How to cope with the mental stress of France's lockdown

The author of a new book on how lockdown affects mental health says that structure can help give people back control

4 November 2020
By Thomas Brent

Confinement can lead to mental health issues for many people, making it more important than ever for people to build up a routine now that France is once again under lockdown, a French psychologist told The Connexion

Professor Nicolas Franck is the head of department at the Centre Hospitalier du Vintatier in Lyon and also the author of a newly published book, ‘Covid-19 et Détresse Psychologique’ (Covid-19 and psychological distress), based on research he carried out during the Spring lockdown in France.

“We observed a progressive decline in the mental well-being of the population as the weeks of lockdown progressed,” he said. 

He said that people living alone in smaller accommodation or people not working reported worse experiences of lockdown, adding that young people were particularly affected due to being cut off from a regular social life and possibly being left isolated in cities where they were studying. 

Tips for dealing with the lockdown

France is now once again under lockdown, set to last until at least December 1.

Prof Franck said there are a number of ways to help manage it and to maintain a healthy mental state.

The first thing is routine: “You have to structure your days to cope with confinement. This helps you regain control,” he said.

He also said it is important to have targets or objectives during the confinement period: "Something that allows you to take hold of the period more positively. This can be a leisure or artistic activity, or any other activity that everyone can do.

He said that both diet and exercise are vital: “It is important to continue regular physical exercise, which has a positive effect on the psyche.”

In France, the lockdown measures permit everyone to have one hour of outside exercise per day, within a one kilometre radius of their home.

France lockdown: Can we exercise as a couple or family?

He said that it was important for people to try as much as possible to keep up social interactions, through phone calls, video calls, emails, or other means. 

However, during lockdown people should equally try to avoid getting too attached to their phones. 

“Screen consumption increased significantly, with 15% of the population reporting that they had lost control of their screen time, which may indicate the onset of an addiction,” Prof Franck said.

In his book, he looks at situations where humans have had to experience extreme forms of confinement. One example is astronauts. He said that for them, structure is extremely important for coping with long periods of isolation in a small space.

However, he added that astronauts are highly trained and well prepared for periods of isolation, whereas the general public is not. 

Differences between first and second lockdown

The second lockdown will be more difficult for those who struggled with the first, Prof Franck said. For those who managed it well, they should manage it once again. 

At the beginning of the first lockdown in France, there were scenes of solidarity, with people singing on balconies and applauding health workers. 

The beginning of the second lockdown has a different tone. Shopkeepers, restaurant owners and other members of the public are protesting the closure of businesses and constraints on liberty.

“It is above all because the second confinement is less well accepted by the population because it comes in addition to the first one and because the economic crisis is taking hold,” Prof Franck said. 

The positive side of lockdown

There is also a positive side to lockdown, in that it can be an opportunity for people to reconsider their way of life with regards to food consumption and environmental effects.

“Consider consumption differently,” he said, suggesting we favour a less frenetic and more reasoned way of consuming foods.

“The same in terms of travel: this will lead us to give up many unnecessary and polluting journeys. In the end, rethinking our relationship with the world and our way of life will be beneficial for us and for the planet.”

Read more about the lockdown in France:

France Lockdown: Your FAQs on Covid-19 confinement rules

France lockdown: Three-quarters of TGV trains to be cut

France lockdown: The exemption forms you need

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