Learning to love our lives under lockdown

Surprise benefits: four key areas of improvement that have emerged during lockdowns.

Can occasional lockdowns be good for us? Being confined to our homes by the pandemic has been a frustrating experience for many – but it has also produced some unexpected benefits.

The student woke with a start. 7:30! She should have been on the go for an hour by now – getting her disabled mother up, making breakfast for her and her little brother, putting him on the bus to school. He would be late for assembly; she would have to stand for the whole of her train journey to college, and miss her first lecture. Help!

Then she realised: there was a lockdown. None of them had to go anywhere. With a sigh of relief, she turned over and went back to sleep.

Now that many countries have experienced at least two lockdowns, the prospect of yet another brings a collective groan. The challenges for schools, businesses and human relationships are enormous. But some people have nevertheless managed to find a silver lining.

The environment: With fewer of us travelling by car and aeroplane, and many factories closed, carbon emissions have dropped considerably: China’s Draconian lockdown saw them fall by a quarter. There have been reports from all around the world of less polluted air, cleaner rivers and animals reclaiming territory from which they were driven by humans.

Health: Since taking exercise is one of the few legitimate reasons for leaving the house, people are making the most of it. Studies have shown that walking for even 30 minutes a day boosts the immune system and reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 19%. With more time to prepare food, people are eating better. They are also getting more sleep: in US cities, the average per night has increased by 17 minutes.

Spare time: We have long been used to living at a frenetic pace, rushing from one place to another. Lockdowns have given us the chance to slow down, think about what really matters, and devote ourselves to activities we would otherwise struggle to fit in, from reading long books to exploring new hobbies.

Family life: Being confined to home has given families – particularly those in which the parents work long hours – a greater opportunity to do things together, from cooking to playing games and watching TV. Zoom calls can re-establish contact with relatives who live far away. Pets which may have been neglected are now receiving more attention, and in turn helping to de-stress their owners.

Social responsibility: Lockdowns have brought communities closer together, and encouraged people to think about their neighbours’ wellbeing. They have also brought greater appreciation of those doing vital jobs, from health workers to shop staff and bus drivers. When the British government asked for 250,000 National Health Service volunteers, it received 750,000 replies. In the UAE, a buddy system has been set up to give both practical support and psychological help, as well as legal and career advice.

Can occasional lockdowns be good for us?

Inside story

Some people say, no: when you factor in the damage to the economy, education and mental health, they do more harm than good. What may be tolerable to people in comfortable homes with plenty of living space and good internet access is misery for those stuck in cramped conditions with family they do not get on with, worrying whether they are going to have enough to eat.

Others argue that what we most lack in the modern world are opportunities to stop and appreciate what we have around us. Lockdowns help us realise how lucky we are in terms of family, friends and neighbours, and where we live. The fall in road and air traffic allows us to enjoy peace and quiet and a less polluted environment – and, even more importantly, gives the planet a chance to breathe.

You Decide

  1. What has been the most positive thing about lockdown life for you?
  2. Many societies have believed in having at least one day a week on which nobody works and businesses and shops are closed. Would that be better than the 24/7 economy that is now the norm?

Activities

  1. Draw a picture of the view from your window.
  2. Write a story about two people who fall in love via Zoom.

Some People Say...

“It is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues… are created, strengthened and maintained.”

Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), British politician

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that poor people have suffered disproportionately as a result of lockdowns. A new survey shows that families with healthy incomes have actually come out richer than they were before, because their spending on things like holidays has been reduced. Rail commuters have been spared the cost of expensive season tickets by working from home. But many workers who were already badly paid have been furloughed or lost their jobs, and have had to use up their savings to survive.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether there should be lockdowns at all. Some politicians argue that for a government to force people to stay at home is an abuse of civil liberties, and that all that is needed is for people to behave responsibly. But most scientists see lockdowns as the only way to control the pandemic, and there have been enough examples of people organising illegal gatherings to indicate that the public cannot always be relied upon to act sensibly.

Word Watch

Collective
Shared by a number of people. As a noun, it means a business or organisation owned and controlled by the people who work in it.
Silver lining
“Every cloud has a silver lining” is a traditional saying. In Milton’s masque Comus, a lady lost in a wood sees “A sable cloud/Turn forth its silver lining to the night.”
Draconian
Very strict. Draco was a lawyer who drew up the first written laws for Athens in the 7th Century BC. They included severe punishments for minor offences – for example, slavery for getting into debt.
Coronary heart disease
A condition in which the build-up of fatty substances in the arteries narrows them and reduces the flow of blood to the heart.
Frenetic
Frantic or crazy. It derives from a Greek word for delirium.
De-stress
Research has shown that interaction with a pet can reduce blood pressure.
UAE
The United Arab Emirates. A country in the Middle East consisting of a federation of seven states. Its capital is Abu Dhabi.

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