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People who have never suffered from anxiety are falling under the weight of tension and stress that the coronavirus has spread in their wake, haunted by an excessively long confinement. Mothers’ mental health, especially, could be taking the worst part in this story. Drowned by days of teleworking at home and with children to look after without any external support, their effort has been so titanic that it is understandable that they are exhausted, practically on the verge of nervous breakdown.
Mental health of quarantined mothers’ suffers
A study carried out at the University of the Basque Country has highlighted the consequences of the coronavirus crisis on mothers’ mental health. After interviewing 6,829 people, 46% acknowledged experiencing an increase in general psychological distress, but women reported a greater impact: 12% said they had felt very bad, compared to 6.8% of men.
One of three people had difficulty concentrating and disconnecting from worries during the pandemic, but these symptoms have been more common in women (46.5%) than men (35.6%).
The gap widens when it comes to anxiety or distress crisis as 44% of women have experienced an increase in these problems, compared to 25% of men. Depressive feelings, guilt or hopelessness are also more intense in women. And it is them who suffered the most intense loss of confidence, optimism, serenity, vitality and energy.
Crushed by the weight of the obligations and without a possible escape
The fears, anxieties and uncertainty of the current situation have become fertile ground on which other problems grow. Suddenly, many women had to reconcile work from home with household chores and full-time childcare, which added an extra dose of stress, worry and obligation to their lives.
At the beginning many thought that it would be a matter of adapting to the new situation. Trying to solve it. Fitting all the pieces together as if it were a puzzle. Finding creative strategies for working with children at home. Getting up a little earlier in the morning. Going to bed a little later at night.
However, when that situation lengthens over time, when we spend more ours asleep and we lack the external support and infrastructure necessary to work from home knowing that the children are well cared for, anguish grows. It accumulates.
Many of these mothers have lost the invaluable help of grandparents or the livelihood of the schools themselves for childcare. Not only they had to face highly demanding days, but they have not even had the opportunity to disconnect. They haven’t been able to relax for a second, for weeks. They have not had time for themselves. They have not been able to perform pleasant activities that allow them to disconnect from the daily routine and relieve tensions.
When that overload is sustained for a long time, soon appear anxiety and stress. That ends up taking its toll on their mood. Irritability, frustration and anger appear. Anything unnerves them. At this point, mothers’ mental health has already become unbalanced.
An over-performance is always followed by a brutal fall
We cannot pretend too much from ourselves forever. Our body responds to an increase in the demands of the environment by recruiting all its resources so that we can face problems. During periods of stress the body releases key hormones – glucocorticoids like cortisol, catecholamines like norepinephrine and adrenaline – to prepare us to face what’s next.
Those hormones not only give us the necessary energy and drive, but they can even act as mitigators of pain so that we continue resisting. But we cannot maintain that level of alertness and performance forever.
After a period of great stress and tension, it follows a brutal drop in our performance. We run out of strength physically and mentally. The hormones that kept us active drop below basal levels. So many mothers are now going through a phase of apathy and indifference that is the perfect breeding ground for depression.
To overcome this stage we need to take time, be patient with ourselves. Leave behind that feeling that “we can’t do everything” or “we have not done enough.” Because it is likely that we will not do everything, but it is not essential either. We are going through an emergency situation, so we need to prioritize. And one of the things that we must prioritize is precisely our mental health.
Balluerka, N. et. Al. (2020) Las consecuencias psicológicas de la COVID-19 y el confinamiento. In: MICINN.