Emotional Ups and Downs during Confinement Are Quite Normal

May 27, 2020
Emotional ups and downs during confinement are completely normal. We must understand that, in the current circumstances, it's impossible to be OK 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Emotional ups and downs during confinement are common and recurrent. Many people experience mood changes throughout the day. They go from feeling motivated to feeling despondent. They change from a feeling of calm to experiencing an anguish that seems to churn up their stomach and bring all sorts of negative thoughts.

This is totally normal. However, you shouldn’t fuel all this negativity by starting to ask yourself if you’re suffering from some sort of disorder, such as bipolar disorder. This psychological condition goes far beyond these emotional changes.

What’s happening to us all, broadly speaking, is that we’re being exposed to a completely unknown situation. It’s an unforeseen scenario in which the brain, body, and emotions are all reacting together at the same time. Thus, quite naturally, we should expect some of these emotional reactions.

Although this may surprise you, this context isn’t new for certain people. Ask an astronaut and they’ll tell you what confinement is. So will inmates who spend months and years locked up in jail.

Also, some children with immune diseases live a good part of their lives locked up at home. And, finally, let’s not forget researchers who can spend months on end in closed stations in places like Antarctica.

Lawrence Palinkas of the University of Southern California is an expert who researches issues such as this one. His studies on psychosocial adaptation in extreme environments provide us with relevant data in order to understand what we’re experiencing right now.

Confinement has a high psychological impact on human beings and it starts to become especially noticeable after 15 to 20 days. This is when we suffer most from emotional ups and downs. Let’s analyze this below.

A sad woman.

Emotional ups and downs during confinement

It’s easy to get up in the morning and start feeling discouraged. As soon as you open your eyes to a new day, you can experience temporary disorientation. For a few seconds, you don’t know what day it is, and then, boom! Your mind remembers everything… the pandemic, the confinement, the physical and social isolation, and the uncertainty regarding when your life will go back to normal.

When you’re having breakfast, you usually exchange your first words with family and friends. You think about what you’re going to do today and that injects you with some much-needed energy and motivation.

However, after a few hours, and for no particular reason, a fog seems to appear that makes everything opaque and blurred. Your motivation starts to fade and sadness blurs everything. Why does this happen to you? Are you, perhaps, developing some sort of mental health problem?

Let’s delve deeper into this to discover why these emotional ups and downs occur during confinement.

Even if you want to be, you’re not going to be okay the entire time

It doesn’t matter if you have stimulating activities in your daily routine. It doesn’t matter if you’re one of those optimistic people who always has words of encouragement for yourself and others.

All of us, without exception, are going to experience some emotional ups and downs during this time. Trying to be okay and positive 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is an illusion. Therefore, even though this will sound somewhat discouraging, you’re going to have to cope with your negative emotions for a while. They’re going to be like uncomfortable and unwanted roommates who will visit you from time to time and who you’ll have to accept and understand.

Don’t try to force other emotions on yourself

When you feel discouraged or frustrated, don’t avoid these emotions. Don’t obsess yourself with getting rid of them and trying to be cheerful. The emotional world doesn’t work this way. The emotional ups and downs during confinement are also an escape valve for the brain, as this social organ needs the everyday life it used to have.

When you perceive a change as drastic as the one we’re all experiencing, a warning appears in your brain. This turns into stress and fear – emotions regulated by your cerebral amygdala. Therefore, when these emotions appear, it’s impossible to change them for others.

What should you do then? First of all, accept them, and, above all, say to yourself: “Feeling this way is normal, it’s a new and unexpected situation. The only thing I have to try to do is ensure that this negative emotion doesn’t take control. I accept it, I understand it, and I let it go”.

A man listening to music.

Look for “channels” to achieve mental calmness

Everyone is experiencing emotional ups and downs during confinement. However, certain types of people are much more vulnerable to these emotional processes.

Anyone who has experienced depression or who suffers from another type of psychological disorder or mental health problem will have greater problems trying to regulate those states. Therefore, it’s important for psychological, medical, and social support to be available for these people.

So, if we leave aside these more exceptional situations, in most cases, as we’ve been pointing out, emotional ups and downs are completely normal and you can handle them.

Steps to take to cope with your emotional ups and downs

  • You must understand that, rather than classifying them as either negative or positive emotions, or as right or wrong, you should know what to do with those emotions. It’s clear that you can’t be well and productive 100% of the time but you can be calm through it all.
  • One way to achieve this is to find channels to connect with yourself. Metaphorically speaking, it’s all about having your feet on the ground, your mind focused, and your heart balanced.
  • Thus, activities such as talking to relatives or friends who can help you vent your emotions are always helpful. As is spending your time on creative tasks that relax you, such as cooking, painting, doing crafts, or writing.

You shouldn’t be overly concerned about being productive at this time. Remember that it’s time to take care of yourself, and, to some extent, be in survival mode. In order to achieve this, you’ll need to understand the wide range of emotions that you can experience throughout the day. Doing so will allow you to successfully overcome this difficult situation!

  • Palinkas. L Effects of Prolongea Isolation in Extreme Environments on Stress, Coping, and Depression. Journal of applied social psychology Volume 25, Issue 7 April 1995. Pages 557-576 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1995.tb01599.x