Do we now live in the post-pandemic era? I am writing this in early July 2022, and in recent weeks there were double digit percentage increases in Covid-19 rates across the United Kingdom. Given the dramatic events both at home and abroad, the media does not seem too bothered! I saw none of the graphs of infection rates and doomsday pronouncements by experts on the news channels (such as NHS hospitals being overwhelmed by a surge of seriously ill Covid patients!). Apparently, people are still getting ill, but to put it quite bluntly, far fewer of us die from Covid. There are now effective treatments and vaccine booster programmes generally available. So life goes on just like before…or does it?
Spare a thought for those with ongoing health conditions that make them vulnerable to serious disease if they become infected. The general decline in the use of masks and hand sanitation and the proliferation of large mass gatherings as we hit the summer festival season have increased their risks. (Do our changes in habits as we embrace our new “freedoms” not also make all of us more vulnerable to infections?) And what about those with the debilitating post-viral symptoms of long covid? For those young people who recently emerged from lockdowns, blinking and dazed by the sunlight of the new (old) freedoms they were denied in 2020 and 2021, things may have changed permanently too – or at least for a long while to come. This edited post, by guest writer Lindsey Eriamietor, explores the “remanence” of Covid-19 in the lives of young people, specifically those who were students during the lockdown period.
The term remanence (according to Mirriam-Webster’s online dictionary [www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary]) refers to the magnetic induction that remains after a magnetised substance is no longer under external magnetic influence. Put simply, remanence refers to magnetism left behind after the original source of it has been removed. And in this “post-covid” world, the remanents of the pandemic can be very substantial for many, as we shall see in this article.
Lindsey’s piece aptly explores the remaining impact of the covid lockdowns on young people in the “post-pandemic” era we live in. She also proposes some ways in which those affected can strengthen their resilience and weaken the impact of the remanence of Covid-19.
If you enjoy this piece, please give us a like and follow us. There is a growing number of interesting articles on this blog and in the archives; please feel free to access them and, as always, please email your comments and suggestions over. We would love to hear from you. Happy reading.
Young People Vs the Remanence of Covid 19
By Lindsey Eriamietor
With contributions by Natius Oelofsen
Do you feel as if the Covid 19 pandemic has targeted you as a young person in ways that are different from other age groups in society? Yes, it’s true, everyone (both the young and the old) have been dealing with the fallout of the pandemic and we all had some moments that were exceptionally tough, but in this article, I want to explore some issues that are particularly relevant to how young people were affected.
My focus is specifically on the United Kingdom, but of course, many of these points apply to young people world-wide. We were all faced with certain situations/problems that made the pandemic lockdowns that much worse for us; I think of them as ‘weights’: For example, I loved watching movies with my friends and socialising, but the rule during the peak of the virus was stay at home. I loved walking into full lecture halls with that shared sense of community and belonging that made the atmosphere at Uni so fulfilling. Again, during the peak of the pandemic lectures were really just like watching YouTube videos.
I missed the time where a cough only signified a common cold or, at worst, the flu, but, of course, during the pandemic it was otherwise. My point is that we all had weights, whether big or small – and they made the pandemic so much harder to manage.
In this article I would like to talk about some of these weights and focus on how they affected us as young people. I am thinking of anxiety, depression, and the one I share with my fellow students, university life during lockdown. Do you remember when the rule of six felt like a luxury compared to being isolated in your room? When lockdown restrictions were first relaxed, having six people in a common area almost felt like a crowd. I recall my flatmate describing it as awkward and mentally draining “it was like I want to be around people but why am I afraid at the same time? Is my throat itchy or is it all in my head?”
What does psychology have to say about the mental health impact of covid-19?
Psychologists have long been interested in the impact of social isolation on mental health. The pandemic lockdowns provided a natural experiment and the results have been widely disseminated in the media. A typical example is the results of one large survey conducted during the first lockdown in the UK in 2020, which found that approximately 48% of a sample of 2250 adults (18-75 years in age) reported feeling more depressed and anxious (Duffy & Allington, 2020). Just over one third of their respondents felt they were sleeping less well due to coronavirus. In another study, Pieh and coworkers (2021) found the prevalence of depressive symptoms, clinical anxiety and insomnia was higher in the United Kingdom during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic levels. Similar data exist for children and adolescents (Panchal and others, 2021). Of particular concern among these research findings is that the pandemic and the covid-19 lockdowns appeared to exacerbate existing mental health difficulties in vulnerable groups.
As far as university students were concerned, the Office for National Statistics (ONS,2020), have found that over two-thirds (63%) of university students felt their mental health and well-being deteriorated since the start of the autumn semester 2020. This is also consistent with the results of the more recent polls such as that of January 2021. All in all, the statistics are quite stark. Yet the numbers do not tell the whole story of what the experience of being a student during lockdown was like. Here are some issues that were specifically faced by university students.
The Accommodation Trap
If you’re a university student, you’ll know a bit about when I say, ‘accommodation trap.’ Because of the uncertainties surrounding Covid 19, several colleges pushed students to return to student housing, and many of us caved in because we wanted to get back to “campus life.” As a result, many students were either stranded in university housing owing to travel limitations, or were forced to pay for rooms they never stayed in.
I can tell you from personal experience that staring at the same four walls of your university housing can be psychologically very taxing. Its like being in prison. I mean, it could be worse, some of my friends, final year students, were congratulated on finishing 3-4 years of their University degree with a good ol’ zoom call and received their diplomas in the mail!
Picture going into your first year of university expecting to have a lot of new experiences exploring your new environment and meeting new people. Suddenly two lockdowns later, you’re now a second year student, and just as surprised and wide-eyed as the new freshers when you finally discover your University campus!
Back to normality…kind of
As a university student, I am very aware of the anxiety that surrounds getting back out there. Recently I happened to be in a conversation with a good friend of mine, who is also a university student and we discussed how some of us were struggling to readjust to normal university life. Tasks that used to be simple, such as entering a crowded lecture hall, were now appearing to be incredibly difficult missions. So, I ask you, my fellow students, are public places starting to intimidate you? I can’t be the only one, though. During a ‘young minds’ survey, Emily (name changed for anonymity), 23, highlighted how lockdown had made her feel uneasy in public spaces, and how she had felt dreadful about doing regular things like shopping or going to work. Now, when she finds herself in a situation were staying two metres away from other people is difficult, she becomes anxious.
Lockdowns not only left a remanent of anxiety about leaving our immediate living spaces for more crowded public ones, but also a trace of social anxiety for many young people: While lockdowns included provision for getting exercise, leaving home to perform essential work, and care bubbles, there was no provision for socialising purely for leisure during the stricter phases. While limiting contact with other people prevented the spread of physical disease, lack of social contact may – no, did- have consequences for our mental health and wellbeing. The remament of the social anxiety and fear of becoming ill through social contact with others, is surely a symptom of a kind societal long covid.
A case of cabin fever?
A general rise in psychological distress linked to isolation, and anxiety upon re-emerging from isolation has long been familiar to people around the world – especially among cultures where people spend many months at a time living in small, isolated groups without the possibility of moving around much. The impact of such an isolated existence is known in “folk” psychology as cabin fever.
Formally, cabin fever refers to distressing, claustrophic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person is subjected to isolation for an extended period of time. Cabin fever it is not a medically defined condition but a ‘folk syndrome’, which comprises a combination of psychiatric and somatic symptoms, often only a recognisable disease within a specific society/culture (running amok [Indonesia and the Philipines]and being given the evil eye [Hispanic societies] are two well-known examples of what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association call culture-bound syndromes.)
Cabin fever can be seen as a state of mind that comprises high anxiety levels, insomnia, low motivation, feeling hopeless or depressed, and irritability that is precipitated by social and physical isolation (medical news today, undated). Cabin fever appears to be a really good descriptor of what happened to many students during lockdown.
So, if cabin fever seems to be one of your remanents of Covid-19, what can you do about it? What helps people recover?
Re-emerging blinking into the light….
Here are my top tips for self-help if you still feel a little shell-shocked by the aftermath of the lockdowns.
Acceptance of change
I have come to accept that the world is constantly changing and the only way for me to keep up is by using moments of quiet and isolation to find out more about myself. What do I enjoy doing? What am I good at? What do I need to practice?
Exchange virtual life for real life
This is all about doing something about what I have control over in my life. The pandemic showed me it was time to take a break from social media and face reality. By focusing on my real life, rather than the virtual views of others’ lives offered on social media, I have taken the chance to break away and be more productive. I have adopted a more action-oriented approach to my life and hope you will see opportunities to do the same.
Develop a healthy routine…and stick to it
During the lockdown, many people let their daily routines slip. Maintaining a healthy daily routine can help you feel more in control of your life, give you a reason to get up in the morning, and allow you to achieve things. There is even evidence that maintaining healthy routines can help you manage your mood better. There is an interesting article that look at how our internal body clock and daily routines affect mood and effectiveness available on this blog here.
Take a step by step approach
If you are experiencing social anxiety in the aftermath of Covid, remember that your are not alone, and many of your peers probably feel the same way. The best approach to manage your fears is to take one step at a time, even if it is a baby step. The world will not end if you don’t take up every available social opportunity. Build up your confidence gradually. But, importantly, keep challenging yourself to expand your social horizons little by little.
Work on your worries
Cognitive behavioural therapy offer many powerful techniques that can help you deal with intrusive thoughts and cycles of worry that feed your anxiety. One helpful technique is called thought stopping: When you become aware that you are thinking an unhelpful thought, try to interrupt it by saying “stop” inside your head. (Better to not say it out loud as you might get some strange looks if you do.) Thought stopping is designed as an easy, do-able technique to enable you to move your thinking on from intrusive, distressing thoughts by interrupting the cycle through which you thinking might get progressively more distressing as one negative thought after another enters your awareness. Thought stopping works even better if you could immediately change your external activity or location too.
Another helpful therapeutic technique is to subject your thinking to analysis – especially those really negative and catastrophic expectations of doom and gloom and disaster that so often accompany anxiety. If you are able to talk through your fears with a trusted person or even just write your thoughts in a journal, it won’t be long before you will be able to find new perspectives to apply to the situations that cause you stress.
Be aware of your own wellbeing
As you emerge from the remanents of Covid-19 to resume your normal life, feeling anxious and worried is part of the “new” normality for many. If I could give you just a few key thoughts from this article, they would be that your worry and anxiety is normal and you are not alone feeling this way, you should be kind to yourself and re-emerge into your social world at a pace that is comfortable for you and that is perfectly OK, and you should look after your own well-being in a pro-active way.
If you need professional help: Here at The Psychology Consultancy, we offer professional psychological treatment for trauma, anxiety and other mental health problems as well as psychological assessments of adults and children with neurodiverse needs. You can contact us by completing the form below.
Duffy, B., & Allington, D. (2020). The accepting, the suffering and the resisting: the different reactions to life under lockdown. The Policy Institute, Kings College London.
Medical News Today (n.d.). Cabin Fever. Online article: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/cabin-fever (Accessed: 09/07/22).
Panchal, U., Salazar de Pablo, G., Franco, M., Moreno, C., Parellada, M., Arango, C., & Fusar-Poli, P. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 lockdown on child and adolescent mental health: systematic review. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 1-27.
Pieh, C., Budimir, S., Delgadillo, J., Barkham, M., Fontaine, J. R., & Probst, T. (2021). Mental health during COVID-19 lockdown in the United Kingdom. Psychosomatic medicine, 83(4), 328-337.
It is easy to get in touch with us. Just complete the contact form below. If you enjoyed this piece, please give it a like and share with your friends and connections. You can also follow us, and hear about new posts as soon as they are published. Just click on the buttons below to share this article or to follow us.