything around us. But this, as we well know, is sometimes not possible.
Thus, that failed attempt to control will generate more anxiety. This will determine that we feel that there is nothing we can do, just wait. This situation can generate frustration. This uncertainty can lead us to constantly search for information, feeling these days one about information. Catastrophic and anticipatory thoughts can appear in the same way, putting us in the worst and most unlikely scenarios, which will cause us great discomfort.
As the days go by, these emotions can vary and even become more intense, but, even so, we must be aware that all these emotions that we may feel are normal reactions to this exceptional situation that we are having to live, and that is why It is important to identify them, but not to feed them or get carried away by them.
Most experts agree in pointing out a series of negative psychological effects associated with quarantines, such as post-traumatic stress or irritability. These psychological effects can still be detected months or years later. Therefore, they suggest that authorities need to ensure that effective mitigation measures are implemented as part of the quarantine planning process.
The inactivity of these days, if you have not decided to do some type of exercise, can also lead to inappropriate eating behaviors, both in children and in adults and, therefore, the appearance of obesity, or at least a few extra kilos.
The most vulnerable groups
Psychological disorders also have a special impact on health workers, as they are one of the sectors of the population most exposed to the virus. Healthcare workers can experience more severe symptoms of PTSD than members of the general public. They may also experience emotions related to frustration, guilt, helplessness, loneliness, and sadness.
Another important risk group is that of citizens who are highly affected by the economic repercussions of confinement, due to the loss of employment and the inability to meet expenses such as mortgage, rent or bills. This financial loss creates serious socioeconomic distress, and is a risk factor for developing symptoms of mental and anxiety disorders even several months after quarantine.
Boys and girls should be highlighted among the groups most affected, as they may theoretically be more vulnerable to psychological disorders due to quarantine. The tense wait to go out is a longing that becomes a physical and emotional need for everyone, but especially for the little ones who wait confined to their homes. Although it is true that since April 27 they have been able to go out for a walk, which is very positive.
This does not mean that they do not have episodes of sadness, sensitivity, increased anxiety or greater irritability at times. In addition, it would be normal for a greater disobedience or rebellion to appear before the norms imposed by the parents when doing homework or with the schedules, for example.
Prolonged confinement and social isolation can also have more serious psychological consequences in children and adolescents. This stage of compulsory lack of freedom may be the antecedent of anxiety and mood disorders that would begin manifesting with regressions to previous stages of development, such as re-wetting the bed or fear of getting sick, explosions of aggressiveness or Difficulty falling asleep. And this in children whose previous functioning was adequate.
Even so, having said all the above, a situation in which there is no room for movement, such as a curfew or a state of exception, is not the same as the one currently being experienced, since there are certain routines of daily life, such as going to do the basic shopping or to work as appropriate, which are still being done. This somewhat limits the feeling of being overwhelmed and confined.
On the other hand, confinement will be more harmful to children from underprivileged families, due to the simple fact that slums make daily activity and, therefore, coexistence more difficult.
What to do to minimize the effects of confinement?
Confinement, strange as it may seem, also has a positive and reassuring effect that can alleviate these other negative effects. This positive effect is generated when it is thought that the quarantine is temporary and that by staying at home we are helping to control the crisis and prevent the death of people, in addition to having a seemingly safe place such as our home. Feeling useful, even in a passive way, helps us psychologically.
We live in a world of constant bustle, in a society of constant rush, demands and obligations. But confinement for the coronavirus has allowed us to take a mandatory break.
We were installed in a comfortably happy world, in general, and now we see that we are vulnerable and fragile. This is beyond us from an emotional, health and social point of view. But, for our sake, we must be able to learn from this situation and cope with it using key instruments that we all have at hand : affection for our most important relationships and the meaning of life as essential priorities to be happy and share it.
Now, in these moments and more than ever, our house is not only our home, but it is our place of work, leisure, sports and rest. But far from seeing it as something negative, we can turn it around and use it to our advantage.
Since the quarantine began, psychologists have been continually releasing positive advice and strategies to employ to manage confinement. The priority and essential thing is that you do not have to let the days go by arbitrarily, because that way you can favor and greatly increase the feeling of internal chaos.
The first proposal they put forward is to face this confinement situation by creating daily routines. That is, they would be routines such as setting schedules, not neglecting hygiene habits (neither personal nor at home), not being in pajamas all day, organizing household chores as a family, taking care of food and doing some physical activity.
This routine is especially important for families with children. You have to keep your waking hours, meals, cleaning, homework and family leisure activities.
Children must be made to understand that confinement is not a punishment but an emergency. Explain to them, to make sense of this lack of freedom, that this is being done for the common good, that it is beneficial for all. But also that positive things can be derived from it, such as being together or having more time to play and talk.
In addition to routines, psychologists emphasize that it is also convenient to establish individual or shared leisure activities such as reading, board games, painting, sewing or crafts, depending on the tastes of each person.
Another aspect that can be positive and very useful is to use the possibilities offered by new technologies. We can use these to keep in touch with family and / or friends through phone calls, video calls, voice messages or WhatsApp. For many people, especially those who live alone, telecommunications will be the best therapy.
On the other hand, we can also take advantage of new technologies to carry out virtual activities offered by a multitude of institutions, companies and spaces such as visits to museums, access to theater, concerts, films, series, exhibitions, etc. A great opportunity.
However, we must not neglect the best coexistence with the people around us. For this, it may be important to establish clear rules for the proper functioning of the house and spaces. Nor should we neglect to also have time for ourselves. Since most of the time it is difficult for us to spend time with family or people with whom we live, confinement can provide us with an excellent moment to get closer, bond more and take an interest in the things of others.
We can take advantage of these moments to dedicate some time to do all those things that we always leave pending due to lack of time, but that we have ever wanted to do. Not only that, it can be a great opportunity to use creativity or even open up to options other than the usual ones to be used in the future or for personal satisfaction.
Sharing household chores among all members of the family, or those who are living together at the time of confinement, is also beneficial. It can relax tension and be distracting. In the case, for example, that we are caring for young children, it is important to take turns in this care and generate individual “moments” for oneself.
If possible, it is preferable to use different rooms for each activity that we carry out each day, both individually and as a couple or group. Thus, the room in which we work or study should be different from the room we use for rest or in which we have leisure time. It is important that there is a physical difference for each activity because this will allow us to better disconnect at each moment from the activity that we have just done from which we want to start.
However, we should not be too demanding of ourselves because it might be counterproductive. That is to say, it is very important to consider routines and activities, but that these are simple, pleasant (in most cases) and that they have continuity, that is, to propose a task to be able to fulfill it. For example, read a chapter of a book every day or do a simple table of exercises. If we can achieve our goals we will feel more secure and calm.
However, there is no doubt, living together for so many hours a day and for so many days in a row can also be a double-edged sword and a source of complicated situations. There are frictions and fights both with the partner and with the children and many times having to telework at the same time.
What psychologists in no way recommend us during this period of confinement is overinformation regarding the coronavirus pandemic. This excess of information through its different channels (television, radio, internet, chats, WhatsApp, etc.) can generate negative consequences on our physical and emotional health.
This over-information can lead us to a permanent state of alert, stress, anguish, anxiety or concern, since this consumption leads us to carry out continuous and different checks in the media and to seek constant updates of new information.
On the other hand, this desire to be informed and inform can also lead us to consume and spread hoaxes that benefit no one. In the same way, this excess of data can lead us to carry out constant checks on our physical health (taking our temperature continuously, for example).
These checks increase our anxiety levels, appearing in us different symptoms that can be confused with the symptoms caused by COVID-19, thus generating a certain hypochondria, understood as a certain irrational fear and concern of suffering from the contagion.
Another advice that psychologists give us about confinement and the pandemic is to try to avoid catastrophic thoughts as much as possible, trying to always stay in the present and dealing with what is happening day by day without anticipating what may happen tomorrow because that promotes anxiety.
In this sense, it can help us and come in handy to find a time each day to do a little meditation, yoga, Mindfulness or relaxation strategies, because that will help us to be in the present and calm ourselves.
Probably, by following all these guidelines and advice, we will be able to remove those feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear of difficulties in falling asleep that confinement due to COVID-19 has led us to.