Coronavirus lockdown reveals the very best of us, as well as our ‘shadow side’

The pandemic can bring our nearest and dearest too close for comfort

For so long we’ve complained that we’re a time-poor society, starved of the opportunity to spend quality time with our children and partners – or to just be. Never did we imagine a pandemic would give us the chance to spend more time with our nearest and dearest than ever.

That same pandemic however, seems to have vastly lowered our tolerance for our co-habitants.

“She breathes too loud.”

“He types too loud.”


“He thinks he’s on holidays as a single man and not a father to three children.”

“He dishes out orders around the house as if he runs it.”

All just some of the niggling frustrations shared when I asked on social media about the challenges of life spent in constant close proximity to each other.

“My husband is a great big 6ft-plus hulk of a man and annoys the s**t out of me just by standing in the middle of my galley kitchen, blocking access to the fridge, cooker, microwave, dishwasher and washing machine – I mean everything I need to access” one woman said. “He then gets annoyed because I’m always asking him to get out of my way. My patience has gone now.”

Are we discovering absence truly makes the heart grow fonder, or is the unprecedented situation to blame for our sudden intolerance of those we love most?

"People are understandably stressed at the moment because there is a collective fear in our world right now. When we are under threat our reptilian brain is not able to digest the fear logically, and it becomes reactive. It perceives it in the same way an animal would, if they were being attacked by a predator. Coronavirus is the predator. When a human feels under attack it activates our fight or flight response," says psychotherapist Mary McHugh of Irish Online Counselling and Psychotherapy Service.

“Adding to this is the fact that we have all been placed back in our homes together 24/7, and this, is very difficult as many of us are not used of spending so much time with children, spouses, partners.”

It’s a phenomenon that is very common for newly retired couples, McHugh continues. “It takes time to adjust, which is normal. We are being asked to adjust on top of already having the stress of the virus.

“The grass always looks greener somewhere else,” she explains. “We always want the dream, the romantic ideal. Life is not like that and when we are not used to spending time together we can overlook certain things that irritate us, but in close proximity and for long periods together we are not as good at hiding things. Lots of us are stressed. There are so many added stresses: health, financial, college. What is stress for one may not be for another. We are losing control outside with the coronavirus and we are trying to have some control, so we start to control relationships. No one likes to be controlled and there is retaliation.”

The challenges faced with having the children at home can be explained by the lack of “normal extracurricular activities or play dates”, McHugh says. “It’s normal to be frustrated, agitated and stressed”.

Add to the fact that parents are trying to work from home and supervise schoolwork and “lots of frustration” is to be expected. “Everyone is pushed way out of comfort zone on top of the fear they are feeling around their physical and financial safety.”

There are, however, ways to cope with the frustration and stress, McHugh says. Personal responsibility and contribution come into play.

She recommends taking a moment to look at things from the other person’s perspective. “Take two minutes to try and imagine what life must be like for them right now.”

She also advises looking at our own part in the frustration and stress, asking what can we control, and how are we adding to the stressful environment.

McHugh believes it’s important to have discussions around the table and to say sorry when we need to. She adds that maintaining a routine is vital.

Focusing on playing with our children is imperative, McHugh says, and a throwback to our own childhood favourites can be the way to go. “Board games, skipping games, hoola hoop” can all add to a positive atmosphere.

But when things become overwhelming McHugh adds that “we should ask for space if we need it”. “Go to your room and go down on your two knees and pound the mattress and then catch your pillow and holler into it! Stand outside your back door and scream for a dog that you don’t own.”

“This will pass,” she reassures “it is showing the very best of us, but in reality too, in lots of our homes, it is showing the shadow side of us too – and we all have one”.