How the Portuguese Responded to COVID-19 Lockdown

An interview with Dr. Marta Oliveira on mental wellbeing in Portugal.

Posted Aug 05, 2020

Marta Oliveira, used with permission
Source: Marta Oliveira, used with permission

At this time, Portugal has only had one widespread lockdown due to COVID-19. Here to discuss the experience and its mental health effects is Dr. Marta Oliveira.

Marta Oliveira, is a Clinical Psychologist specialized in Clinical and Health Psychology, as well as in Psychological Intervention in Disaster Situations. She is currently working on the field of behavioral and electrophysiological dissociation of phobia and anxiety. She holds a Ph.D. grant funded by the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation and is affiliated with the Laboratory of Neuropsychophysiology of the University of Porto.

Jamie Aten: How would you personally describe the COVID-19 situation in Portugal?

Marta Oliveira: The COVID-19 pandemic has been inconsistent across time and countries. In Portugal, restrictive measures were taken in an early stage to prevent transmission, which flattened the curve of infection. However, now that the country is not in lockdown anymore, there are still new cases occurring every day (about 300 per day) and more restrictive measures seem likely to be implemented again.

Closing schools and non-essential services, as well as implementing travel restrictions, has proved to prevent an exponential raising of the cases of infection in an early stage. However, the economic recession demands an effort from the Portuguese government to reduce the restrictive measures imposed.

Thereby, schools will probably have mixed classes (in-person and online), teleworking will be continued whenever possible, as well as online doctor’s appointments. People are hoping that another lockdown won’t happen, but no one is sure about that.

JA: What are some ways understanding Portugal's COVID-19 situation can help us live more resiliently?

MO: In Portugal, the first lockdown (hopefully the only one) was followed to the letter by almost every person. This revealed that Portuguese citizens can be very responsible, trust the government, and follow the guidelines to protect themselves and others. Of course, fear also played a huge role in this general obedience. Despite that, people stayed at their homes most of the time, experiencing some psychological distress but understanding that it was necessary for a better future. Some people also took this opportunity to think about their lives and to plan a more efficient and healthy way of living, considering the importance of psychological well-being.

JA: What are some ways people can cultivate resilience amidst this pandemic?

MO: Stay calm and in touch with your loved ones. Enjoy small things that life can offer, to which we usually do not attend (e.g. connecting with nature, spending more time at home doing pleasurable things, meditating on the present and what the future can bring). Be thankful for what we have at the moment. Recognize your own cognitive and emotional resources. Accept what cannot be controlled and adjust what needs to be adjusted to this new reality. Don’t lose habits and routines even though they are not essential (e.g. getting dressed although we are teleworking, maintaining a sleeping schedule although there are no work schedules).

JA: Any advice for how we might use what you have learned to support a friend or loved one struggling with a difficult life situation?

MO: Practice active listening and acceptance with those close to you. Validating what the other person is feeling gives him/her a sense of normality, such as, “It’s ok to feel like that.” Stay in touch, helping the other person to establish little goals and achieve them. Plan things together, inside or outside the house. Be aware of serious symptoms and the need for professional help.

JA: What are you currently working on that you might like to share about?

MO: I am currently investigating phobias and anxiety in adolescents, namely how we can differentiate these two emotional states in a behavioral and electrophysiological way. As the pandemic can raise this symptomatology, I am also translating and validating a new self-report measure called “The COVID Stress Scales” (Taylor, Landry, Paluszek, Fergus, McKay & Asmundson, 2020), which will assess psychological consequences of this pandemic in Portuguese adolescents.


Oliveira, M. & Fernandes, C. (2020). Managing the Coronavirus Pandemic in Portugal: a step-by-step adjustment of health and social services. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(5), 536-538.