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What a Year! At the start of 2020, no-one could have predicted how the world would change as the year progressed. Even if we factor out all other issues that happened during the year, the big story was the pandemic and what it meant for us as human beings. After going through two lockdowns and likely a third in January, I know what it means for me in a positive and negative sense but we are all individuals and we would all have been affected in different ways. For me, it has meant getting closer to my wife, we have learnt more about the concept of working as a team and supporting each other and my feelings have grown. It hasn’t been all plain sailing. I have struggled with my “escape from the inner critic” default of overworking and have, at times also struggled with codependency issues (which I luckily have the tools to master). I have been affected by the lack of freedom, resentment towards those not following the rules and desperation at the way the pandemic is being handled by governments who play power politics with their citizens. All in all though, it has been the most interesting year of my life. I said in the first lockdown that if you could get through the pandemic with your job, bank account and relationship intact, you would be fine. For many, this has not been the case.
Most European governments (Germany excluded) seem to being applying “sniff the wind” policies to the pandemic, adjusting them according to popular opinion. In the UK, my home country, I am not used to seeing the absolute mess and confusion that is happening there at present. The usual determination, community spirit and common sense normally seen through any crisis has been in short supply and people appear quite happy to break the rules. Not surprising when government ministers do the same.
However, rant over. Looking through the newspapers, we can see that life has changed for many people in more subtle ways than we might expect. Some of it is positive and some not so, but it does prove that there is not one of us that has not been affected in some way and we will likely never be the same, even with the much heralded vaccine.
Alcohol and food. According to the Times in London, Britons were drinking on average five bottles of wine per week between March and September this year, an increase in normal consumption of 50%. Interestingly, in contrast, those who gave up alcohol rose from 37 to 41%. Everyone surveyed had been eating more and indeed exercising less. The worrying part of the statistic is that the sharpest increase was among minority groups and 29% said that they drank and ate more to relieve the affects of stress and hopelessness.
Abusers have enjoyed the pandemic: Being in an abusive relationship is never good at the best of times but as we all can read, it has never been a better time to be an abuser. Domestic violence rates have gone through the roof and abusers have found creative ways to exercise control over their trapped victims. Karen Ingala-Smith, who ran the Counting Dead Women survey states, quite sensibly that “the lockdown does not make abusive men out of non-abusive men but increases the triggers and opportunities for abusive men to abuse and justify their actions”. One issue that came from the survey states that abusers have been very adept at using Covid restrictions to control their partner. She highlighted the use of technology to control movement and contact.
Vitamin D. One can read about the effects of the lockdown everywhere. However, it seems that the average Briton has a very low level of vitamin D, which could hamper the fight against coronavirus. Vitamin D is produced by exposure to sunlight and such foods as oily fish and is essential in boosting healthy bone structure and the immune system. Major factors in current deficiency are poor diet, more time spent indoors and less exercise. Again, minority groups seem to come off worst with up to 50 % of the Asian community having a severe vitamin D deficiency and 33% of the black community. The report that highlighted this also mentioned that lower socio-economic groups and people living further north are more susceptible.
Our minds are wandering more. It is an apparent fact that we spend up to 50% of our waking hours ruminating or in other words, allowing our minds to wander away from the present moment. According to the Independent in the UK, this has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Along with this, we are having more vivid dreams, perhaps suggesting that the waking and sleeping mind is more connected than we thought. It seems that Jennifer Windt of Monash University has discovered that we are using mind wandering as an aid to creativity and to avoid boredom. We are often told that we should stay in the present as much as possible through mindfulness and that is not bad. However, I think we need to choose when is the time to be present and then not force ourselves to be so, 100% of the time. On the downside, dreaming and daydreaming about a world before and after Covid can lead to stress and anxiety. Given the conditions we are currently living under, daydreaming might be our only means of escape.
We need groups to feel better: the biggest factor in determining a healthy mind and body is love. A report from Northumberland University looks at the pandemic from a social psychology perspective. It first states that we do not understand each other very well. I quote:
A famous Ross, Greene and House study on false consensus showed that individuals have a cognitive bias towards believing that the majority of others behave the same way that they do. This leads to the belief that people who disagree with us must have more extreme personality traits or, to put it bluntly, something wrong with them.
This is especially important at the moment when we all have to conform to rules that restrict our freedoms generally. The report highlighted, not surprisingly, that the way we think will determine how well we cope. They found that surrounding environmental factors often influenced decision-making and this negated personality somewhat. They also suggested that in times of crisis we search for groups that can be of benefit to us, even if we do not know or understand other members of the group. Clearly this is an issue at present. In the end, they concluded that we need only one thing to survive: I quote the report:
In 1939, Harvard University began two very special studies that had a deep impact on the social psychology field. The Grant study and the Glueck study were experiments designed to test how psychological and emotional states affect physical health later in life. They studied a total of 726 men over 75 years to find out how a variety of variables impacted their health. The conclusion? One variable stood out above all else:
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
This quote from Robert Waldinger, the current director of the project, sums up one of the most profound social psychology studies ever created – that the biggest factor in determining a healthy mind and body is love.