Going into quarantine or lockdown, a type of house arrest, is tough for everybody, even for people in relationships. For the wine trade, however, there are some issues that make it particularly difficult.
The trade has been hit hard by layoffs and closures, and many bank accounts are threadbare. Anxiety is skyrocketing. Thanks to wine’s global nature, there are also many people enduring lockdown in a foreign country, where they may not speak the local language very well, or know many people.
Not only that, but most members of the wine trade will be at home with a big stash of alcohol close to hand.
This combination of circumstances could create a mental health crisis, if not properly managed. Fortunately, one prominent researcher says there are proven ways to cope – and people need to know them.
It’s a real problem
“Let me begin by saying that it is important to take this issue seriously,” said Professor Craig Haney. “Isolation is an extraordinarily stressful, even harmful experience for people to go through.”
Professor Haney, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is well-known for his research into the effects of solitary confinement. He says these effects have been described not just in prisoners, but in other isolated populations, like the elderly.
“People begin to get depressed. They get sad. People talk about the joy being taken out of their life,” he said. People find themselves frustrated by little things, getting angry about things that otherwise wouldn’t bother them. Anxiety can set in, and some people will even panic.
Significantly, most don’t realise that these are normal reactions and begin to question themselves, rather than their situation.
The problem, said Professor Haney, is that we need other people to ground us. “Research reports talk about human beings being literally wired to connect with one another,” he said. “It’s wired into our physiology and brain function, and when we’re denied the opportunity to connect with other people, it begins to affect us in significant ways.”
Some of these effects are particularly bad, though Professor Haney is quick to emphasise they don’t happen to everybody. “We learn to rely on other people to test our views of the world, and when denied the opportunity to do that, we become increasingly out of contact with reality,” he said, adding that it was “not uncommon for paranoia to begin to develop. People become suspicious of things they would not otherwise question.”
While it’s understandable that prisoners may react like this, how likely is it to affect people with Netflix on tap and fridges full of snacks? Professor Haney said it’s the isolation itself that takes the toll. “We’re just in the first few days of this, and people are already beginning to experience the stress of it.”
He added that personality does not predict who will survive isolation, and who will crumble. What makes the difference is the actions that people take. “People who take it seriously and think about how to adjust to it are better able to survive.”
Tools for coping
First, anyone in lockdown needs to understand that it’s an abnormal situation, that is “psychologically challenging. It’s not just an inconvenience or an irritation.”
After that, the most important thing that people can do is stick do their normal routine. Although it might sound great to sleep in late and work in pyjamas – don’t do it. “Maintain your normal routine,” said Professor Haney.
Get up at the usual time, have coffee or breakfast as usual and put on work clothes. “People who successfully adapt maintain as much of a normal routine as they can,” he said. People who struggle with the unstructured nature of their day-to-day experience, on the other hand, stop taking care of themselves. They stop showering and don’t bother to get dressed. “They begin to give into the isolation.”
Maintain contact, even when it’s an effort. “The people I have worked with who have successfully survived solitary confinement have learned to take whatever contact with the outside world that is available to them – they write letters, they make phone calls.” Throughout his conversation with Meininger’s, Professor Haney stressed that contact is intensely important – not least because humans provide a reality check for each other.
Above all, don’t start drinking at new times of the day, or in greater than usual amounts. “The things we don’t normally do are very risky at times we don’t have social contact,” said Professor Haney, because other people aren’t around to call out behaviour that is unusual or dangerous.
Living with other people
Surprisingly, being locked down with other people can count as solitary confinement. The presence of someone else doesn’t always make things easier, as small issues can quickly escalate, made worse because people can’t get away from each other.
It’s worth having a clear conversation about how to handle the situation, from how to share the workspace, to how household chores should be divided.
“Tolerance, kindness and giving people their own personal and psychological space is the only way you survive in small spaces,” said Professor Haney.
Nobody knows how long the virus is going to keep people under lockdown. Hopefully most people are in places that are more congenial than the average prison – and in better company. Regardless, be prepared for the mental challenge. The goal is to come out the other side, ready to start making, selling and sharing wine with each other again.
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