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  • Writer's pictureBruce O'Brien

Lockdown: Stockholm syndrome?

I live in Malaysia and we have been in lockdown since March 18th. In the days leading up to lockdown, when it was rumoured that we wouldn’t be able to move around so freely, I was in a panic. Would food be plentiful? What about healthcare And what would I actually do with myself? How bored would I become? I just didn’t know how I was going to get through!

Seven weeks on, and like many, I seem to have found a rhythm - all has been well. And then a week ago the first stages of relaxing the lockdown were announced: non-contact exercise would be allowed (running ok, swimming not strangely enough) and many shops and restaurants would open (with lots of social distancing measures of course). Firstly I was happy at the thought of getting out running and walking. I’ve been making do running in the carpark of my condo building, but there is a huge patch of jungle near me that I enjoy running around. Awesome! And then a creeping feeling of sadness and regret came over me: that this new life, which by the way is more than ok – I realise I love it now) might be over. And this floored me. I hadn’t noticed how I was experiencing lockdown until the prospect of it being removed loomed.


I’m a week into “relaxed lock down” and here’s what I’m learning: firstly, I love choice and I hate choice. As a coach, I understand the importance of choice and agency. What I hate about choice (I am discovering) is when there are too many choices! During lockdown, if I wanted to do something physical it was running in the car park, climbing the emergency stairs hundreds of times, or getting my yoga mat and doing a body weight work out. Now, in post-lockdown, I can add to that list going for a walk and going for a run; and then I have so many routes to choose from; then suddenly the weather becomes important - earlier is cooler, and afternoons it tends to rain (and I like running in the rain). Suddenly choosing what exercise to take has become more complicated. Similarly with meals: I have cooked every day since lockdown (and that’s no great chore to me) and now suddenly the idea of going out for dinner with friends that I’ve not seen for months is alluring; but then it impacts on my new lockdown routine of eating my main meal early afternoon, and two small meals for breakfast and dinner (which has resulted in losing quite a bit of weight and I want to keep going). And then I suddenly feel overwhelmed. I haven’t had to make any of these simple decisions for months. And I’ve been so happy. Different happy to my old happy, but nevertheless happy.

And so I’ve got to thinking what it is I want to retain from lockdown? Here’s my list:

Simplicity: I love not having so many choices. I love not doing so many different things. I’m struggling with how I will make this real, but it’s a watch word. Keep things simple

Mindfulness: this old chestnut I know…it’s used a lot. But I have been practising this (I had been before so it wasn’t a huge step). What this means is that I stop regularly throughout the day (especially if I have some unstructured time coming up) and reflect on what I want to do now. Not in an hour, but now. And sometimes it’s going and looking at the view from the roof; sometimes it’s reading; sometimes it’s exercise. And sometimes it’s the few other options available during lockdown. I guess this is where simplicity comes in. Easy to be mindful when there are only a few things to choose from.

Stay home: I’m really surprised at saying this, but I think I want to stay at home more. There are fewer distractions, less complexity here. And I end up spending my time in much more fulfilling ways (I’ve hardly been bored since lockdown and before was a whole other story)

Zoom: apart from wishing I had bought shares in Zoom three months ago, I mean seeing people on Zoom. Friends overseas (ok technically I am the one overseas for them) – but people I see on rare visits to the UK). We talk weekly now. And family – we now get together as one group.

Keep time: by which I mean keep time for me. Keep time for doing what I choose. Don’t arrive at Friday evening wondering where the week went. And I hope the same for my new Zoom friends. I would hate to think that these relationships that have been deepening during times of adversity would just be chucked in favour of whatever it was that used to eat our time (other than work of course).

So am I suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or something new – post-Corona enlightenment? I like to think the latter. And so as the world starts to unlock, I wonder what (apart from a vaccine) we can hope for in our new normal? Surely not the same as we used to have?

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