The closure of most businesses and the requirement to stay at home have affected millions of people all across the UK. Adapting to new ways of working, schooling and living has been a steep learning curve for many of us.
Psychotherapist Michelle Scott has coined the term ‘empty shelf syndrome’ to describe the feelings we are experiencing in light of the sudden shift in our lifestyles. All the things we’d been looking forward to or expecting to happen, such as festivals, birthday celebrations or holidays, have now been taken away and replaced with a feeling of uncertainty.
“It’s that idea that now we’re all suddenly being deprived of things, we’re beginning to realise how dependent on them we were,” Scott explains. “It’s about our need to have things which make us feel human and safe and connected.”
So, what have several weeks of lockdown taught us about the unexpected things we are missing?
- Watching TV as normal
We’re all used to sitting down to watch something on the TV and being warned about bad language or violence. Now, though, watching TV can be stressful if the shows we love have been recorded prior to the introduction of social distancing guidelines.
While announcers are reassuring us that shows were recorded prior to the lockdown, it feels as if TV shows now need to come with different warnings:
- “Contains two people in close proximity”
- “Contains a scene of two people shaking hands”
- “Contains scenes where someone touches their face”
It’s become hard to concentrate on certain shows in light of what we are going through, so it will be great when we can just relax and watch the programmes we love without feeling anxious.
- Eating spontaneously
If you have been to a supermarket in recent weeks you will be familiar with the limited choice that often faces you. Shelves of common goods have been empty, while even online delivery doesn’t guarantee you’ll receive the chopped tomatoes or penne that you ordered.
What this has meant is that planning meals has become akin to a military operation. No sooner have you eaten an evening meal than you are having to plan what your family will eat tomorrow.
Deciding what to eat spontaneously has become extremely risky, unless you have a very well-stocked store cupboard, or you know there isn’t going to be a three-hour wait at your local takeaway.
- Being unavailable
One of the downsides of being in the house all day, every day is that everyone knows where you are all the time. You can no longer claim you couldn’t get a mobile signal, that your phone battery is low, or that you were ‘literally just rushing out’.
It means that it’s not really possible to be unavailable anymore, meaning you potentially are even busier than you would normally be trying to work from home while schooling your children and nursing ill relatives.
- The weekend
When you are spending every day at home, they do tend to blur into one. It has never been more difficult to immediately identify which day of the week it is (except, perhaps, over the Christmas holidays) and so the weekends have all but disappeared.
If you work during the week, then perhaps your weekends can now be identified by the fact you don’t have to respond to emails or speak to clients. Otherwise, Saturdays are now the new Wednesday.
- Our colleagues
Many people enjoy working from home. There can be fewer distractions, and it’s possible to be extremely productive as you complete all your tasks without interruption.
However, unless you live with someone who is also a colleague, you might be surprised how much you miss being in the office environment.
Sure, the commute can be a pain and there are times when you just need a bit of peace and quiet while you are trying to work. But colleagues sharing stories and anecdotes is what makes much of our work bearable and while there are probably people you don’t miss, not being around your colleagues is probably more difficult than you expected. Video calls are just not the same.
If you’ve been to a large supermarket in recent weeks you have probably queued to get in and then followed a fixed route around the store. The aim is to buy your essentials, keep your distance, and get home as quickly as you can.
With most shops closed, and the ones that are open purely there to serve functional needs, browsing has all but disappeared. Window shopping is out (stay at home, everyone!) and idly pottering about your city centre looking at clothes, gadgets and shoes that you have little intention of buying is also temporarily suspended.
You may have a fancy espresso machine at home. And, your kettle may be working overtime. However, there’s something different about grabbing your usual soy latte on the way into the office, or popping out during your lunch hour for a muffin and a cappuccino.
As psychotherapist Michelle Scott says, when we grow up and move away from childhood symbols of comfort – a blanket or a favourite toy – it’s natural for us to become attached to other objects and routines – such as a morning coffee or daily trip to the shop.
However, when these symbols of safety and normality are taken from us – by a global pandemic, for example – we lose that sense of control, so we try and re-establish that sense of security in any way possible.