At the start of Sydney’s current lockdown, we didn’t know that it was going to last as long as it has (and for how much longer…). Our clinical psychologist, Dr Brittany Ager, shares some of the themes coming up in her work around the impact of the lockdown, and how we might re-consider the expectations we are placing on ourselves during this uniquely challenging time.

1) High expectations about productivity during lock down

With all this time on their hands at home, many people are placing high expectations on what they “should” be achieving during lockdown, Have you had the thought “more time means I should be completing more tasks”?

Logically, this thought makes sense given that we have less activities planned, meaning more unstructured time at home. However, this doesn’t acknowledge the emotional toll of a pandemic – the uncertainty, fear, loneliness, change, fatigue, financial difficulties, unemployment, home schooling, the increased stress of managing family/friends, the loss of freedom, inability to travel, isolation from the world and friends/family abroad, the surreal feeling of seeing empty streets and face masks everywhere… all of this can be psychologically and emotionally exhausting.

Having unrealistic and/or high expectations about this time can further exacerbate fatigue and lack of motivation. Making space and allocating time to acknowledge the emotional toll, and how this can take up just as much time as all the other stuff (like social commitments, commuting, weekend sports) is important, in addition to making a realistic routine including small, achievable plans.

2) Dismissing own experience because ‘others have it worse off’

Have you found yourself dismissing your own experience of the pandemic because ‘others have it worse off’?

Absolutely, it is an important time to be grateful and to show compassion to others who are struggling financially, emotionally, physically. However, it is important not to make those comparisons at the expense of your own experience.

Again, taking time to make space and allow for your own emotions at this time, no matter what your situation, is important. Everyone is going to have a different and unique experience, however, all those emotions and experiences are valid.

3) Constant COVID information, everywhere!

Very quickly, conversations, social media, newsfeeds and television are consumed by COVID-19 updates, bets on what Gladys will say/be wearing, confusing information about vaccines and new restrictions and predictions about the pandemic prognosis. This can become overwhelming and all-consuming. Conversations with family, friends and colleagues can quickly turn to COVID chat. This can all have a negative impact on mood, stress, sleep and our relationships. Have you experienced COVID-related dreams, nightmares or worries in the middle of the night? COVID seems to be everywhere.

Yes, it is important to be informed and to talk realistically about what is happening. However, it is important to be mindful of how long and how often you are seeking information. If you aren’t leaving the house today, do you really need to check the updated venue list multiple times? Acknowledge that obsessively checking and reading information can be a way of seeking certainty and control in a time when most things are uncertain and out of our control.

However, not getting a break from all the COVID-19 talk is going to further fuel anxiety and stress. Thinking of ways you can connect with family and friends emotionally during this time, or limit your exposure to the constant COVID-19 updates can be important in switching off and making space for things that are important to you.

What have you found helpful in terms of looking after your wellbeing during lockdown?