Phase 2 and end of the lockdown: considerations on the psychological aspects
This contribution was written before the start of Phase 2 related to the Covid-19 emergency
The current trend of the Covid-19 epidemic leads institutional subjects and citizens to question how to manage the start of phase 2, scheduled for May 4th, and the long-awaited end of the lockdown
Advertising message Little is known about the recovery and, for now, it is only possible to go into more or less realistic forecasts, but it seems clear that until the creation of a vaccine or effective therapy the idea of prudence will be at the center of our days . Given the many uncertainties, it is natural to ask what the elements characterizing the gradual and expected return to life will be on a psychological level.
If to date we have known the emotions of isolation, albeit interspersed with quick exits to the outside world, we will soon find out what it means to live with the epidemic and, probably, we will see that the inside / outside boundary marked by the front door will be increasingly nuanced. During the lockdown we experienced the emptiness, the boredom up close, we experienced a coexistence not interspersed with work or extra-family activities, in a situation that acted as a sounding board for unpleasant emotions. All in all, however, we enjoyed a certain sense of security. With Phase 2, however, the dominant emotional experience could be different.
We start from fear, the emotion experienced in relation to a threat to safety, which stimulates a state of psychological and physical activation functional to the defensive response. This state of activation is fundamental, because it allows to maintain a high level of attention, a better alertness of the muscles, less perception of pain and so on (D’urso and Trentin, 2007). But it is a state of tension tiring enough to maintain for too long and fortunately, once the threat has passed, the danger has escaped, the body undergoes a gradual relaxation (Plutchick, 1994). It is the feeling of relief that, for example, in this period we felt on returning home, finally putting down the shield and getting rid of the annoying masks.
If fear is experienced in relation to a threat, in this historical moment the main one is represented by the new coronavirus, which plays the role of the other, indiscriminately: the passer-by, the colleague, the spouse. It is a difficult threat to confine because the so-called danger signals are missing, those elements that allow our brain to understand when to pay attention and when, instead, to relax, with the risk of living in a constant state of emotional tension.
In the near future we will gradually return to tread the streets and, although we will avoid gatherings and handshakes, we will still be immersed in a more participatory social context, with more frequented cities in which it will be inevitable to establish a greater number of contacts. We will gain spaces of freedom at the expense of the perception of security. The more frequent passage between the outside world and the inside of our home will make it more difficult to delimit the danger and the house could lose its important function of “safe base”. If relations with the neighborhood have taken on a different color so far, we can expect something similar to happen in family relationships. What will it feel like to be a potential vehicle of contagion for your family? What will coughing in the room with children mean? Health workers are well aware of this and they were the first to experience a very difficult condition up close.
As with isolation, the possible emotions of this new way of living in the world bring to mind those characteristics of some psychopathologies. We think, for example, of somatic symptom disorders, of anxiety disorders, to arrive at the dimension of the constant suspicion of the paranoid personality (DSM 5, 2013). These are clinical conditions, but we can imagine that not knowing that you are healthy or sick can make even the reassuring boundaries between health and psychic pathology even more nuanced, precisely because of the greater exposure to anxiety and emotional imbalances.
Advertising message In this difficult adaptation to which we are all called, will social distancing, masks and hand washing be enough to protect – intra and extrapsychic – spaces of safety? Perhaps, now more than ever, it will be essential to strive to maintain a certain centering, keeping in mind the limit beyond which prudence borders on the territory of anxiety, which can lead to attitudes that are not very useful to protect themselves from infection. Some have used the term resilience, which will surely continue to be developed.
In conclusion, if up to now we have become familiar with the experiences of safe isolation, we may soon be confronted with new forms of malaise to which it will be necessary to give adequate answers. These issues once again focus on the need to pay more attention to the psychological needs of citizens, abandoning the artificial distinction between body health and mental health.