The Caged Bird | The Consequences of Lockdown
What is the psychological response to a person living under lockdown, with decreased social contacts, and less means of entertainment and less freedom?
Today I want to touch upon the psychological consequences of living under lockdown. Speaking as a citizen in the Netherlands, where lockdown was severe, and prolonged, I can see first-hand the negative impacts of lockdown.
I want to show you three things in this article: The primary psychological response people have to losing freedom is to pretend that it is not happening. The second response is to compensate for the loss through developing unhealthy habits. The third is developing an unhealthy, forgiving relationship with their captors, a so called Stockholm Syndrome.
First of all, let us be clear about one thing: physical touch, and social contact, is a need across the human species. It does not matter if you are introverted or extroverted, we all need social interaction to maintain our psychological well-being. Physical touch, and social contact, and closeness and intimacy are vital to our well-being.
With the lockdown, many have found themselves stuck online, in an endless game on Tinder, browsing social media, or passively consuming information. As we are unable to get first hand social stimulation, we look for second hand stimulation. We form parasocial relationships with the creators that we follow online. We use Instagram to maintain the illusion that we have meaningful relationships and people in our lives.
The Caged Bird Response
The first response of the caged bird is to pretend that they are not in fact living in a cage
Actually, working from home is not that bad.
I don’t really like people anyways.
It’s nice to be able to wake up whenever I want.
I’m glad I don’t have to commute.
It’s typical for a caged bird to try to adjust to their new circumstances. We are adaptable creatures and we want to adjust to any circumstance. We pretend that the changes are fine, even if they are clearly worse, and even if we are less happy, and we want to see the positive in any situation. This is a coping mechanism, because who wants to go down a bad hole and talk about how terrible things are all the time?
The second response is to develop unhealthy coping habits
That means, we become less healthy as a response of being stuck in a cage, we develop bad habits, we become tired or exhausted or lack the energy or motivation, so to find joy or to feel something, we fall into bad habits, even if they hurt us. We increase our screen time, we take up smoking again, even if we quit years ago, or we fall into unhealthy relationships or escape in an unhealthy way, into video games. We do things that we know are bad for us, just because we need to do something. We can’t travel anymore, we can’t see friends as often, if at all, and we have so much free time, we don’t know what to do with it.
Actually, the worst habit I see is people start to overwork themselves. Those that have a job, make it their new life. They start skipping lunchbreaks. They start logging in early. They start working unnecessary overtime. Work becomes their new life. Your work shift now starts in the bedroom of your own home, the minute you wake up, and ends when you fall asleep. Burnout is on the increase, among the working population.
The third response is to forgive your captors
Captive animals tend to love their shepherds. We become more forgiving towards, and more accepting of our leaders. Most leading parties across the world saw an increase in support as a result of the lockdown measures. People forgive and accept their captors, and sympathise with them. When we lose our freedoms, we feel a need to make excuses for the people that took them away. This is known as Stockholm Syndrome. With COVID-19, we have seen people fall in the grip of increased belief in authority, increased trust in global institutions, and an almost religious belief in established, mainstream science.
This is dangerous, because critical thinking, and questioning has been the norm for science in the past. We used to think critical thinking was how sciene was driven. Now, we are afraid to listen to the doctors with critical voices, even if they only have questions regarding small details of the response.
We fear the wave of post-truth conspiracy theorists, so much that we become extreme and absolute in our trust and acceptance of established science. I say established science because science is always under evaluation. We are constantly learning things. It is a new virus. We don’t have all the answers. Actual scientists are humble and modest, but journalists and politicians use their science in an extreme way.
Ask yourself this: Should the medicine be more bitter than the disease? With what weapons do we fight conspiracy theorists and fake news? How extreme should we be in our measures? To what extent should we be sympathetic and trusting in science and political institutions, and to what degree should we be allowed to ask questions?
Now, I know:
There were positive consequences as a result of lockdown
There are reasons to understand and sympathize with leaders during lockdown
We knew there would be negative consequences of lockdown, but decided it was the right thing to do in order to protect our elderly and risk groups.
More and more countries, like the UK, are now throwing in the towel. They have determined that lockdown is not a viable strategy and will be moving to abolish restrictions. It appears people across the world are now tiring. What are your thoughts about the lockdown?