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From Lockdown to Lockdown: What It Does To Us – and What We Can Do About It

Forced closures, uncertainty and completely altered living conditions: How can we cope with the coronavirus measures? In terms of work and business but also with regard to well-loved rituals – from children’s birthdays to carnival. Dr Günter Klug, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, offers some answers.

Doz Dr Klug, the current situation is weighing heavily on many people, partly because there is no real end in sight.  New measures are usually implemented for the short term. How can we cope with this uncertainty?

First, it needs to be clear: not everything is uncertain! So divide the mountain into smaller heaps. People tend to say that everything is getting away from them. But even in the current overall situation, there are still things that are stable. That may be a relationship, contact with children, even a job. Looking particularly at these areas can offer support. Then there are areas that are unstable but where I can still manage alone. And in the other areas, it helps to talk about it. For these, we can seek out conversation partners with whom we find it easy to discuss certain topics. After all, it’s not as if I’m the only person who has this problem. These conversations can be a relief, not only to me but also to the person I speak to. So together we can create a little bit of mutual security – just by supporting each other, even though we may not be able to change the situation. We can build security by thinking things through together.

The pandemic is interfering with our lives in significant ways. How can you deal with this type of external determination, for example if you are affected by forced closures?


Yes, this ‘other-determination’ is certainly also making people angry. And there are plenty of constraints at the moment. Think of the opposite case, when people must work despite illness and without holiday – healthcare workers, for example. Or single parents who are working from home and managing home schooling at the same time. There is immense pressure there. The important thing is for people to celebrate their self-determination, even if it’s only in the tiny things. Even if my shop is closed or if I have to work like mad, there are quite a few things that I can decide for myself. This is where the focus should be: I still control a large part of my life myself.

What can we do with the anger that you mentioned?

The question is: where do I invest my energy? This is essential, especially for business owners who are naturally worrying about their very existence. They can invest their energy in anger about the constant closing and reopening. But, rather than directing the energy and aggression that arises into battle, it is probably more sensible – if possible – to channel it into creativity. In other words, to think about what you can do. I believe that creative people, thanks to this self-determination and their ability to find something that lets them deal with at least part of the problem, are coming through this time better.
Home work and home schooling – and also the situation for the self-employed, who are having to fulfil ever more requirements in their businesses. What can I do when I’m thinking, ‘It’s all too much – I’m going to pieces’?

Mental breakdown can take various forms. When it’s depression and anxiety, then it’s best to do something for yourself. Whether that means taking a bath, going on a woodland walk or listening to music depends very much on the individual. But when I realise I’m about to explode, I have to get moving in order to break down the aggression. And it might be advisable to do this alone. On the other hand, if I’m feeling helpless, it’s probably better to go for a walk with a person I trust and with whom I can talk. So it depends a great deal on the situation. It is important for people who live completely alone in lockdown to maintain their telephone contacts. They should set out fixed times of day for these calls. The advantage of this is that it gives you something to look forward to a couple of hours beforehand and lifts your mood. And it is something reliable. Ideally, you would also have people to contact anytime you’re thinking ‘I can’t take this anymore’. And there are blogs, for example at www.erstehilfefuerdieseele.at, with tips to help you get through these times. Things like that can also help.
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Many well-loved customs are being dropped because of the pandemic. From children’s birthdays to wedding celebrations, everything is being done differently or called off altogether. Do you have any advice for dealing with that?

Children and young people are another matter entirely. They are being affected very severely at the moment – young children more because of their overburdened parents, while teens are experiencing impacts such as the consequences for the school system. With regard to festivities, it works best to say, ‘Let’s have a fun and creative celebration within the family now and catch up on the big party with friends later.’ Funerals are particularly difficult as there is no making up for them later. They need to be done in a personal way, with a certain depth.

I believe that creative people are coming through this time better.

Dr. Günter Klug
Many social customs are also nigh on impossible, such as New Year’s Eve, Carnival or St Patrick’s Day. What strategies can you recommend here to stave off despair?

Well, these customs are usually very old and in the times that they originate from, large events rarely took place. So one option could be to go back to the origins. That can be exciting because a custom has perhaps taken on quite a different significance or style. The rituals that we connect with these feast days also play a big role, and we can get through many uncertainties by keeping up particular rituals with friends or relatives. I know young people who have celebrated ‘together’, each in front of their own screen – and they had quite a party. But it depends a lot on what you have experienced. At a certain age, when I have experienced something quite often, I can bear its occasional cancellation quite well. It makes me look forward to it even more the next time. This is the same for holidays as it is for Carnival. But for an 18-year-old without much experience under his belt, it is of course more difficult.
So, when lockdown finally comes to an end, the big party will probably start.

That will be an intense time, because there will also be people who will have kept completely withdrawn until then. We will have to take particular care of them. Friends, relatives and also the support systems will be called on to give these people some help to make a start.

You mean if I hear noticeably less from someone in my circle of friends, it is better to check on them more?

Exactly. Extending an invitation and saying ‘Come on, let’s go out together’ helps for a lot of people. Those who have withdrawn too far by then may need professional help. This isn’t just a future possibility but has already begun and is increasing. It is relatively well researched that psychiatric problems do not arise so much during the crisis but usually only afterwards, when ‘normal life’ resumes. I believe that is when there will be a great need for support.

If I need professional help, will I notice it myself?

Some people know. For others it is not clear, and some people are ashamed. If someone speaks to you in confidence and you can tell that the issue goes beyond the possibilities of conversational intervention, it is a good idea to talk about where professional options can be found. It often makes this step easier if a trusted person suggests this or even goes along. Many people will need that. You can’t go wrong by saying ‘I’m worried about you’.

What’s your general advice to ward off the ‘coronavirus blues’?

Reach out and make contact, whether by phone or virtually. When things get tough, take time for yourself. And give yourself permission to do that – leave the family be for a couple of hours and take yourself off. If I’m working too much, I should set myself clear limits: today I’ll stop at 4 pm and watch crime shows or whatever does me good. And talking with people you like is always helpful.

About ... PDoz Dr Günter Klug

Doz Dr Günter Klug is a specialist in psychiatry and neurology and, since 1997, a registered psychotherapist. Klug has worked in psychosocial care for 30 years. He is President of pro mente Austria, the Austrian umbrella organisation for associations and societies for psychiatric and social health, Chairman of Psychosozialen Dienste Steiermark (Styria Psychosocial Services) and Medical Director of Gesellschaft zur Förderung seelischer Gesundheit GmbH (Society for the Promotion of Mental Health).

© Photo Credit: Günter Klug


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