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How to cope with COVID-cancellations – a psychologist shares all

By Nikole Duong

Many of us have experienced the disappointment of a ‘COVID-cancellation’, be it the repeated rescheduled hair appointment, deleting yet another dinner reservation from the diary, or mourning that much-needed break to reunite and recharge with loved ones.  

More than 18 months into a global pandemic, the notion of a ‘COVID-cancellation’ isn’t new to us – so why are we experiencing them differently this time around? Melbourne-based psychologist Lauren Daniell succinctly sums it up and explains that the relentless lockdowns have resulted in many feeling demoralised, distressed and dispirited.

“People are mourning losses of autonomy, connections with family, friends and peers – this is typically referred to as ‘disenfranchised grief’, which is often not acknowledged or validated by societal norms.

“The Delta variant of COVID has put additional pressure on our capacity to cope; people are more worried about rolling lockdowns and their increasing frequency and impact. The fatigue from constant moving in and out of restrictions has contributed to burnout for many.”

Here, Lauren talks lockdown lethargy, getaway grief, and why you still need to schedule some leave…

Was booking a break this year the right thing to do?

So you took the risk and booked yourself a much-needed vacation, only to have it impacted by recent lockdowns. And now you’re questioning why you even scheduled it in the first place. The answer is: because it’s the right thing to do for you.

“Holidays are hugely beneficial – they give us something to look forward to, which has been very limited throughout this pandemic. A couple of recurring themes I often hear from clients are that ‘There’s no point in taking holidays, I can’t go anywhere’ or ‘I can’t call in sick, I work from home so I might as well push through’.

“I describe to my clients that we each have an emotional bank. Each day involves ‘top-ups’, such as holidays, exercising, socialising, self-care, healthy work boundaries, and ‘withdrawals’ such as stress, lack of sleep, holidays or social events being cancelled. Throughout the pandemic, and particularly due to the relentless lockdowns, the accumulation of ‘withdrawals’ from our own emotional banks has outweighed our deposits. This leaves us fatigued, depleted and in need of a break – and weekends don’t cut it either! We need sufficient time in between work and weekends to have our best chance to relax and recuperate.”

Also, while your annual summer jaunt to Europe may be off the table, that’s no reason to bank up all your holiday leave.

“We need to accept that overseas travel isn’t an option… Yet!” says Lauren. “So many of us never explore what’s in our own backyard because of the sense that it will always be there, and that we can do it anytime. Local discoveries still allow us to go somewhere new to explore, to fire up new pathways and connections in the brain, or to be somewhere cosy and familiar to provide soothing.”

If you’re fortunate enough to be living footloose and fancy-free from lockdown right now, schedule in a regional road trip or sojourn (Beach-hopping in WA! Wine-tasting in the Adelaide Hills!) If you’re not so lucky, the next question may resonate…

Esperance, WA

My trip has been COVID-cancelled. Why am I feeling like this?

Your opportunity for rest and respite has been revoked due to lockdown, which can bring up a range of emotions.

“Disappointment, devastation, grief, frustration, unfairness and uncertainty are the most recognisable emotions triggered by COVID-cancellations. Also overwhelm at the task of having to reschedule or cancel all the bookings that come with it.

“For others, a COVID-cancellation can provide immense relief – they no longer need to catch up with that group of people until next time, and this feeling of relief isn’t really talked about. Though this can trigger guilt and self-loathing because they felt relief in the first place,” Lauren explains.

However, there are measures we can implement when we’re reeling from yet another COVID-cancellation.

“Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t, and take each day as it comes – one day at a time. If it was a social COVID-cancellation, how else can you [connect] or contribute to the relationship? Do something kind for [the friend or family member] by dropping something off to them or ordering them something online. Doing this helps you to feel good too.

“Routines are also important to establish or re-establish, and it gives us a sense of security and structure, which is temporarily missing during a COVID-cancellation. Walk to grab that morning coffee, go for a daily run to keep your body moving and relieve frustration and irritability, and introduce practising daily gratitude – research has demonstrated that doing so improves our capacity to handle stress better and also re-wires the brain.”

Daintree Swimming Hole, Queensland

These COVID-cancellations are getting in the way. What’s the point of booking another break?

It’s understandable that many are feeling reluctant to book a holiday, fearing it will be cancelled by a lockdown. But while those flight and accommodation credits continue to accumulate, remember that you need to provide yourself with the opportunity to recharge and to build your ‘top-ups’, as refusing well-deserved respite can amplify ‘withdrawals’. It’s also important to acknowledge your mindset, as the stories we create for ourselves have a huge impact.

So, what are Lauren’s last words for those who feel emotionally broken from a COVID-cancellation?

“When you can, you need to book that break. If your holiday plans have become a COVID-cancellation, it’s key to tap into the reasons and need for a holiday in the first place. Challenge yourself to think of alternative options of things to do and discover – even if it’s closer to home or at home itself; try and look for the silver lining.

“A client of mine recently reflected on how disappointing it was that an interstate family holiday planned with friends was impacted by lockdowns, but that actually gave them an opportunity to go away just as a family, which then brought them closer together.”

About Lauren

With over 14 years’ experience, Lauren combines her care and compassion to teach her clients how to cope and thrive (rather than just survive) when life doesn’t go as planned.

Lauren is a Psychologist and Director for The Untangled Body and Mind – find more information here.

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