The pandemic is a monolithic event, yet its effects differ from person to person writes Ruadhán Jones
The pandemic has resulted in far reaching, monolithic difficulties for us all. It has reminded us that we are not invincible, that we are, in fact, incredibly frail beings.
However, it has also underlined our common humanity, as all corners of the globe are suddenly linked in this universal struggle. But even within this universality, difference remains; difference of effect and reception of the virus, difference in material circumstances.
For those who are ‘vulnerable’ – i.e. those with underlying conditions or over 70 – it means cocooning; for parents, it means combining working from home with teaching and cooking; for children and young people, it means a hard-to-accept separation from their friends, education and social outlets.
As a result, how each of us copes with the lockdown will differ and intersect in a variety of ways and this is no bad thing. While the general process remains the same, it’s good to consider what your position is, or those who are in your care, and respond accordingly.
So what are some of the specifics you need to consider for those cocooning and for young people?
Coping with cocooning
I remember at the start of the lockdown overhearing a woman on the phone to her dad: “I don’t care how young you feel dad,” she said, “biologically you’re over 70!” Though comical, this little exchange was the first time I was aware of the effects the lockdown was likely to have on the elderly.
Those over 70 and those with underlying conditions were advised to cocoon, which effectively means staying at home to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Under the new phase of restrictions which began on June 8, those cocooning can again go outside for exercise or for a drive. They can meet up outside with a small group of up to four people – all socially distanced, with gloves and masks.
While the lifting of restrictions leads to much needed personal interaction for many, it still leaves some isolated and without physical contact. This can lead to increased anxiety or loneliness, and knowing you are at risk can create worries about your health and the health of family members.
But these issues are not insurmountable: the first step is to be aware of your situation and to give yourself the time to adjust. Be patient in finding a routine that works, especially as the situation changes.
Developing a regular routine can provide structure to your day, making the world seem safer and more predictable. It’s important to stay in touch with friends and family by phone or video chat, or organise to meet outside if they are within your travel limit. Regular routines and contact can recreate that social hub which we are used to and need to support our mental wellbeing.
Keep active, stay safe
Fitness and exercise – if you were to go by most advertisements, they’re purely an enterprise for the young. Equally, they must be vigorous, involving sweat, aches and pains.
But while that might be the popular conception, it isn’t the truth. It is just as important for the young as for the old. Physical activity can be as simple as cleaning the dishes and doing some hoovering, doing a bit of baking or tending to plants in the garden.
“Just 30 minutes of activity every day can really help to keep your bones nice and strong,” says Nora Stapelton of Sport Ireland. “It can help your balance, your co-ordination, as well as boosting your mood and looking after your mental wellbeing.”
“Don’t underestimate how much light housework can help you with reaching that daily activity goal.”
As is often the case, starting small clears a path for any larger improvements you might like to make. Committing to cooking yourself a meal every day, or getting out into the garden for a walk, can make a great difference to your mental health.
There are also plenty of resources online if you would like to take it a step further. The HSE has a webpage dedicated to exercising indoors for older people. They go through simple exercises that can help with balance, flexibility and strength, which take only a few minutes each day.
Speaking to young people about the coronavirus
The lower threat posed by the virus to young people is well known, but the pandemic has affected them all the same. As we have noted previously, young people are missing out on a huge chunk of their life, as well as being isolated from their social circles. It is important to be aware of our young people’s needs, in particular this social aspect.
As restrictions relax and the overall threat lessens, the temptation to meet up with friends can only grow stronger. That some sports gatherings are allowed, as well as groups of up to four gathering outside, will help give focus to young people’s desires in a structured way.
Children and teenagers will often take their lead from adults, so it’s important to take care of yourself first. If you want them to respond with care and calm, then you must develop this yourself. By behaving rationally and providing clear and honest information, this can go a long way to maintaining your child’s mental well-being.
If they are starting to meet up with friends, or are perhaps too fearful to do so, remind them that there are ways they can keep themselves safe. Use language that is appropriate to their age and where necessary, use images to illustrate. Equally, by demonstrating a commitment to aspects such as hand hygiene and social distancing, it will reinforce your teaching. When our actions match our words, it simplifies our children’s learning.
Many children will still be struggling with the stress of the situation. They may respond in different ways, becoming clingy or withdrawing, getting angry or over-excitable. Whatever the case, respond to your child’s reactions in a supportive way, listen to their concerns and give them extra love and attention.
Social life and technology
I remember a cartoon I saw about social media, pre-dating this crisis. It was a mother looking at her teenage son. He’s sitting on a chair, with his headphones on, staring at his phone. She says to him “Why is it called social media when it means you sitting on your own at home?”
While the implicit criticism still stands, we’ve come to learn over the course of this lockdown of the positive role our media can play. We all find it hard to be away from our friends, to practice physical/social distancing and to stay at home. Using technology to stay in touch can help.
social media and tools such as video chats is important. You could encourage your child to reach out to friends and family members, or to learn a new hobby on YouTube or to find reliable advice from the HSE on Twitter or similar media.
Much like our need for the sacraments and a return to mass, this shouldn’t overshadow physical relationships: but it can be a helpful stand in at this time. We can’t fulfil all our children’s needs and so social media can become a way to support our efforts.
Listen and respond
For those supporting a child or someone who is cocooning, showing care, kindness and compassion is very important. Small, practical contributions can make a great difference. If you are minding them at home, provide activities for them to engage with like music, books, magazines and/or knitting.
If they’re not at home, offer to do their groceries or pick up prescriptions. Further, making daily contact by phone is a vital means of keeping their spirits up. Listening to them can help you get a sense of their mental state and to offer support when needed.
The last thing to remember is that it’s important to listen, even to ourselves. By listening we come to realise the differing needs of those around us, and even of our own needs. Having listened, we can respond more effectively and with greater attention to the specific requirements of the lockdown period.