Why time feels heavy in lockdown and what you can do about it
Many people are feeling the weight of monotony pressing down as lockdown continues for many of us. One day can seem much like another. When we reflect on the past days and weeks when nothing much has happened we can feel like time has passed quickly: 'where has it gone?' we ask ourselves.
Yet, here we are, in the 'here and now' with time probably hanging heavy. Perhaps we feel bored. Boredom can slow down the perception of the passage of time. Minutes and hours seem to drag on. Along with boredom, anxiety can show up leading us to feel that time is dragging more than ever. Strangely enough, this can feel quite stressful as we find we don't have the resources to cope with our situation. If we are not careful, we can slip into depression.
The combination of the COVID-19 threat of sickness, economic hardship and social instability are enough to make anyone feel uneasy. Too little face-to-face interaction can promote anxiety. This is especially true for those who live alone (and feel alone even when living with others). Generally speaking, these are the people who have reached out for support and guidance. The 'reaching out' reveals a certain theme - boredom has set in and people seem stuck and anxious. They sense life is passing them by, feeling judged for wanting and needing to get out and socialise (within the current restrictions) and this implicit criticism seems to be playing on a continuous loop in their own minds.
When we feel like this, there is a real risk we are disconnecting from our inner selves which can feel very scary - it can compound our sense of isolation. We are more likely to have panic attacks and feelings of anxiety. Research suggests humans are hardwired towards paranoid thinking (thinking the worst). However much we enjoy having our own space, we are social creatures at heart so spending time with others often moderates this sense of negativity. When this kind of interaction is denied or limited, our thoughts can become irrational. Video conferencing chats, phone calls and messaging are good and to be welcomed. Yet they probably do not compare favourably with the contact we would have if we were in the same room.
The lack of regular routine can also cause issues. In order to avoid disorientation and confusion, it's a good idea to get up at the same time and follow a regular schedule - depending on whether you are an owl (late riser) or a lark (early riser).
Sometimes distraction can be unhelpful, especially if it develops into an unhealthy habit. On the other hand, it can be helpful in certain situations - like when a person is anxious and tries to avoid negative thoughts. It helps to provide much-needed space. A breathing space, you could say.
Making time to take stock and reflect is time well spent.
It's one thing to talk about doing something and actually taking action. When we feel bored, we often feel anxious - it can be a strange feeling. That anxiety is often caused by the brain 'searching for something'. This can feel quite exhausting especially when we feel we haven't got the resources (eg energy) to carry on with the search. (The more we try, the more fruitless our search can seem.) We need to avoid becoming overwhelmed - stuff from the past can come flooding back - the 'shoulds' and the 'coulds' - leading to an intense and seemingly inescapable feeling of entrapment.
In a situation such as lockdown time hangs 'heavy'. Rays of hope beamed over the media are too often shot down again.
Worry is not helpful. Fretting about COVID-19 and the challenges it presents is only useful if we can take steps to address our concerns. If we have done what we can it is important to accept there is nothing more we can do. Draw a line. Once we do this, we can turn to engaging in activities which distract the brain from those anxious thoughts.
If, just now, your mood feels low, remember to be aware of what is going on. This can bring some perspective. As a counsellor, I have found there is often a 'dip' around the three to eight-week stage. Clients often get frustrated either because change is not coming quickly enough or because the initial buzz of commitment has worn off. So, something we may have started at the beginning of lockdown (eg daily workouts, following a healthy diet, supporting friends and family) may now becoming more tedious.
Get professional help
Sometimes it can take three months to get past this 'dip', so talking to a professional may help you get through the next few weeks. I find it can be helpful to think in terms of time scales.
It is reassuring to know that it is not you who is failing. You've done your best. Now may be the time to reach out and seek help from someone you trust or seek out professional help so that you get the support you need moving forward.
Lose yourself in activities
One of the most productive things we can do whilst we are in this transitional period is to find activities which require total concentration and enjoyment. We are less likely to feel anxious if we 'lose' ourselves in various activities. The most helpful pursuits are those which require personal challenge and feedback. Encouragement can feel very motivating. It can effectively displace those feelings of being overwhelmed with worry. Any activity which takes you away from the boredom, anxiety and paranoia can turn down the negative noise in your head.
Talking to someone who is tuning in to you, is in your corner, has your back and is focused on what you are saying (and more crucially, what you are not saying) can do wonders for your sense of purpose and well-being.
When time is hanging 'heavy' it is important to remember that time is not finite. It is a precious resource. To have 'time on your hands' can be an opportunity to break your own negative thought patterns and when lockdown ends, face the world with a different outlook.
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