The problem…

My son started living with his girlfriend in January, so it’s been quite a test for them living together full-time during the pandemic and lockdown.

They’ve both been working from home and all in all, they’ve managed pretty well, although they’ve suffered from a lack of space at times.

At the start, she was panic-buying everything – loo rolls, flour, rice – you name it – and one week their food bill was over £500! My son has said that he understands that she’s anxious, but far from becoming less so as time has gone on, she’s getting worse.

She’s almost too worried to leave the house, and if he does get her outside, she can’t wait to get back home. He did manage to get her to visit some close friends in their garden, but she wouldn’t use their loo so they couldn’t stay long.

My son’s job does mean he has to go out visiting clients but he’s always really careful, with mask, shield, sanitiser, gloves etc – but that’s not enough for her. He has to strip off all his clothes as soon as he gets in and they go straight into the washing machine.

My husband and I are getting elderly now and we want to see them. They live a couple of hours away, so we’d like them to stay over, but she won’t even consider it.

We were all so close before and she’s been here, quite happily, many times before all this.

She’s only in her mid-30s but she’s acting like she’s in the highly vulnerable category. How do we get her to realise we’re just going to have to learn to live with this virus and get on with life?”

Fiona says…

I’m afraid anyone who is naturally anxious is likely to become more so at the present time. It’s now well known that rates of depression have doubled, and now one-in-five people say they are depressed, compared with one-in-10 at this time last year – and your son’s girlfriend is far from alone in experiencing heightened anxiety.

We are all living through a threat that we can’t see and can barely understand. Each of us has an instinct for safety – it’s a basic sense and not very sophisticated – but right now, that ‘safety centre’ needs reassurance.

It sounds like your son is doing his best to help, but she really needs to learn how to reassure herself. She’s the one that has to put her ‘safety centre’ in a better place. It sounds simplistic, but saying to yourself something like, ‘I’m safe, everyone I love is safe’, can really start to calm the brain and stop it working so hard.

You mentioned you used to be close, so could you perhaps try to open up a conversation with her about how anxious she’s feeling? In a gentle, non-judgemental way, of course. Perhaps you could then encourage her to find her own simple phrase that she repeats to herself last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Combining that with some relaxation or meditation could help her start and finish the day in a better place.

When you’re anxious like this, all you really want to do is hunker down and hide from the world. It’s all too easy to just remain in bed – but doing that won’t help her one bit. This young woman needs to remind herself that she’s worthwhile and that she’s important – she needs more confidence. Getting out and about and meeting a few trusted friends, who she knows have kept themselves safe, will help – and hopefully you’ll soon fall into that category.

She might also find counselling helpful, so she could contact her GP to see what’s available.

Alternatively, the Counselling Directory ( has a huge section you could refer her to. Called ‘Guidance and advice around COVID-19 Coronavirus’, there are links to advice and support of all kinds. Finally, well done to your son for caring for her through this and doing the best he can to help.

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