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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 37  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 37-40

Lockdown and mental health: The glass half full

Department of Psychiatry and Drug De-addiction Centre and Lady Hardinge Medical College and Hospital, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission20-Apr-2020
Date of Acceptance04-Jun-2020
Date of Web Publication31-Mar-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Nitin B Raut
Department of Psychiatry and Drug De-addiction Centre, Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_78_20

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How to cite this article:
Kaur H, Raut NB, Ramesh OS. Lockdown and mental health: The glass half full. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2021;37:37-40

How to cite this URL:
Kaur H, Raut NB, Ramesh OS. Lockdown and mental health: The glass half full. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Oct 28];37:37-40. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2021/37/1/37/312805

Stressor, unpretentiously, has been defined as “anything that threatens the constant internal milieu kept by an individual in difficult times.”[1] At present, COVID-19 is the key stressor that is causing major global morbidity and mortality, in the form of a pandemic. With its epicenter in Wuhan, China, COVID-19 outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization on January 30, 2020.[2] Therefore, calling it the latest bane to the humanity is not a hyperbole.

This malady has caused a major loss of lives, resources, workforce, and economy of the world. Not to mention sending the world in a state of despair and social exclusion ensuing anxiety, terror, and ambiguity regarding the future. Every day on the social media and news, the dread is highlighted which further precipitates the above-said state. On March 25, 2020, a national lockdown of 21 days was announced by the Prime Minister of India, which benefitted in terms of minimalizing individual exposure but still resulted in heightened sense of loneliness and social isolation.

Social contact is a vital human prerequisite for mental health well-being. During this lockdown, many are distressed with the feeling of loneliness and the inability to contact the social circle in a real-world scenario. Is it loneliness or the overstated experience as it has been forced upon externally rather than own choice?

Loneliness has been defined as “affective and cognitive discomfort or uneasiness from being or perceiving oneself to be alone or otherwise solitary”[3] or “a negative state of mind associated with being alone experienced by the individual more than once a week.”[4] It has a detrimental impact on both physical and mental well-being such as cardiovascular disorders, stress burnouts, diminished cognitive functioning, substance-use disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide.[5]

It is not to be muddled with solitude, as loneliness is being isolated despite wishing for social exchanges and the latter is taking a voluntary time out from regular social exchanges to have quality time with yourself. One may ponder, why are we labeling our solitude as something that is as thwarting as “loneliness”?

Thus, while the undesirable impact has been and is currently being highlighted wherever we gaze upon, let's appreciate the desirable impact of the situation. The rule of thumb is there are always two sides of the coin so let's take a moment and ask ourselves Is it all that bad? In the frenzy of socializing and going into a state of despair, why should not one appraise the silver lining of this lockdown that has been implicated. Besides the obvious maintenance of much-needed social distance, reduction in anxiety of contacting the infection improved environment (improved air quality index, clear waters, and blossoms) and plummeting rates of road traffic accidents and crime in the nation; here, we are going to focus on the positive impact of solitude and how it can be tapped for self-improvisation.

  Reduction in Burnout Top

There is an ample evidence that suggests the increasing rate of stress burnout among the full time employees[6] and health professionals.[7],[8] In today's competitive world, one does not have the luxury to halt and deal with the snowballing pressure created by the overachieving lifestyle. The time gained during lockdown can be employed in taking a step back and slowing down your pace, hence plummeting and resolving the burnout. It is an ambiguous statement though as currently; the burnout can definitely increase for medical health professionals serving valiantly and assertively. However, the thought is entertained here that the expanse of burnout in the society as a whole will come down in the critical times of lockdown.

  Enhanced Productivity Top

In today's era, we operate with the dictum of “survival of the fittest.” To prove that, humanity is working like a machinery, with no respite whatsoever. Meanwhile, due to our chaotic schedules, we miss out on the prospects that come our way that can prove beneficial on a personal level. What can we do with the time that we are saving on the commute and hours spent on the resolution of the fatigue, resulting from hours spent in the office? A lot of people are working from home, not by choice but as an obligation. The saved time and energy can definitely improve the productivity of the individual, if channeled in an opposite manner.

  Improved Interpersonal Relationships Top

There are countless things, from tiny to superior that we take as granted in our daily humdrum, from enjoying a meal to spending time with our loved ones. In times like this, the minute pleasures of life can be refashioned in a way that in fact leads to self-harmony and accomplishes the much-needed peace of mind.

  Indulging in Empathy Top

It has been a prodigious misfortune that has befallen upon us, but even in this grim time, there is a certain level of social cohesion that is seen around us. While maintaining the social distancing, people have started appreciating the bigger things in life. We display love and compassion toward the fiscally challenged. With all this, tender love and care served to oneself in the form of solitude, comes the empathy that can be sprinkled on those around us. It helps us in upgraded interpretation of emotions and expressions.[9]

  Improved Self-virtues Top

A race who has profoundly believed in Anthropocene, i.e., the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment, and it is a upsurge of reformed thought process that has achieved a certain level of reticence and acceptance that was gradually diminishing, proving yet again that humans cannot dominate everything and succumb to nature anytime perchance.

  Improving Self and Quality of Life Top

Healthy dietary habits, reflecting upon self-practices and relaxation, are certain pros that should be welcomed rather than feeling blue and unproductive in the lockdown. Lifestyle modifications that are tough to keep up with in routine life are easier to practice in these times which will result in physical and mental health well-being. Opting for improved diet and relaxation exercises such as yoga and cardio has numerous health benefits and improves one's quality of life.

  Cognitive Stimulation Top

Solitude can rally up the cognitive functioning as it results in the practice of being self-sufficient and less dependency on the social grouping. In a study, groups working collaboratively performed worse than individuals that worked on their own in the tasks involving “Recall memory.”[10] Individual brainstorming results in enhanced creativity.[11] Therefore, taking time with oneself can work wonders with respect to the cognitive stimulation.

  Evaluation of Emotions Top

Interestingly, some authors have labeled solitude as “a medicine which tastes bad but leaves us strong in the long run.”[12]

The major function of solitude is the emotional regulation in the human mind. It equilibrates the incessant bedlam of emotions in our mind, whether it is positive or negative. It gives us the luxury to reflect and weigh our emotions accordingly. In a comparative study, it was concluded that teens who spent a moderate amount of time alone (defined as 20%–35% of their waking hours) were better adjusted (measured by depressive symptoms, teacher ratings, problem behavior, and grade point average GPA) than those who spent either very little or a lot of time alone. They also felt less self-conscious, reported higher levels of concentration, had lower rates of depression and alienation, and reported feeling better after being alone.[13]

Hence, it is noteworthy that voluntary solitude is central for personal development and only detrimental to health, if obligatory. In a study conducted in Wilmington College, with the help of a 14-question survey, it was concluded that students who withdraw from the social situations as per their wish had better quality of interpersonal relationships and were at a lower risk of anxiety or depressive disorders.[14] Nonetheless, solitude helps in the spiritual renewal of the individual.

  Developing Self-efficiency Top

Winnicot gave the phenomenon of “capacity to be alone” which means the self-sufficiency one has and the capability of surviving without a social group.[15] In 1969, Bowlby described attachment theory as an inherent biological response and behavioral system in place to provide satisfaction of basic human needs. It describes “internal working models” as relationships between the self and attachment figure, thus seeking out of the attachment figure at the time of crisis.[16] The internal working models are revised several times in a lifetime as per the obtainability and ease to seek out the attachment figure. Moreover, at the times of crisis, inner thoughts can be daunting to some. In a study conducted in Virginia, participants preferred the subjection to electrocution rather than being alone with their thoughts and analyzing themselves and their acts.[17]

Authors propose the readers to take solitude as a chance to develop the “capacity to be alone” be one's “own attachment figure” and seek out self at the time of crisis. Solitude gives a chance to resolve individual crisis as it is important to take the situation such as a puzzle and inspect it meticulously, thus providing clarity. Hence, internal-focused solitude helps in achievement of inner comfort with self which can be difficult to accomplish at first but can be the sturdiest and safest relationship that one can possess in a lifetime, i.e., with self.

  Practicing Solitude Top

Now, the question of the hour is how do we make our peace with the solitude that we have received in the lockdown and stop taking it as an obligation. It is like a core-strengthening exercise for the mind just like the muscles of the body. On needs practice, endurance, gradual increments in duration and using the precise technique. Similarly, solitude is something that a person needs to start appreciate, reflect, and learn to utilize for personal evolution.

  A Double-edged Sword Top

The society has stigmatized solitude for an extensive period. It has been seen as a dominion of outcasts, an inconvenience, and castigation. Sigmund Freud, in one of his record on general theory of neuroses, linked solitude with neuroticism and stated “in children the first phobias relating to situations are those of darkness and solitude.”[18] However, in modern psychology, evidence is accumulating that states otherwise and reports that solitude can prove therapeutic for an individual, but one has to be cautious that the expedition of reconnection with self should not land up the individual dodging the social situations.

Nguyen et al. described terms “low arousal” and “high arousal” states.[19] High arousal states are of two types: positive (e.g., social gatherings) and negative (arguments). Low arousal states similarly are positive (relaxation) and negative (loneliness). Extremes of any above-stated mental states are detrimental for an individual. The Hikikomori phenomenon in Japan describes troubled youth distancing themselves in the name of solitude.[20] As per Rubin's criteria for healthy solitude, it should be taken voluntarily, associated with emotional regulation, easily reversible, and maintenance of positive interpersonal relationships.[21] Therefore, it is important not to overindulge in the solitude.

It is a worldly known fact that everything in moderation is superlative. Likewise, solitude in moderation is the key to practice. However, studies lack the establishment where the adequate amount of solitude has been mentioned; however, it has been stated that required duration of solitude varies with the individual.[22]

  Conclusion Top

In the concluding remarks, it is recommended to the reader to love oneself, in this galloping world that labels solitude as a stigmatized monarchy of recluses. Learn to appraise one's emotions and create a robust attachment within, practice self-sufficiency, and start altering the perspective to see one's solitude as not a punishment but a chance to nurture and reflect, thus seeing the glass half full.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Selye H. The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1956.  Back to cited text no. 1
WHO. Rolling Updates on COVID-19. WHO; 9 April, 2020.  Back to cited text no. 2
Definition of Loneliness: American Psychological Association. Available from: https://dictionary.apa.org/loneliness. [Last accessed on 2020 Apr 15].  Back to cited text no. 3
Cacioppo JT, Fowler JH, Christakis NA. Alone in the crowd: The structure and spread of loneliness in a large social network. J Pers Soc Psychol 2010;97:977-91.  Back to cited text no. 4
Hammig O. Health risks associated with social isolation in general and in young, middle and old age. PLoS One 2019;14:29.  Back to cited text no. 5
Bakker A, Costa P. Chronic job burnout and daily functioning: A theoretical analysis. Burnout Res 2013;1:112-9.  Back to cited text no. 6
Patel RS. Bachu R, Adikey A, Malik M, Shah M. Factors related to physician burnout and its consequences: A review. Cureus 2019;11:4805.  Back to cited text no. 7
Patel RS, Sekhri S, Bhimanadham NN, Imran S, Hossain S. A review on strategies to manage physician burnout. Cureus 2019;11:e4805.  Back to cited text no. 8
Uhls YT, Michikyan M, Morris J, Garcia D, Small GW, Zgourou E, et al. Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Comput Hum Behav 2014;39:387-92.  Back to cited text no. 9
Marion SB, Thorley C. A meta-analytic review of collaborative inhibition and postcollaborative memory: Testing the predictions of the retrieval strategy disruption hypothesis. Psychol Bull 2016;142:1141-64.  Back to cited text no. 10
Kavadias, S., Sommer, SC. The effects of problem structure and team diversity on brainstorming effectiveness. Management Science 2009; 55(12): 1899–1913. https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.1090.1079.  Back to cited text no. 11
Larson R, Csikszentmihalyi M. Experiential correlates of time alone in adolescence. J Pers 1978;46:677-793.  Back to cited text no. 12
Larson RW. The emergence of solitude as a constructive domain of experience in early adolescence. Child Dev 1997;68:80-93.  Back to cited text no. 13
Thomas V, Azmitia M. Motivation matters: Development and validation of the Motivation for Solitude Scale – Short Form (MSS-SF). J Adolesc 2019;70:33-42.  Back to cited text no. 14
Winnicot DW. The capacity to be alone. Int J Psychoanal 1958;39:416-20.  Back to cited text no. 15
Flaherty S, Sadler L. A review of attachment theory in the context of adolescent parenting. J Paediatr Health Care 2012;25:114-21.  Back to cited text no. 16
Wilson TD, Reinhard DA, Westgate EC, Gilbert DT, Ellerbeck N, Hahn C, et al. Social psychology. Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind. Science 2014;345:75-7.  Back to cited text no. 17
Freud S. General theory of neuroses: Fear and anxiety. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Pantiano Classics, London; 1920.  Back to cited text no. 18
Nguyen TT, Ryan RM, Deci EL. Solitude as an approach to affective self-regulation. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2018;44:92-106.  Back to cited text no. 19
Teo AR, Gaw AC. Hikikomori, a Japanese culture-bound syndrome of social withdrawal?: A proposal for DSM-5. J Nerv Ment Dis 2010;198:444-9.  Back to cited text no. 20
Rubin K, Barstead M. Social withdrawal and solitude. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Lifespan Human Development. Thousand Oaks, Sage; 2018. p. 2101-3.  Back to cited text no. 21
Tiwari SC. Loneliness: A disease? Indian J Psychiatry 2013;55:320-2.  Back to cited text no. 22
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  In this article
Reduction in Burnout
Enhanced Product...
Improved Interpe...
Indulging in Empathy
Improved Self-vi...
Improving Self a...
Cognitive Stimul...
Evaluation of Em...
Developing Self-...
Practicing Solitude
A Double-edged Sword

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