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HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC CHANGED US?
As our personalities are shaped by our experiences and social interactions it’s time to ask ourselves how the time we spent isolated from friends, family and colleagues has affected us?
Obviously, the experience has not been the same for everyone. Some people spent this time completely alone while others had to stand not only the lockdown but being in an unhappy relationship or trying to work in a cramped flat or house full of children. For some it was a positive experience – an opportunity to slow down, take advantage of the extra time and go for walks or simply relax with a loving partner, or enjoy time with the children.
Although the experience has been different for each and every one of us there is one thing in common – it disrupted our daily routines. Instead of going to busy offices most of us was forced to try home office. When the pandemic broke out normal activities such as shopping suddenly became a challenge we had to deal with and we had no choice but to get used to safety measures and restrictions which kept changing all the time.
The question is then is it likely this strange time has changed us psychologically not only temporarily but perhaps forever? Have we, as humans, evolved?
When we look at the history of psychology, in theory our personality shouldn’t change much when we become adults. Research over the last decades, however, has shown that, depending on the circumstances our personality traits may change a bit. Circumstances such as major life events. And there is no doubt that the pandemic and months of lockdown can be call a major life event. So, theoretically speaking, there is a chance that at least some of us have been changed by the current situation.
As most of us were suddenly forced to change our routines, and in many cases these changes were not small, it may have caused some changes in our behaviour that will stay even when the pandemic finishes.
Most experts agree that the pandemic and everything it caused, has probably changed our personalities, at least a little. However, it’s very difficult to say how exactly people have changed because there is no data and also because people’s experiences of lockdown were so different. So for now there is no scientific evidence of the changes. This may change in the future as scientists all over the world are starting to research the topic.
Angelina Sutin, a psychologist at Florida State University, is the author of an unpublished study that looked for signs of personality change during the very early stage of the pandemic in the US. It showed that mostly there was no change at all contrary to expectations.
Even though we can’t probably speak of “lockdown personality”, at least not yet, there are some findings that show some changes in our behaviour. For instance, due to the lockdown some people have developed into the kind of person they have always wanted to be thanks to the support and encouragement of their romantic partner they were able to spend significantly more time with thanks to the isolation. This phenomenon is called “The Michelangelo Effect”. The time spent together also improved their relationship.
As some people had more free time they could spend it rethinking their values and goals in life, focus more on personal growth and on what was relevant for them.
Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before the experience hasn’t been positive for all of us. It was a hard time for people living in unhappy relationships or for elderly people treated badly by their children.We can’t forget that some people were completely isolated during the lockdown. How about their mental health? Did they feel lonely and depressed?
Thuy-vy Nguyen at the University of Durham and Netta Weinstein at the University of Reading monitored the loneliness and depression of 800 people in isolation through the first weeks of the lockdown and found no negative effects. “What we’ve learned from our earlier research on solitude may explain why,” the two scientists wrote. According to them the fact that you are alone doesn’t mean that you feel lonely as nowadays, technology offers us many ways to stay in touch with other people. Even if you are an extrovert and a very sociable person you can still socialise but virtually.
And let’s be honest. Our home is not a spaceship and we were still able to enjoy the comforts of everyday life such as deliveries or TV on demand. Those with a garden were even able to enjoy fresh air and time outdoor. Most studies showing that isolation leads to depression come from observing people isolated in extreme environments such as simulations of trips to Mars where communication with the outside world is hardly possible.
The conclusion is that lockdown hasn’t probably affected us much, however there are other consequences of the pandemic not just the lockdown: unemployment, falling ill or the death of someone dear to us. These are the things that affect us whenever they occur in our life. Sedentary lifestyle also became even a bigger problem than it already was as it became hard to get enough exercise when most of us didn’t even commute. Children and their parents struggled with remote education and everyone was trying to predict if it was the new “normal”.
Summing up, now the only thing we can do is to speculate but the future will show whether or not lockdown and the pandemic have really changed us.