23 of March 2020. The UK Prime Minister addresses the nation. “You must stay at home”. I don’t even think that we completely realised what that meant back then, and we definitely didn’t expect to face a second and then a third lockdown.
In Spring 2020 our initial response was adrenaline-driven and we thought (or hoped) that it would all end by the summer. During that first lockdown we had a psychological emergency response called arousal. Arousal is important in regulating our attention, our consciousness and our ability to process information. And we did the best we could. Whether that was bulk buying or throwing ourselves into reskilling online, we really did the best we could. The second and more so the third lockdown was a completely different story, and it required a different kind of resilience, a stamina that is different for each individual and it depends on their personal histories, experiences and personalities. So, even though we didn’t have the element of surprise the third lockdown feels unbearable, and most of us feel exhausted, fed up, and feel the need to just cry. There is another difference between 2020 and 2021… In 2020 the reported deaths to most people were about numbers… this year it’s about names.
Now we finally have a date, yet the feelings and people’s responses are mixed. The people I talk to, 8 out of 10, say that they are worried about having to go back to work, having to drive on a motorway, having to engage in human interactions again. Some even say that they don’t admit this to their close friends and families because they are scared, they are going to be discounted as they don’t seem to share their worries.
I don’t think we are yet in a position to estimate the exact impact that the pandemic had or will continue to have on our behaviours. Think about it… for a whole year we have been thinking of people as “toxic” in a way… Not to mention all the other strains that this pandemic had on some people (getting ill, losing loved ones, loss of jobs and financial strain).
After the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) pandemic in the US, post-traumatic stress scores were four times higher in quarantined children than in those who were not quarantined, and 28% of quarantined parents reported symptoms of trauma related mental health disorders compared with 6% of parents not quarantined. After release from quarantine due to SARS, many people reported avoiding those coughing and sneezing (54%) and avoiding crowded (26%) and public spaces (21%) for several weeks.
There are several studies that indicate links between prolonged social isolation and the effects on our brain. An extreme experiment that you may have heard of is that of the French adventurer and scientist Michel Siffre. In 1972 he isolated himself in a cave in Texas for more than six months. He was documenting the effects on his mind over those 205 days to a great detail and he reported that he could barely think straight after a couple months. After five months he was reportedly so desperate for company that he tried to befriend a mouse.
Don’t get me wrong, many people have reported positive effects due the forced isolation and these people are usually the ones who were content with less human interaction anyway before the pandemic. We have also seen evidence of increased productivity due to WFH, so it’s not all negative. “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me, because no one ever opens my office door,” an executive confessed (Economist, 26/2/2021). And if one decides to use technology to their advantage you can actually also do things you haven’t been able to do before. It all boils down to personal preference and individual differences.
How ready do you feel you are?