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Change your language, change your lockdown

Written by Lifestyle

Lockdown is lifting. You can now play outdoor sports, have socially-distanced picnics and spend time with friends and family from different households. But for many students, easing lockdown regulations only means feeling more isolated as we witness everyone else do the things that we can’t. 

Northern Irish students who couldn’t fly home. International students who are separated from their families. Students who are shielding and can’t risk going outside. Or even those who live in England but are too far to travel back to Newcastle.

After three years of using ‘I’m from Brighton’ as a chic conversation starter, it’s now becoming more of a social hindrance than an asset

For me, I’m 350 miles from my university house, 272 miles from my boyfriend, and 105 miles from my dad. Even my friends are inaccessible, dispersed across the top half of the country. After three years of using ‘I’m from Brighton’ as a chic conversation starter, it’s now starting to prove more of a social hindrance than an asset. 

In a world where driving and cycling are prioritised, those who rely on public transport, or even flights, to move around are now stuck. When I logged onto Trainline yesterday to see when it would be possible to get back up north, this is the message I received:

I’m aware of how privileged I’ve been throughout quarantine – I have a safe home, a caring family and a stable income. But while I watch couples have quaint beach barbecues or see children with divorced parents visiting the other half of their family, I’m burdened by this endless and exhausting torment of missing my loved ones. 

‘I miss you’ may be endearing at first, but over time it only reaffirms that your loved ones are far away, increasing your loneliness

While it’s amazing to have people to miss, it’s okay to admit that missing people is exhausting. Especially for this extended period of time, and especially when you’re unable to access a reunion of your own. ‘I miss you’ may be endearing at first, but over time it only reaffirms that your loved ones are far away, increasing your loneliness.

This slots into the language of quarantine, which has been infected with subtle negativity: I’m bored, I can’t work from home, why did this have to happen now? But by expressing our frustrations like this, we’re inadvertently continuing the cycle of melancholy. 

Happify Daily assert that changing your language can change the way you think about a situation: “In simple terms, hearing and using positive language can make you feel great—physically, mentally and emotionally.” Negative language reinforces negative thinking, whereas positive language encourages your brain to view an emotion from a different angle, attempting to subvert your sadness. 

Instead of focusing on who isn’t with me right now, I thought about when we’ll be together again, turning ‘I miss you’ into ‘I can’t wait to see you’ or ‘I’m thinking about you’

I started implementing this in my own life, starting with ‘I miss you.’ Instead of focusing on who isn’t with me right now, I thought about when we’d be together again, turning the phrase into ‘I can’t wait to see you’ or, even more simply, ‘I’m thinking about you.’ Suddenly, the frustration and unfairness towards being distanced from loved ones is reduced. Yes, you still objectively miss them, but changing the language turns your head towards the future, rather than dwelling on the present. 

This technique can be applied to lots of negative phrases. Similarly, ‘I’m bored’ becomes ‘I’m currently looking for something to do.’ ‘I can’t work from home’ becomes ‘I’m trying my best to work under these circumstances.’ ‘Cancelled’ becomes ‘postponed’. ‘Why now?’ becomes ‘I’m going to try make the best of an unpredictable situation.’

Thinking of the future can turn your frustration into optimism and reduce your envy for the people who benefit from lockdown being eased

Language doesn’t fix everything. It can’t undo the physical and emotional damage caused by COVID-19, but it can alter your outlook. Thinking of the future can help turn your frustration into optimism and reduce your envy for all the people who benefit from lockdown being eased right now. We can’t let our language get stuck in the same way that we are geographically stuck.

Soon it will be our turn for those Instagram-worthy reunions. But until then, it’s up to us to utilise a positive vocabulary, otherwise we’ll get stuck in a cycle of Groundhog Day grumpiness.

Last modified: 2nd June 2020

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