Psychological Tips for Lockdown 2.0: A Mental Health Refresher

With the newly-established sad tradition of entering lockdown in Israel before holidays, few are spared from the mental strain and fatigue of dealing with the pandemic.  Over the months, people around the world have juggled managing social distancing, quarantine, illness, grief, parenting, work, and any number of other demands on our time, energy, and mental capacity.  We hoped the holiday season would be a small reprieve from the chaos, but instead we are experiencing the same frustration and anxiety that we have had for over half a year, together with a 500-meter travel limit .

As a clinical psychologist, I have seen the pressures of the pandemic affect every aspect of people’s lives: intimate relationships, work, parenting, spirituality, personal mental health, recreation, and friendships.  Many people have asked me for tips to handle the prolonged stress we are all facing (as if there is some training in school for dealing with global pandemics!).  Of course, each person and family will have their own tools that work for them, and below are a few suggestions that have worked for me, at least to some extent.

  • Practice radical acceptance: We are frazzled.  The situation is unfair, exhausting, frustrating, and terrifying.  The chaggim will look nothing like we expected, and we are sad, angry, and disappointed.  And it’s also a reality that we cannot change.  As much as we may know that the uptick in distress is related to unchangeable elements of the pandemic, we often refuse to accept that we can’t just push through the hardships and return to normal. Accepting that circumstances are difficult, and that we are going to have many days that are challenging, allows us to stop fighting against immovable forces.  And when we stop that unwinnable fight, we are then able to focus on things that we may be able to change.
  • Prioritize opportunities for self-care and distractionfor yourself and your kids. Distracting ourselves is not a permanent solution, but finding pockets during the week for fulfilling distractions (i.e. not only Netflix) can help make the slog of coronavirus chaos more manageable.  You are entitled to relief, and so are your kids.  For example, with my daughter having trouble focusing on virtual school, and with our home’s relatively strict social distancing policies limiting playdates, prioritizing online art classes has made a world of difference for her (many exist, and we have loved the art classes from an old friend at talyaweinberg.com!).  She looks forward to it, feels empowered by the finished product, and she has a few blocks during the week that the world of lockdown isn’t on her mind.  We would all benefit from something like this—art, exercise, learning, music, creative writing, political activism—and we deserve a little bit of an escape!
  • A little self-compassion can go a long way. Many of us have a tendency to be self-critical when we do not live up to our self-imposed standards.  We aren’t performing as well at work, if we are fortunate enough to still have work.  We are on edge and irritable, and we don’t have the patience with our kids that we would want–I even hurt my voice trying to stop my curious kid from turning on the fan with her brother’s fingers inside (fortunately, no significant injuries).  Self-compassion means acknowledging that these are trying times, and we are doing the best we can under the circumstances.  It does not mean that we won’t try to do better each day, but it does mean that we can remind ourselves that we are not failing ourselves and our families when we aren’t at our best. And when we are compassionate to ourselves, we may also have an easier time being compassionate to others.
  • Connect with other people, even if it’s only virtually: Many of the typical recommendations for managing with feelings of loneliness and despair involve engaging with other people, which are specifically the types of things that the lockdown is preventing. It is also the case that when scrambling to take care of the basic daily necessities, connecting with other people often falls by wayside.  Nevertheless, nurturing your support network remains as important as ever.  I have been guilty of not returning calls as well as I would like (see the self-compassion paragraph above), but don’t be bashful to reach out to others for your own sake.

There are no magic tricks or shortcuts to handling the upheaval of the pandemic, and each day brings its own unique challenges that can only be addressed one day (or one hour) at a time.  I join with millions of others at this time of year praying for a year of health and relief from the suffering that the world is weathering together–and a year that the traditional holiday lockdown is erased from our memories!

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh. He writes and lectures on topics of psychology, mental health, and halacha, and is the author of the upcoming book "Talmud on the Mind: Exploring Chazal and Practical Psychology to Lead a Better Life." He also co-hosts the Mental Health News Roundup, a weekly online program focusing on contemporary news related to mental health issues.
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