health

Let's talk about 'lockdown guilt', the reason so many of us feel like we're failing isolation.

If being in lockdown was some sort of sick test, how many of us would be acing it?

There’d be a section on at-home workouts and baking (nothing fancy, just sourdough or two-ingredient desserts). For multiple choice, you’d fill out which activities you’d done that day to look after your mind, body and, most importantly, your future.

Call a loved one? Check. Gone for a walk? Did two. Meditated? Tick. Listened to my podcasts? Finished. Developed an investment strategy or a business plan for a side hustle? Done and done.

You could write a short essay on staying positive and being productive, and a thesis on homeschooling and social distancing. Bonus points if you’ve taken up a new hobby – preferably something wholesome like knitting, puzzle making or organising a weekly online quiz night.

WATCH: Here’s how the different horoscopes are ‘nailing’ home school in isolation, is yours accurate? Post continues after video.

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All these things are amazing, but in reality, only a small handful of people would truly say they’re nailing iso life.

As for the rest of us, we’re just trying to tick the boxes. Keeping children occupied. Looking after vulnerable loved ones. Getting work done from home without any Zoom fails, or trying to find a new job. Remembering to take medication and brush our teeth. Keeping our spirits up. And coming up with something to cook for dinner that’s not the same thing you ate four times last week.

When we’re done with that, we’re feeling guilty about not doing more or doing the right things. That feeling is lockdown guilt, and it’s the reason so many of us feel like we’re failing isolation.

What is lockdown guilt?

Lockdown guilt is a term that describes the feeling that creeps up on you while in isolation, reminding you that you should be doing more.

More exercise. More cooking. More homeschooling. More work. More projects. More pickling and fermenting your own kombucha. More ideas. More sleep. More mindfulness. More FaceTime calls. More of what everyone else is doing.

Comparatively, you should also be doing less snacking, less sitting around, less TV-watching, less ordering takeaway, less gaining weight, less online shopping. Less anything that’s not productive or serving future you.

While there’s nothing wrong with keeping busy in isolation – in fact, it’s a great way to keep anxious thoughts from swallowing you – it’s not compulsory. Only, for some, it feels like it is and they’re letting themselves and others down, day after day.

lockdown guilt
Lockdown guilt is the reason so many of us feel like we're failing isolation. Image: Getty.
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Where does the pressure to be so productive in isolation come from?

We all know Instagram plays a role in perpetuating the pressure to be having a good time, all the time. If you're not doing something fun, you're at least being productive, getting stuff done or bettering yourself somehow.

Even though we’re living through a global pandemic none of us has ever seen the likes of before, social media is still a highlights reel. Only now, it’s filled with fewer travel photos and boot camps, and more burning candles and TikTok dances.

But we're not blameless here, either. If we're honest, the pressure we put on ourselves is worse than the pressure we perceive as coming from our friends, family, partner, kids and strangers on the internet.

Psychologist Tahnee Clark has seen these unprecedented times open up a huge window that wasn't there before. In our normal lives, when you see a pocket of time open up, you'd rush to fill it. Now, that window looks like days and weeks (maybe months) rather than minutes or hours.

"It was common pre-COVID-19 for people to say 'I’m too busy', 'If only I had time' or 'I wish I had more time to…'. Then, the pandemic suddenly hit and now, we find find ourselves with more time than ever, but doing less and feeling guilty about it," the Lysn Chief Operating Officer told Mamamia.

"So many hours used to be spent commuting, attending special events and social responsibilities, travelling, hanging out with friends and so forth. With schedules suddenly cleared of many of these things, people can be left asking themselves what they should be doing with their time. Their answer? I SHOULD be doing all those things I’d wished I’d had time the to do!"

But naturally, you're not going to do those things, are you? At least not all of them. Because self-isolation isn't a holiday. You still have responsibilities, as well as restrictions that make doing many of the things on your list impractical. And so, you leave them and settle for watching other people do theirs. Aaand the lockdown guilt settles in.

"Inaction leads to guilt. Learning that other people are being productive, leads to more guilt. It's a vicious cycle."

LISTEN: On the Mamamia Out Loud podcast, we discuss if anyone is really nailing isolation. Post continues after audio below.

Lockdown guilt and mental health.

Lockdown guilt is more than just thinking you should be going for a walk, while lying in bed. It can be debilitating, even if only for this moment in time.

"Holding onto guilt during these times can impact how a person perceives themselves as a good partner, parent, friend and person. It can also affect their relationship with themselves," Clark said.

"Having less time in flow or being distracted can mean that your unguided mind starts to race and ruminate. Negative self-talk can continue on a loop and become ingrained, negatively affecting a person’s mental health."

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If you're someone who lived with mental illness before isolating, the lack of daily distractions can leave you feeling more of what you usually feel, which was already too much.

Yes, you can let go of lockdown guilt.

So, how does one stop feeling guilty about not doing enough in isolation?

Clark's advice? "Sometimes the most productive thing to do is to let go of preconceived 'shoulds' and 'I musts' and just be present in the moment."

"Being resilient is about being strong in the face of adversity by adapting, and the most effective way to adapt starts with considering the dynamics of the current situation. It's helpful to acknowledge there are lots of things that aren’t possible or rewarding in this current environment, and identify a few small things that are. For example, you might need to put an exercise goal on hold, but what you can do is finally file your tax return, read to your children or clean out a cupboard."

"The most productive thing you do today may not be teaching your children a maths lesson, but holding them in your lap and giggling. But a first-hand demonstration of love is always a good lesson. Acknowledge how you feel each day with kindness and patience."

If you can, allow yourself to unsaddle yourself from whatever form of lockdown guilt you're feeling. Understanding not one person on this planet is expected to thrive under these conditions, but just survive with their health intact, helps.

You're not failing if your weekends look like wearing pyjamas, not washing your hair, eating chips, watching a TV show for six hours straight, or staying in bed all day.

You're not doing 'isolation wrong' if popping out to the letterbox to check your mail is your only exercise for the day, if your meals wouldn't look great on your feed or you don't have people to do video chat wines with.

Now is the time to lower the bar. Drop the damn thing as low as you need to get through this - you can always pick it back up again.

Feature image: Getty.

If you think you may be struggling, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It's OK to feel this way, but it's also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus - How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

Have you been experiencing lockdown guilt? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

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