Charlene Hughes recently spoke to Dr Tara Rado, found of Psychologia, about the impact of the covid-19 lockdown on families. The Court of Protection team works with Dr Rado in the course of helping their clients.
What is my role?
I am a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and the founder of Psychologia Ltd which specialises in providing neuropsychological rehabilitation for people who have brain injuries.
What is a typical day like for me?
A typical day during lockdown, involves lots of meetings using videoconferencing. Some of the meetings are with our clients and their families and some are with the other professionals who work with me in teams. I try to spend time everyday reading new research papers and keeping abreast of research about COVID-19 and any new approaches to help our clients and their families. We have also been spending time developing resources that have psychological benefit, such as relaxation podcasts, activity-scheduling calendars and rehabilitation booklets.
What do you like most about your job?
The most rewarding parts of my job are being able to build trusting relationships with clients and their families and guide them in their rehabilitation journey. I feel very lucky to have a career that has allowed me a lifetime of learning. I am a neuroscientist at heart and I have spent the last twenty years enjoying trying to understand the neurobiological mechanisms that drive how we think, feel and behave. All our states of mind come from the brain and the body.
How has COVID-19 affected you?
At the beginning of lockdown we stopped all in person meetings and started getting to grips with using technology to keep up contact. I have a great team of psychologists. We made a commitment during the early stages to help our clients and their families navigate the uncertain times and create opportunities for personal growth and positive rehabilitation outcomes. This meant that we worked with each of our clients differently and created rehabilitation programmes that were specifically designed to improve their quality of life and enhance their day to day experience.
The psychological impact of lockdown on families
Groups of people in the UK have experienced lockdown and the easing of lockdown very differently depending on their situation.
One thing that most people will agree on is that lockdown has created disruption to their everyday routine. People are having to adjust to the threat COVID-19 poses on health and the economy, the potential loss of a job, the lack of social contact and huge changes with home life.
The psychological impact of COVID-19 on an individual level can result in anxiety, loss of motivation, burn-out and stress, which can be amplified within the family unit.
Families have had to rapidly adjust to their new schedules, uncertainty about the future, lack of personal space and reduced autonomy, which is stressful and tensions can rise leading to more arguments and ruptures.
With the closure of schools, primary caregivers had to take on the responsibility of education, on top of what might be an already stressful change to their own work routine, whether that is having to work from home or coming to terms with losing their job.
Young children often require more attention and reassurance during these times with parents having to exert more effort into entertaining them within the home. Older children may struggle more with the effects of social isolation and pre-existing mental health conditions can be exacerbated. Whereas before COVID-19, an outlet for stress may have been to leave the house and enjoy activities with friends, lockdown has prevented many from using their former coping strategies, leading to psychological distress. This may result in an increase in arguments at home, more aggressive behaviour towards family members and in the worst-case scenarios an increase in abuse.
On the other hand, with all the stress that lockdown can bring to families, it may also provide a time for families to bond more than they usually would and offer an opportunity for growth and connectedness. Many families who found themselves rushed off their feet before lockdown, may have taken the opportunity to use lockdown as a time to slow down and spend quality time together. The psychological impact that this will have on future familial relationship will be a positive one and may have taught families that they can rely on each other in times of hardship.
We help our client’s and their families to build resilience, the ability to endure and bounce back from adversity. Everyone can build their resilience. It relies on recognising your own emotions and those around you, adopting optimistic thinking patterns and good problem solving skills. These things sound simple but can be pretty difficult to achieve, particularly as it is often hard to take good care of ourselves during times of stress.
Sleep and exercise are vital parts of our health and well-being. During sleep our brains reset neural circuits and replenish, this process is important in setting us up to cope with stress. Exercise also helps our brains and bodies regulate our states of mind and stimulates growth of new connections in the brain. Sticking to a routine and setting up systems in your day to incorporate times of relaxation, exercise and sleep really helps to build resilience.
Finally, it may be comforting to know that learning how to control our state of mind helps alleviate suffering. Shifting our thoughts from what appears wrong or missing in our lives towards what we are most grateful for has been shown to really make a difference if we do it regularly. Setting up systems in your day to improve your day to day experience is a great thing to do. Systems are patterns of behaviour that we do every or most days to improve our odds of having a good outcome. For example, learning a new skill or joining a voluntary organisation. We don’t need to predict the outcome, but sticking with the systems that you build into your life will lead to opportunities and experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise know existed. I hope that the changes we have experienced during the pandemic have created opportunities to think about some of these things which otherwise we maybe would not have considered.