The urgency of fear has been replaced by sadness for many people and this is changing how we experience lockdown according to therapists working in Cork and Kerry.
They can see the chain of lockdowns have increased despondency as people dread weeks more of isolation. And extremely high hospital figures and deaths were an emotional shock just as the bleak January weather arrived.
Anne-Marie Shepherd, a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) therapist working in Cork city, said the impact of this lockdown has been noticeably different.
“We find ourselves adjusting to profound changes again without the usual supports. We’re dealing with many more worries than normal and on a much larger scale,” she said.
“The understandable desensitisation to the fear associated with the pandemic allows for a range of emotions to be experienced. Sadness can be a more difficult emotion for people to deal with than anxiety.”
People who expected 2021 to bring change are still apart from friends and families or may be out of work.
“We are confronted with loss of our old lives daily,” she said.
This is something particularly relevant for adolescents who are struggling with home-schooling.
Ms Shepherd said: “I hear comments like ‘ I can’t remember what it was like when I could hug my friends’.”
Enthusiasm for novelties like Zoom quizzes or delivering gifts to frontline workers has diminished over the months.
“Mood is influenced by a balance of opportunities for a sense of achievement, a sense of enjoyment and connection to others in the course of a day or week. All of these are compromised during lockdown,” she explained.
And she warned for people with pre-existing mental health challenges, this time is particularly difficult.
“It can typically take many years for mental health disorders to emerge to the point that a person seeks professional help and what we are seeing in the centre currently is an exacerbation of existing difficulties,” she said.
In Kerry, therapist Megan Edwards has observed the double impact of the new variants of Covid-19 and the January darkness.
“Our brains have felt we are under threat for such a long time now, this is where the sense of fatigue and hopelessness can come from.”
A CBT therapist in Tralee and Dingle, Ms Edwards said the vaccine announcements before Christmas were a great boost to people initially.
“Then along comes the New Year and this new strain, and there is a sense of people feeling a bit helpless and hopeless at the moment,” she said.
Social media has given people the means to connect. But she cautioned it can also bring damage as people look at apparently stress-free lives and think they alone are the ones struggling.
“You have to lower your expectations of yourself, be gentle with yourself about what you want to achieve, it is important for us to live our lives in relation to our own values and goals,” she said.
“If you are struggling this just makes you human, we are all struggling.”
Some people have lost loves ones in the pandemic, and she said the loss of connection because of isolation is also painful.