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If you are living in New South Wales, Australia, you are likely feeling other than usual stressors. Lockdown stress is real. It can play out in all sorts of ways, and it can affect people differently.

If you are not living in a lockdown area, you may still feel stressed about aspects of the pandemic, so it may be a good read for you too.

Lockdowns or anything to do with a pandemic can impose strong reactions. Just open any news channel or social media platform, and you’ll get plenty of reports about this very topic.

Apart from all the stressors we experience and know about in relation to the pandemic, the most important one is the fact that you didn’t cause this stress in your life. You didn’t cause the pandemic nor anything to do with what the governments of your area chose to do about it.

I think this is one of the reasons, why people feel so strongly about the consequences of the pandemic. It’s out of their control. This can be very upsetting.

The question then is: How can you as an individual cope with this upset and stress? If you have family, you need to ask yourself: How can I as a member of my family, cope with my loved ones’ reactions to this stress?

As some of you know, I teach psychology to undergraduate students at university, and fittingly the topic for this week was coping mechanisms. Some of the students commented that this was a helpful topic for them during this time. So, I thought to myself that this could also be helpful to you.

What are coping mechanisms?

This expression refers to how someone manages an event or situation that causes negative feelings or uneasiness. Psychologists love putting theories together and categorising things. This doesn’t always capture every single scenario. Theories and categories are ways to roughly explain stuff. Therefore, it’s best to keep this in mind when learning about theories etc. Having said that, theories and categories can be helpful in understanding why people do the things they do.

Some psychologists categorise coping mechanisms into two big chunks: Adaptive coping and Maladaptive coping. However, as I mentioned above, these categories are not perfect. For example, escape falls under maladaptive coping in this model. But in a situation that we experience right now with so many restrictions in place that we haven’t initiated or can do anything about, escape can be okay to use as a coping mechanism.

It depends on the situation and on the individual with the specific circumstances whether a coping strategy is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Decide for yourself! I’m all about self-awareness and I encourage you to become aware what types of coping mechanism you use and how they make you feel. If what you do doesn’t make you feel better at least in the short term, try another one.

For me, I have used escape a lot during the past 50 days or so of lockdown. I don’t think I ever watched that much TV. But I’m aware of it, and I know when the escape strategy stops working for me. Then I take a break from escaping, and endeavour to become clear what’s going on for me. I often reach out to a friend for a chat on the phone to explain (mainly to myself) how I feel. For me personally I feel better once I brought my negative feelings into the open.

So, let’s go through the so-called maladaptive coping mechanisms:

Diagram adapted from www.positivepsychology.com

First up is delegation. This coping strategy can be explained by the lack of focus on personal abilities. In this instance, people may not trust their own abilities and react by complaining, whining, and feeling pity for themselves. They also may seek help. However, this type of help seeking is not about trying to find solutions but is used to dump their misery onto others. If you ever had someone perform an emotional dump on you, you’ll know what I mean

Next, we have helplessness. This type of strategy refers to the lack of actions that someone takes. These actions are defined by confusion, experiencing interference of thoughts and being mentally exhausted.

Escape is another type of coping mechanism that is influenced by lack of actions. This is all about avoidance, both mental, i.e. I don’t want to think about it, and behavioural, i.e. I don’t want to do anything about it. It can also be straight down denial, aka, nothing is wrong with me, or wishful thinking.

Submission and opposition are about the inability to recognise available options. You’ll find people who use submission engaging in rumination, being rigid in their defence, and allowing intrusive thoughts to rule the roost. While submission is more internalised, opposition is outwardly orientated. People blame others, project their own negative feelings onto others and /or are aggressive towards others.

Isolation refers to the inability to utilise social resources. Although, it seems ironic during a lockdown, where we are told to avoid others, there are still many ways to keep in touch with others. People who revert to the isolation strategy may avoid others on all levels, withdraw socially completely and conceal what they do from others.

Now, let’s look at the so-called adaptive coping mechanisms:

Diagram adapted from www.positivepsychology.com

Self-comforting falls under the category of personal abilities. Keep in mind, that you can learn this if you think you are not utilising these strategies. The ability to self-regulate both emotionally and behaviourally is key here. It also helps to express emotions and being able to approach emotions that are not so nice to experience. Remember, that emotions don’t last forever, they are slower than thoughts, but typically only take about 90 seconds to pass through you.

Problem solving refers to the actions that you chose to take. You could be strategizing, planning, or taking action that you have thought about beforehand, waying up any consequences and being clear about their value to you. Information seeking also takes action into account such as reading, making observations or asking others.

Accommodation and negotiation consider the available options. When you are accommodating you could distract yourself, reframe some upsetting situation in your mind, minimise the impact it could have on you (instead of catastrophising), or even accept the situation for what it is. Using negotiation could mean using bargaining, persuasion, or priority setting.

Finally, support seeking focuses on your social resources. You could look for spiritual support or instrumental aid as well as comfort and contact with others.

As you can see there are many ways of coping that you could try, and remember, I’m only a phone call away, should you want to chat about this with me ❤️

With love,

Eva

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