“I feel like I did so well last time in lockdown, but this time, I’m just a mess”
“Why did I start off so well but now … I just feel like I’m failing lockdown on the daily?”
“I feel like such a loser, I had such clear goals for my lockdown period but now all I feel like doing is eating, drinking and sitting on my couch”
Right now, we are all swamped by thoughts of ambiguity, feelings of uncertainty and a confused mish-mash of motivational patterns that range from ‘No Way’ to ‘Get Outa My Way!”
With lockdown 1.0, we had the novelty factor – it was all new and a bit exciting – time off work, day drinking, facetime … there was an unusual sense of possibility, the prospect of new, different opportunities. A freedom from the daily grind, from the usual structures that bind us to routine.
It felt surreal and we had a sense that it wouldn’t last. And at first, it didn’t.
But then it did.
And now it’s back. Harder, stronger and much more overwhelming. This time, not only are we dealing with the uncertainty and lack of clarity about our day-to-day lives, we are also bombarded by daily lists of increasing infections, deaths, restrictions and shut-downs. We are learning of the downfall of businesses, airlines, industries, economies … it is impacting our existence on every possible level.
Life, as we know it, has completely transformed and many of our normal ‘first world’ opportunities have all but evaporated.
So, feel like you’ve regressed? Damn right you have.
According to the brilliant and timely essay by Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg in Harvard Business Review, it’s very common to feel energised and vital during the first phase of a crisis. But, after “the adrenaline-fueled pace of the initial crisis response began sputtering … (p)roblems became more complex and exhausting. The varnish started to crack. The glory faded. Fuses were short.” According to her research, we all tend to follow a common pattern during a crisis.
Emergency >>> Regression >>> Recovery
Those of us who are parents have most likely witnessed regression first hand. Perhaps a child made good progress with eating, sleeping or toileting then, when faced with a big life change or challenge, seemed to forget how to do it. All of a sudden, the most basic things in their life seemed too hard, too complex, just not achievable any more.
In times of crisis, Wedell-Wedellsborg says “Regression is one of the mind’s ways to defend itself from confusion and insecurity by retreating to an emotional comfort zone.” It’s almost like our brains go back in time to a less complex, more manageable way of operating, to alleviate the stress of doing complex cognitive work.
Here are some signs that your brain may be lightening the load to cope with the current crisis situation:
- Lower energy, physical and emotional
- Taking longer to make decisions (or making poor choices)
- Confusion or conflict over things that usually come easily
- Blabbering or finding it hard to ‘find the right word’
- The urge to withdraw, retreat from life
- Tendency for temper to flare up without reasonable triggers
What To Do About Regression
Set up new routines and rituals– create a temporary ‘new normal’ to take you through this phase of the Pandemic. Focus on small things you can control and amp these up – this will enhance your feelings of personal power and ease some of your anxiety. For example, set up a new morning routine with time allocated for meditation, stretching, coffee, watching (limited amount of) news and going for your walk. Or create a daily ‘me time’ session where you literally lock yourself in a part of your home where you can find some peace, set the clock and read or do what makes you feel grounded – without interruptions. Or an evening ritual that calms you, sets you up for a relaxed end to the day with a bath, candle, music, whatever brings your energy down.
Monitor your mood
– given it’s completely normal for your mood to fluctuate during this time, keep track of your ups and downs. You might do this the old school way with a pen and paper or a journal. Or, if you prefer a digital approach, grab one of the many thought journaling apps. I find MOODKIT really valuable for this. It’s a good idea to use a rating scale (e.g. 1 – 10) so you can quickly and easily tap into how you are feeling each day. You might give yourself a 3 or 4 if you’re feeling flat, lacking energy and/or having trouble staying focused. If you’re having a good day where you feel more optimistic, energetic and focused, you might give yourself a 7 or 8. If you notice your mood staying below a 3 for more than a week I’d recommend reaching out to a trusted friend or your GP for a referral to a psychologist.
– this Pandemic is not going to be around forever. It can be really beneficial to mentally teleport yourself into a more positive future when things are tough. Looking 6 or 12 months out, what can you plan to do/be/change that will give you something to look forward to? For instance, you might start studying something new, plan a holiday, train for a marathon or consider an overseas move. Engage in some creative brainstorming, do a mind-map, build a vision board, talk to your trusted friends about your hopes and dreams for the future.
When feeling low or flat or just ‘not yourself’ the best advice I can offer is to reach out. Talk to someone, ask for help, debrief and compare notes. You’ll quickly realise that you are not alone in this – we are ALL feeling out of sorts at the moment and sometimes it helps to just hear someone say ‘me too’.