THE 7 EMOTIONAL STAGES you will go through as we enter a lockdown

A clinical counsellor breaks it down, with practical tips on how to cope with family, friends and your own self.

Bhavna Bharvani

PUBLISHED: MAR 23, 2020 | 14:01:18 IST

Bhavna Bharvani is a clinical counsellor based out of Hong Kong, a city that’s seen its share of turmoil over the past year. She helps people work through depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, addictions, identity issues, shame, and relationship issues. As India enters a state of lockdown, Bhavna tells you what to expect and how to cope with this stage of self-isolation:

During self-isolation, expect to go through many different emotional stages. Everyone experiences all of these at some point but not necessarily in the same order. 

  1. Optimism: This is going to be great. I can finally get to all the side-projects I’ve been wanting to work on, or improve a certain skill, pick up that hobby.
  2. Determination: When you can feel that you’re less positive about self-isolation, but you’re determined to keep going and stick to your routine and have a schedule to help you manage the situation.
  3. Satisfaction and frustration: You’ll experience times when you’re more productive, and times that you’re less productive, and alternate between moments of satisfaction and periodsof frustration.
  4. Depression: When you start struggling and feeling, “this is hard”. Boredom might settle in. Your routine or lack of routine might not be working for you anymore. You might experience restlessness that makes it difficult to concentrate. You miss going out and seeing friends and loved ones. You might feel demotivated, hopeless, or feel a sense of despair. 
  5. Anger: You might experience anger about the situation, the confinement, and get easily irritated by others in your household.
  6. Acceptance: When you accept the situation for what it is and carry on doing whatever is in your control and letting go of what is not in your control.
  7. Making meaning: Remembering that this move to self-isolate is necessary and that you’re serving humanity and the greater good to help prevent more sickness and death.


So, how does one cope?

Anticipate: Regardless of whether one has a mental health issue or not, this time period of uncertainly and disruption has made it increasingly difficult for people to maintain good mental health. The social distancing, quarantine measures, school closures and working from home have increased the number of stressors that people are having to cope with. For people with pre-existing mental health issues, this time period has been extremely de-stabilizing: people who had previously been able to find a good equilibrium are finding a re-emergence of symptoms.

Prepare: For those working from home:

  1. Have a getting-started routine or a morning routine that allows you to transition psychologically into work mode. This can be sitting down with a cup of coffee or tea, logging out of all your social media apps. As part of your morning routine, take a shower before you start work, get dressed, and do your hair. It can be very easy to lounge in pyjamas or activewear all day but this can very quickly lead to work from home burn out as it blurs the lines between leisure and work.
  2. Try to stick to a schedule or regular work hours where you start and end work each day around the same time and sleep and wake up at the same time.
  3. Set boundaries. This is with regards to i) others in your house so that you are not distracted by the kids or having to open the door for people, and ii) physical space: try to create a workspace in your home that is separate from your spaces for relaxation (i.e. where you sleep/chill/watch Netflix). It’s crucial to have this psychological difference in where you work and where you relax.
  4. Schedule breaks in and take them in their entirety. If the self-isolation and social distancing measures permit, go for a walk.
  5. Make time to connect with and socialise with colleagues and friends virtually. Isolation does not have to mean loneliness.

Cut back on the news: It is so hard during this time of uncertainty to not keep checking WhatsApp messages incessantly and reading the news. However, for many people, constantly checking the news leads to increases in stress and anxiety and even panic attacks. Prevention is the best cure, so limit the amount of time you spend reading the news or opening WhatsApp video forwards from friends. 

It’s helpful to have long periods away from news websites and social media as this can help start setting the mind at ease and allow it to settle down again. Otherwise, we’re constantly triggering the mind into a state of worry. You might need to mute certain WhatsApp groups, hide Facebook feeds or unfollow Twitter accounts that you find too overwhelming. Avoid clicking on coronavirus hashtags, and mute keywords which might be triggering. Seek information mainly to understand what practical steps you need to take and what to prepare for. When you do seek information updates, do so at specific times and from trusted sources.


Dealing with anxiety and depression

When it comes to anxiety, there are two important things to do. One is to help people manage and limit their news diet so as to reduce anxiety triggers. The second is to practice the “Apple Technique” to deal with anxiety, suggested by AnxietyUK:

  • Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty and anxiety as it arises in your mind.
  • Pause! Don’t react as you normally do. Don’t react at all. Pause and breathe.
  • Pull back. Tell yourself: “This is just the worry talking, and this need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything your mind tells you. Thoughts are not statements of facts. They are just thoughts.”
  • Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don’t have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
  • Explorethe present moment, because right now, at this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the movement of the breath entering and leaving your body. Notice the ground beneath you, and gently push your toes into the ground. Look around you and name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else—on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else—mindfully with your full attention.

In addition, it’s important to stay connected with friends and family through online video chats, as people with depression can feel even more isolated at these times. It is also important to continue to try and keep the body active and moving with some gentle stretching, yoga, or an online workout session. It may also be a good time to suggest therapy as an option as more therapists than ever are offering online sessions, and this may be a more socially acceptable time to seek help from a therapist.


Dealing with family (or the lack of one)

Times of crisis can actually bring out the best in people. Sometimes when people have no choice but to be around people they typically do everything they can to avoid, there can be a slight shift in the dynamic and more accommodations made on each side, or more effort to be on your best behavior. However, if this does not end up being the case, this is a good time to practice setting boundaries with family members. These don’t have to be explicit, although it’s great if they are. In a family system, if even one person makes the tiniest of changes the way they behave, it will have a ripple effect on the rest of the family. My advice would be to try to make a small change in behavior or in the way you respond, as you’ll typically find that others have no choice but to respond differently too.

Also, don’t underestimate the mental resilience of the elderly. They have seen and been through much more than we have. First of all, recognise the level of your own anxiety about the situation before talking to them. You want to do your best to speak to them calmly, without letting your feelings get in the way. I would take the approach of asking them what they’ve heard and then correcting any misperceptions they may have. Keep the explanation simple, stick to the facts, and most importantly, tell them what precautions and best practices they can use to keep themselves safe.

This is also the time to nurture friendships. Reach out to old friends that you haven’t caught up with in a long time. Set up group video chats. This can be anything from just a check-in with everyone, to playing antakshari, to virtual happy hours, to playing games online. Invest in strengthening your existing relationships and support systems.