the challenges of confinement due to COVID-19
by Montse Cazcarra
Psychologist at PsyAtWork
The exceptional situation that has been created by the COVID-19 pandemic has put our lifestyle in check, and presents us with a challenge in different areas: health care, academic-professional, economic, and also in emotional-relational areas.
Confinement has arrived all of the sudden, forcing us to relate, to have fun and, for many of us, to work in a different way.
When will the situation be resolved? How long will I have to stay at home? Am I a carrier of the virus? Will I be able to manage this situation? How will I handle working remotely? What about the economy? And the children´s school year?
We have all asked ourselves several of these questions in the last few days. This is a new situation for all of us in which many questions arise and remain unanswered because no one knows how to answer them with certainty.
The suddenness of the changes that we must carry out, together with the uncertainty that surrounds this whole situation, makes the circumstances dizzying, leading us to experience changes in our mood, accompanied by a feeling of constant worry and anxiety.
In some cases, the emotional distress goes beyond this: we may not be able to avoid focusing on the negative, or we may have a constant thirst for information. We may also have difficulty concentrating or even find it harder to sleep than usual.
We experience current circumstances as a stressful situation that activates our emotional and physiological alertness. There are many reasons for this, especially since the situation requires us to activate certain resources, which can be a challenge.
An example of this is flexibility and tolerance to change. A large number of people in our society seem reluctant or fearful of change. This is especially true when it comes to such drastic changes, which have an impact on all areas of our lives.
Too many changes, too fast, too difficult to manage and to digest with our current tools.
the eternal Sunday
We've all had to spend a Sunday cooped up at home, resting, doing nothing. It's good for us, to do it once in a while.
These Sundays are accompanied by a feeling of not wanting to do anything, of apathy.
Just thinking about staying at home 24/7, "shut in" (that is how our mind perceives it, at least), gives us a feeling very similar to claustrophobia. You only need to tell a child that he cannot eat a sweet, to make him want it more.
This feeling will most probably affect our mood in a similar way to the apathy we experience on Sundays, but with the difference that instead of 24h it will last a few weeks.
routine as an ally
To avoid this feeling of eternal Sunday we must keep ourselves busy, establish a routine. And the stricter, the better!
Although confinement reduces our possibilities, at home we do have several options:
Work: whether we can rely on teleworking (we'll talk about it in the coming sections) or we have to go to our workplace, working is good for us; it helps us to feel useful, to end the day thinking that we have used our time wisely.
Exercise: we won't be able to go to the gym, or go out to the woods to play sports, or go to the pool to do some lengths during these weeks. But we can practice sports at home using Apps or YouTube videos with guided exercises. We can even have group classes via video call. The important thing is to move around and to maintain some discipline.
Disconnect: we are overloaded with information. The flow of information is constant, we receive at all times, and it comes from everywhere (TV, press, social media) and everything is about the same subject.
Being permanently connected increases the chances that we are constantly going over the same topic and feeling anxious. The idea is to be able to disconnect: leave the mobile phone aside, restrict the news or checking the press only once a day.
Leisure: these weeks we have to make use of creativity, we have to rethink leisure.
Spending time reading, playing board games, planning a trip for when the confinement is over, studying a language, resuming that course that we left aside due to lack of time, family meetings or meeting friends by video call, doing routine activities with slight changes that make them fun... any option is valid if it helps us have a good time. And if it includes other family members, or people with whom we share our home, so much the better!
We usually spend little time with our loved ones; we work 8 hours (at least), we spend time commuting from home to work and from work to home, we have to keep up with the housework and we spend time on our hobbies...
We have a frantic pace in which we have to keep ourselves busy 24/7 to feel that we are making the most of our time; and this leaves us little quality time with our family, our partner and ourselves.
However, the new circumstances imposed to flatten the COVID-19 curve force us to change our routine and, as a result, whether we work remotely or can't go to work and have to stay at home, we will be spending much more time with our family in the coming weeks.
Confinement takes its toll.
It is a reality. An example of this is the increase in divorces in the Chinese population after their period of confinement. Intensive cohabitation can directly affect the well-being of our relationships, both as a family and as a couple.
The apathy of confinement, coupled with the burden of being at home all day for several weeks, is the perfect cocktail for making us more susceptible and irritable. As a result, more conflicts arise and we feel less willing to compromise in order to resolve them satisfactorily.
To prevent relationships from wearing out as a result of these weeks of intensive living together, we can:
Work on empathy: to understand that this situation is not easy for any of the members of the family and that each person lives it in the best way that they know and can, will help us to understand that we manage it differently and that nobody is born equipped for exceptional situations like this one.
Becoming more assertive: setting boundaries and communicating what we don't like or don't feel good about will prevent frustration and anger from building up and stops us from ending up "exploding" and expressing our disagreement in a negative way.
Putting things into perspective: it’s not about ignoring what feels wrong to us; nor is it a matter of initiating a conflict for no reason; but rather of finding a balance between setting boundaries and expressing our opinion, and assessing whether it is worth initiating a conflict considering the cost it may have for the relationship.
An important nuance: conflicts are not necessarily negative; on the contrary, they can offer us the ideal context to certain situations with which we do not entirely agree. However, the frequent presence of conflicts contributes to feeling worn down.
Be willing to negotiate: our goal should be to achieve a win-win result, where all members end up winning. It will help us to establish minimum agreements, with sine qua non concessions, and to communicate which points we are willing to let go of.
Feeling that all members win (or lose), and the that comes from the agreement, will help us to be more willing to sit down and negotiate in future conflicts.
Planning activities together: if we encourage positive interactions and make them more important in our daily lives than negative ones such as arguments or disagreements, we will be preserving the well-being of the family/partner.
We can do this by planning enjoyable activities that encourage unity, collaboration and teamwork; that help everything to flow. For example, we can use board games, exercise together (at home), cook involving all members,...
teleworking: setting up our home office
We currently have an infinite number of online resources that allow us to "move" our office wherever we are.
Thanks to the changes experienced over the last few decades, this crisis generated by COVID-19 is having less impact than it would have if all jobs were of a face-to-face nature.
While the benefits of working remotely are clear, it can also be challenging. Especially if we are not used to it. That is why it is advisable to:
"Install" the office in a room in the house where, if possible, it facilitates concentration (in terms of lighting, ventilation, absence of distracting stimuli...) and has enough space to be able to handle the necessary papers and documentation.
Maintain a regular schedule: as much as possible, you should simulate what we have when we work face-to-face, including breakfast or lunch breaks. It will be easier for us to adopt a routine.
Identify when we are most productive: we have peaks of concentration in the morning, early or late afternoon. When it is depends on each person. It is important to identify them and reserve them for those tasks that require greater concentration.
Setting limits: It may be tempting for us to do our housework while we work. For example: put the washing machine on and, while it is finishing, work on the report. We may feel that we are making more use of our time, but mentally it is an extra effort. It is better to finish our work tasks and then get on with our housework. Our minds will be grateful.
Digital detox: under normal circumstances, the time it takes us to get home from work helps us to disconnect. That time window doesn’t exist when we work remotely. This is why it is advisable to turn off the computer when we finish our day. Otherwise, if we decide to leave it on to check our inbox or the news, we will have the feeling of not disconnecting. And so, day after day, we will accumulate exhaustion.
Promote fluid communication: as with face-to-face mode, having fluid communication between team members facilitates the smooth functioning of the team.
The organisation will likely provide us with communication tools (Teams, Skype...). We must use them properly and we can even create communication codes (for example, call if it is something very important, e-mail if it requires follow-up, Teams if it is a management issue or checking of work).
Separating work from private life: having our family working at home can be confusing, especially for the little ones. It is important that we clarify the difference between being at home and being available. Similarly, we can devise a code to let our loved ones know whether we are available or not, and vice versa.
promoting the positive
It is good for us to think of the new opportunities that this exceptional situation creates.
Spending more time with our loved ones, sharing spaces other than the usual ones, getting to know each other in a different way, squeezing our creativity to spend time together... And even if we live alone: finding ways to "stay in touch" with family and friends, even if it is at a distance.
Something undoubtedly positive is that we have more time. A time that we often miss due to the hustle and bustle of our lives. Well, now we can spend some time taking care of ourselves in a different way, satiating our curiosity and developing ourselves.
Taking up hobbies that we have put aside, dusting off a book that we bought some time ago, refreshing a language that we have put aside, experimenting with cooking, spending time with our plants... All this can help us to make this exceptional situation, exceptional.
the online universe
Technology has been gradually introduced into our lives. We are all aware of its benefits, but it is now when the online world allows us to be connected with the outside world, that we realise the important role it has as an ally to be able to maintain "normal life".
We "meet" with the family through video calls, we do online training, we follow training through apps, we attend conferences that are taking place on the other side of the world... At this point, all this is obvious to us. So why not transfer emotional support and personal development to the online world as well?
PsyAtWork, through its 100% online program called myCoach, has been offering emotional support and tools to promote the development and growth of workers and collaborators in companies at an international level for more than 5 years. Remote assistance allows us to contact those who need support almost immediately and offers a response to the emotional needs that the current situation has generated.
If you consider that your team can benefit from emotional assistance, or from developing skills that will help them to better manage each of the difficulties of these upcoming weeks, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be delighted to hear what we can do to help you, and to offer you an alternative in line with your needs. You can do it through the contact option by clicking here.