Why the lockdown may cause anxiety or depression, and how to feel better

Robert Labayen

Posted at May 06 2020 10:36 AM

Since the global lockdown began, some people have been waking up with a bad feeling they can’t explain. I was one of them.

For me, the acid in my stomach can now be explained by a dual reality that split my brain. One part reassured, "This feels like a normal day." The other half protested, “Nothing is normal today! The world has come to a grinding halt.”

The feeling was more disconcerting as I admitted that this is the first time it's happened in all my 59 years. So, we all ask, “Is it getting better or is the worst yet to come?”

Fear leads to the secretion of cortisol and adrenaline, the brain chemicals that put the body on defensive mode. When not displaced, these hormones give us a bad feeling during the day. Over time, they cause stress.

Cities, crowds and stress

Writing about mankind’s journey from the cramped cave to the sprawling metropolis, zoologist Desmond Morris wrote, “As a species, we were not biologically equipped to cope with a mass of strangers masquerading as members of our tribe.”

Morris described humans in a city to be like animals in a zoo. For relief, we crave for a white beach or a forest campsite away for it all. But this global lockdown is not like our usual weekend getaway. It’s a disruption, a sudden deprivation of office fun, cocktail parties, malls, Sunday masses, and maybe even sunshine in the park. Inside the home, we are advised to be at least three feet away from the nearest kin. The shock of it all may move the stress needle to the extreme end of the dial.

Isolated and unaware of what’s to come next, stress will continue to build up in us. We feel hostaged by a disease that feels more and more real as celebrities and people we know get infected. Denial becomes a weak defense. The next stage may be anxiety or depression.

Why we miss the mall

Humans are mammals. Our biology wants us to live with the herd. A warm body near us triggers the release of oxytocin, a brain hormone that makes us feel good. Oxytocin spikes during actual physical intimacy.

Oxytocin is responsible for the creation of the bond between lovers, between parent and child, among family members, among members of the same tribe, even among people with the same interests.

When we are stressed, we are unconsciously craving for that oxytocin fix from a non-sexual intimacy when we book ourselves for a massage, a facial, a manicure or a haircut. But these days, all spas and salons are closed! I have been told that women love to shop when stressed. I don’t want to argue with women but I know shopping releases the other feel-good hormones, serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is released when you feel special like being able to afford the things you like. Dopamine is secreted when you anticipate a reward like everything in your wish list. But the shops are closed, too!

Sociologist Emile Durkheim used the term “collective effervescence” to describe the high that people get from being in a religious ceremony, a concert or a sports game. But events are canceled!

Although many people swear they hate crowds, deep down we long for the herd. We are social animals, creatures who cannot live alone.

Protect your well-being

To feel better in the morning, I quickly shift my attention to things that make me feel grateful. Gratitude instantly raises happiness by 25%.

Multiple studies by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. confirmed that gratitude reduces depression. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology show that gratitude was a major contributor in overcoming trauma following the September 11 attacks.

It is the best time, too, to have happy conversations with family or anyone locked in with you. Another thing we can do is to reconnect with friends through social media. Oxytocin is also elevated by simply looking at pictures of people we love or like. Or dial a friend. Psychologist Paul J. Zak said that petting a dog helps in a big way, too.

Watch good TV or feel-good movies. Engaging in a hobby not only helps you forget the time, but achievements from another facet of your life also make you feel so good about yourself. A few minutes in the sun will enhance our mood. In fact, Serotonin levels are highest during summer. It also promotes good sleep.

May we all come out soon from our homes happier and healthier than when we locked in.

Read:

7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round by Amy Morin in Forbes website

Habits of a Happy Brain by Loretta Graziano Breuning

Intimate Behavior by Desmond Morris

Social Distancing Prevents Infections, But it Can Have Unintended Consequences by Greg Miller in the AAAS website

The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris

The Science of Positivity: Stop Negative Patterns By Changing your Brain Chemistry by Loretta Graziano Breuning

The Top 10 Ways to Boost Good Feelings by Paul J. Zak in Psychology Today website

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.