Lockdown and fear for the future

Fear, happiness, hope and dejection. Nada Kakabadse, Professor of Marketing and Reputation at Henley Business School, calls 10 friends and acquaintances for a snapshot chat on how people are coping with lockdown.

Even before Covid-19 the UK, Australia and Canada were concerned about the impacts of loneliness and social isolation, especially amongst the elderly. In 2018 the UK government created a Minister for Loneliness to examine the adverse effects and experiences caused by social isolation and loneliness, two distinctly separate conditions.

To be clear, social isolation is defined by low, or non-existent, levels of social participation, relationships and support networks. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a subjective experience existing somewhere between desired and actual levels of social interaction. It can also incorporate feelings of being alone, even when near others.

Many of us are currently experiencing extraordinary levels of social isolation and loneliness during the Coronavirus-driven lockdown, but viewpoints vary wildly depending upon individuals’ circumstances and outlook.

This has been brought into sharp relief for me after speaking to just a small sample of friends and acquaintances over recent weeks about their own feelings and thoughts, with comments including:

  • “I always thought that I loved being at home and would have plenty to keep me busy. But it’s different when you have to be here all the time.”
  • “It’s been six weeks, and I’m more concerned about the damage to my mental and physical health as a result of prolonged isolation. I like to think I’m of sound mind, but I’m going crazy.”

For those of us who live with other family members, having conversations and sharing silences, the situation tends to be viewed as more tolerable:

  • “Life is a little surreal in current circumstances. Working from home and being with my family 24/7 was something I’d only dreamt about previously. Now I see it has its ups and downs. I miss ordinary things like popping around the corner for my morning coffee.”

For those who live alone, the consequences of loneliness can be quite different:

  • “Loneliness is the most frightening disease. If you’ve ever experienced depression, then multiply that by a couple more times, and you’ll begin to understand loneliness.”

In stark contrast, others seem to be enjoying their time at home and have little awareness of a potential downside:

  • “I don’t understand those who are feeling lonely or bored and keep sending out emails at any time, including weekends, about random issues that are mostly insignificant. I wish there was a sensitive way to tell them ‘enough, get a life’!”

Still more offer a reflective approach:

  • “It’s an unusual situation, but it won’t last forever. Some of us will end up with a new skill, or at least a fresh perspective about our personal and professional relationships.”

Further contributions reference enforced isolation, uncertainty and economic turmoil in fearful terms:

  • “When will things get back to normal and what will that new normal look like?”
  • “The world will come through this health crisis, but how long it will take to recover from the recession that follows?”
  • “I’m working from home, educating my two children and going out to queue for food. But my bigger problem is the question of when this is all over, will I still have a job?”

Despite the State providing varied levels of financial support for essential services, the employed, unemployed, those in the gig-economy and the homeless, many businesses and much of the public remain deeply concerned about their declining income and future prospects.

  • “If the lockdown continues, another six million self-employed people and I will be on the street.”

In the words of Italian political theorist, Antonio Gormisky: “The old is dying, and the new cannot be born.”

Global restructuring is taking place, and new perspectives on society are already beginning to form. International supply chains are being repositioned, while national debt and controls of national resources by the State are increasing. Out of all of this, fresh structures will begin to emerge, but this is too little, too late for the many who will be left emotionally and economically destitute by this transformation.

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