I am from the UK, and this means that in just a few short weeks it will be exactly one year since our restrictions began with the first national lockdown. I don’t know about you, but this isn’t an anniversary I’ll be celebrating.
Ever since this point, we have been living under such restrictions with little respite between. Lockdowns 1, 2 and 3 were sandwiched with tiers in the UK, meaning it has been a very long time since many of us have had even the slightest hint of normality. While I have only experienced lockdown here, much of the world’s population have been living under restrictions of varying degrees. Following the UK Prime Minister’s announcement last week, we may now be seeing the beginning to the end of our COVID-19 restrictions. This has come as welcome news to us all, but many are understandably airing on the side of caution.
None of the past year has been easy, that is for certain, and many previous blogs on this platform have discussed the lockdown, from tips on how to staying sane at home and to sustain mental wellness, to an account of the dramatic situation during the lockdown in Italy, to lessons that the first lockdown taught us.
But in this third, and hopefully final, lockdown, I have noticed that many, myself included, have been feeling the weight of lockdown 3 hard. Initially, we were encouraged by war-time rhetoric and many were inspired to start new hobbies, finding new ways to get creative to occupy time; now we are largely just trying to stay motivated. Even enthusiasm for connecting with friends on zoom has tapered off.
Something about it has felt different and I think we have all collectively decided that the third time is in fact, not a charm.
While we do our best to make it through these last few months, let’s look at why lockdown 3.0 has been so hard when in theory, it should now be our new normal.
What is normal anyway?
It is safe to say that despite us all following the same rules, we have largely all had very different experiences in lockdown. Some were furloughed and disappointed, some were furloughed and thrived, some started new business ventures, other businesses collapsed, new hobbies were discovered for some, whereas others continued to work and simply tried to stay afloat.
Personally, I have worked throughout the pandemic. I am a mental health researcher (and writer and co-editor of ITM), my workload has remained, however, my new normal is working from home.
The idea of something becoming somewhat of a ‘normality’ is what confuses me about the experience of lockdown 3.0.
Last March saw our concept of normality turned upside down, flipped to the side and twisted in all directions. We might have thought that a year down the line, we would all be well practiced in a life in lockdown, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
Then, what I want to know is why has lockdown 3.0 been so hard? There are many reasons suspected including disappointment during the promise of change beckoned by a new year, the time of year being more challenging for our mental health, but perhaps the most significant is our communal exhaustion.
Simply put, we’re all tired. And being tired of it may just be why we have been finding things difficult — we’re experiencing what Public Health experts have termed Pandemic Fatigue. While the term hadn’t been coined this time last year, by January of this year it had been mentioned in over 200 million Google searches. Interestingly it has quite quickly become colloquial language both in academic and public spheres.
The concept is defined as the state of being worn out or feeling overwhelmed by the restrictions and rules put into place as a result of a pandemic. Pandemic fatigue seems akin to burnout. Much like we can be burnt out from working hard for prolonged periods of time and the stress which comes with our occupational roles, we can experience similar feelings from the stress of following very strict restrictions for extended periods.
Our constant state of high alert and compliance is exhausting and none of us are insusceptible to it. The longer we have had to comply, the harder it has become, which may explain why here, in lockdown 3.0, we have been feeling the weight particularly.
The phenomenon has become just that — a phenomenon — so much so that the World Health Organisation (WHO) have even developed a document on how to ameliorate the effects of pandemic fatigue in order to reinvigorate populations to keep up adherence to restrictions. Pandemic fatigue hasn’t just been something we’ve been feeling, but something which may have actually affected the public’s ability to support the prevention of the virus. However, as WHO disclose, this growing mentality can be very damaging when all of us feel the affects of pandemic fatigue.
What records do show, is that we’ve been experiencing pandemic fatigue long before the arrival of lockdown 3.0. While it is clear that it could have cumulative effects (the longer we experience restrictions, the more the effect had on us), I think it is safe to say that there are also other reasons why we have all been feeling the weight of this third, and hopefully final, lockdown. The timing, I strongly suspect, is one of these factors.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this was the topic of a timely “ The Guardian Science Weekly Podcast” this week, featuring an interview with InSPIre the Mind editor, Carmine Pariante, on why are we all feeling burned out by the pandemic.
Covid-19: why are we feeling burnt out?
‘2021 will be so much better’
Towards the end of 2020 there were plenty of ‘I can’t wait for 2020 to be over,’ and ‘2021 will be so much better’ ‘s vocalised.
Lockdown 3.0 began right at the start of a new year — an occasion that usually brings with it the promise of change. It is a time of year where we reflect and set resolutions to improve things moving forward. This year, we all so desperately needed change and for life in 2021 to see the end of covid and lockdowns. Instead, we knew we were facing a second peak, we were grouped into various tiers and then placed in a third national lockdown just 4 days into 2021.
Both optimism and motivation were squashed and instead of a fresh start we were hit with the realisation that 2021 may not be too different. Hopefully, our new plans for the end of restrictions six months in will begin to bring us new hope that 2021 can be salvaged.
Summer of 2021 may have potential yet.
And it’s no coincidence I refer to summer — lockdown 1.0 continued through the summer months of 2020. While most of us would have preferred to be on a beach or in a pub garden, I don’t think it is until now that we can fully appreciate that we had that good weather when we had not much else.
January on the other hand brings shorter days, less sunlight and gloomier weather. While our restrictions in lockdown 3.0 have allowed us to go outside for fresh air and exercise, you had to be quite motivated to face the wind, rain and snow. We spent a lot less time enjoying the outside than we have previously been able to.
I’m lucky enough to have a garden and spent much of my time in the first lockdown working outside whilst soaking up the rays. It is no wonder really that after spending a couple of months cooped up in my office and lacking the motivation to get outside and stretch my legs in the rain, I’ve found things harder.
While the weather is a contributor, there are also other reasons that January may be harder.
‘January blues’ is a term for a reason — even without lockdown and announcements of daily death rates, it is a month that many find more difficult, mentally. It is the fallout of Christmas and the start of a new year which means that we’re typically getting back to work, suffering disproportionately financially, lacking motivation and feeling the pressure of change in the form of new years resolutions.
Being in lockdown during the harder part of the year has been ill-timed. Those who usually struggle with the January blues or even seasonal affective disorder (aka SAD — a medical condition whereby mood is negatively affected by lack of daylight) will have experienced a particularly hard time. And many more of us may be able to relate, or at least empathise with this, somewhat more now.
But as we arrive at the beginning of March, spring gets closer, the days get longer, and we start to see the sun more; we can start to appreciate that things will begin to get easier.
A sense of normality has become a running theme in this blog and there is a final point that I would like to reflect on.
As we approach June the 21st - the day the Government have set out to be the end of all restrictions - we should consider the enormity of change. There will be many who are exhilarated by the idea of reuniting with their friends, families and significant others in the pub for a drink, for a nice dinner or a big night out, but there will also be many who will find this quite daunting. Life in lockdown has been far from normal, but our pre-pandemic lives can seem like a distant memory — return to this can be a scary thought and may take some time to get used to. The term “re-entry syndrome” was introduced to discuss this fear when the first lockdown re-opened last year.
Lockdown 3.0, in fact, the whole of this last year, has been really difficult for us all but what has been different this time, is that we have hope.
Scientists around the world have been working tirelessly for a way out of this, and we are finally here, in the middle of a momentous vaccine roll-out which means that the end of our restrictions is in sight. Holding on to this hope I am sure will help us to get through these last few months of life in lockdown.
But if lockdown 3.0 has left you feeling deflated, know you are not alone.