If there was a significant challenge in the 2020 pandemic-effected pause, it was the specific moment in time that it locally hit in a person’s city, town, household and the circumstances that that were in the immediate surroundings. If one was traveling with the masses via public transportation at the moment the mandated lockdowns occurred, scurrying as quickly as possible to safety (home base or something similar) was the priority before considering the consequentialism attached to the holding pattern.
In a moment the human condition was forced to re-examine itself; the usual was not fitting to combat what was unusual and unpredictable. After a century of having advances that enabled modern living to cohabitate with productivity and measure success, being required to stay in one place for an extended period of unknown time with a mystery virus were the plots of many a-dystopian teen novels. And so was the idea of how one’s wellness routines evolved, as wherever one may have ended up or whose household one belonged to when the world’s inadvertent Simon Says occurred, it was bound to challenge and change grit mechanisms. Besides changes in sleep schedule, there were reports and studies on progressive worsening of sleep quality during as well as imminent emotional and psychological distress, uncertainties, and unemployment People with high sleep-reactivity are specifically prone to sleep disturbances, ultimately coining the term Covid-Somnia. (Gupta, et al., 2020)
The first clear indication of the change was the swift increase in the online life. Prior to the Internet, a large body of research had convincingly demonstrated that the brain is somewhat malleable to environmental demands and stimuli, particularly with regards to learning new processes, due to its capacity for neuroplasticity. Various scenarios have been observed to induce long-term changes in the neuronal architecture of the human brain, including second-language acquisition, learning new motor skills (such as juggling), and even formal education or exam preparation (Firth et. al, 2019). Pre-pandemic, social media or gaming were options to connect with friends and family on a casual basis, the online brain emerged as a necessity for learning and research. According to The “Online Brain”: How the Internet May be Changing Our Cognition, the discovery on how the Internet affects our attentional capacities is mainly through hyperlinks, notifications, and prompts providing a limitless stream of different forms of digital media, thus encouraging us to interact with multiple inputs simultaneously, but only on a shallow level, in a behavioral pattern termed media multi-tasking.
As the days progressed, it became clear that the digital appetite for online interactivity shifted from our previous transactive memory systems. Confronted with the affordances and constraints of live synchronous meetings, when our institutions closed their doors, as teacher educators, we turned to asynchronous video applications to maintain connection and
engagement. Applications apart from Zoom and Google Classroom like Flipgrid, VoiceThread, Marco Polo, and EdConnect make it simple to have asynchronous video discussions. (Lowenthal et. al, 2020)
The Internet bypassed the transactional aspect that is inherent to other forms of cognitive offloading becoming ultimately a supernormal stimulus for transactive memory. This makes all other options for cognitive offloading (including books, friends, community) become redundant, as they are outcompeted by the novel capabilities for external information storage and retrieval made possible by the Internet. However if the only way to connect to the outside world is via the online life, would that change the brain’s cognitive relationship with the artificial means of connecting?
After all, people gravitate to social interaction. In 1943 paper, Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation outlines a set of basic human needs that are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency, anchored by physiological needs and self-actualization as the lowest order and highest order needs, respectively (Maslow, 1943). At the most basic level, humans are driven to satisfy physiological needs that sustain life, including air and food before being motivated to pursue safety, which is reflected by our preference for order, certainty, and comfort over unfamiliarity, inconsistency, and chaos. Lastly, there emerges a deep hunger for love and belonging, which becomes gratified by connecting physically and emotionally with other people followed by the need to perceive ourselves with high evaluation and to feel respect for our self and others, which Maslow labels our esteem need. Finally, when one is fortunate enough to have these foundational needs met, they will focus on meeting one’s true potential as the pursuit of self-actualization. The emergence of the unnatural lockdown circumstances brought about in the last year have created a hyperawareness of of literature suggesting that there are specific brain styles hinder human connection.
Say for example people who tend to have Rumination brain style display an overabundance of connectivity has been associated with rumination about internal concerns and worries about the future, whereas too little connectivity has been associated with an overgeneralized sense of self so that achieving an internal sense of control may be difficult (Williams, 2017) Individuals with a ruminative brain style could reasonably experience an increased need for social support while simultaneously encouraging social friction and negative perceptions from others as their ruminative tendencies become exacerbated by the health threats posed by COVID-19. (Hagerty et al, 2020) While those with an Anhedonia brain style is distinguished by a relative failure of experiencing pleasure from activities or stimuli once enjoyed. During the pandemic individuals with an anhedonic brain style may experience exacerbated threat to their core need for human connection during COVID-19. (Hagerty et al, 2020) Lastly, those who have Threat dysregulation brain style has been characterized by hyperactivation of the amygdala (Williams, 2017 and hypoactivation in the medical prefrontal, including anterior cingulate, cortex (Williams, 2017 in response to threatening stimuli. People with this brain style may experience an heighted allocation of attention to potential sources of threat during the pandemic. (Hagerty et al, 2020)
Aside from brain styles, one important factor of wellness lies on the fiber of humanity relies on the capacity to socialize. The social touch is essential to develop cognition, emotions, attachment and relationships (Cascio et al., 2019). In addition, it also contributes to the physiological regulation of the body’s responses to acute stressors as well as other short-term challenges. (de Fegueiredo, et al., 2021). Social isolation also brought elevated levels of domestic violence, including childhood maltreatment or neglect as a result of parenthood insecurities and inabilities (Fegert et al., 2020). Parenting during the pandemic is an additional challenge to deal with remote learning, home office working, and endless house chores (Spinelli et al., 2020)
Looking to specifics on children and adolescents’ wellness, studies have found that in China where the first cases of Covid-19 were originally identified evaluated 1036 quarantined children and adolescents in China with ages ranging from 6 up to 15 years, of which 112, 196, and 68 presented depression, anxiety, and both, respectively (Chen et al., 2020). Another study demonstrated a high prevalence of psychological distress in quarantined children and adolescents due to the COVID-19 pandemic in India, experiencing helplessness (66.11%), worry (68.59%) and fear (61.98%), compared to non-quarantined children (Saurabh and Ranjan, 2020). Moreover, it was also reported in China that children and adolescents aged 3–18 years presented symptoms of inattention, clinging, worry and irritability during this pandemic (Jiao et al., 2020).
Apart from children and adolescents, there are cultural and minority specific situations that have been pushed to the surface with the pandemic consequences. De Zavala et al, wrote in The COVID-19 Pandemic, Authoritarianism, and Rejection of Sexual Dissenters in Poland that specific threats occurring during the pandemic (death, anxiety and pathogen threat) resulted in stricter adherence to cultural norms, greater in-group cohesion and sexual restrictiveness, as well as the prejudice and behaviors toward sexual minorities harvested reactions to viral bodily contamination. While in the UK, the data of Department of Health in United Kingdom (UK) showed an increase mortality and morbidity among the Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) due to social factors, genetic and immunological factors. Metabolic factors like high prevalence of diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and hypertension were also found to contribute to the increased risk and a large number of BAME population are working in jobs that involve regular and daily contact with public, and this may increase risk of encountering COVID-19 infection.
And for those who already had pre-existing chronic medical conditions, the pandemic added to the complex layer of uncertainty. In particular, Cancer patients feel particularly isolated fighting cancer during a pandemic, enhanced by the environment in which they must navigate the health care system. If the visits are in person, patients are typically asked to present alone, without the support of family or friends as they receive information about their diagnosis, go over adverse effects, or discuss changes to their treatment plan. These interactions are conducted in a large room to facilitate social distancing (at least 6 feet apart), with all parties masked and sometimes gowned—a sterile environment. (Cook et al., 2020)
In unavoidable instances in history, the human condition adapts with the slow passing of time. After the initial shock of the pandemic and pause, society found ways to recreate unique wellness norms that otherwise would not have been reimagined, mainly because the alternative to adapting was not optional nor sustainable. A nationwide sample of American adults (N = 1,545; 45% women; ages 18 to 98, M = 53.68, SD = 15.63) was assessed on three occasions in Luchetti, et al, 2020 study of The Trajectory of Loneliness in Response to COVID-19: in late January/early February 2020 (before the outbreak), in late March (during the President’s initial “15 Days to Slow the Spread” campaign), and in late April (during the “stay-at-home” policies of most states). Contrary to expectations, there were no significant mean-level changes in loneliness across the three assessments and in fact, respondents perceived increased support from others over the follow-up period . Older adults reported less loneliness overall compared to younger age groups but had an increase in loneliness during the acute phase of the outbreak with the loneliness leveling off after the issuance of stay-at-home orders. Individuals living alone and those with at least one chronic condition reported feeling lonelier at baseline but did not increase in loneliness during the implementation of social distancing measure.
Okabe-Miyamoto et. al 2020, Changes in social connection during COVID-19 social distancing: It’s not (household) size that matters, it’s who you’re with living with, found that a romantic partner was the strongest predictor of shifts in social connection across time. This finding replicated across two different sample: a sample of undergraduates at a Canadian university and a sample of adults from mostly the U.S. and the U.K. Their findings revealed robust positive regression coefficients, indicating that people living with a partner were more likely to improve in social connection after social distancing guidelines were in place than those not living with a partner, as partners have been found to be more valuable for coping than other types of household members especially during a pandemic. The research also found that changes in loneliness were not predicted by any other aspects of household composition, and had mixed findings regarding living with pets and null findings for all other household variables.
For those who did however choose animal companionship as a wellness strategy to help reduce human loneliness and isolation, you are not alone. In fact, majority of households in the United States report having at least one companion animal, and the majority of those report that they consider their companion animal to be a family member (American Pet Products Association, 2019-2020). This finding is consistent with data from many other countries; a 2016 international study conducted by the Nuremburg-based international marketing think tank Growth from Knowledge (GfK) in 2016 concluded that over half of people internationally have at least one pet (Growth from Knowledge, 2016).
Animals provide emotional and psychological support during the pandemic to many households. Social support is often depicted along two dimensions: instrumental and emotional (Otsuka et al., 2019). Instrumental social support includes the provision of assistance
related to tasks and information; concrete and specific help; in contrast, emotional social support is understood to be more subjectively experienced and related to
comfort, affection, and other subjectively experienced emotional states (Otsuka et al.
2019). Having a companion animal has been associated with motivating self-care
behavior associated with obtaining healthy food (Rauktis, 2019) and general self-care
(Hoy-Gerlach, 2019); both of these studies indicated that participants explicitly linked
their increased self-care behavior with their animals’ dependence upon them. The relationships of people with their companion animals are a pre-existing condition and potentially invaluable support for well-being, especially during this time of confinement
to mitigate COVID-19 risk. (Hoy-Gerlach, et.al, 2020)
Lastly, but more importantly, the search for wellness has supported the rise in humanity and collective generosity. Most recently, in the context of pandemic, we see more and more ordinary people come together in the spirit of solidarity and engage in mutual support to protect the most vulnerable in their community and beyond. Mutual aid groups took on various tasks such as collecting groceries, supplying masks, sanitizers, and medicine, sharing information, offering emotional support, tutoring children. The amount donated to charities in the UK on Giving Tuesday in 2020 was up by almost half despite the restrictions on in-person fundraising activities. Support grew for causes linked to the crisis, while causes like animal shelters, disability support groups, and homeless shelters saw a big hit to donations (even while facing extraordinary new financial pressures). Similarly, 21 percent of US households indicated that their giving to charitable organizations focused on purposes besides basic needs/health and religion (e.g., education, arts, the environment) decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. US households prioritized giving to meet the pressing needs of those in their area. (Kilicalp, 2020).
The Stanford Social Innovation Review (Philanthropy & Funding) in the article Household Generosity During the Pandemic perceived that conditions created by the pandemic influence how much people give, whom to give, what to give, and how to give. Several factors, such as age, gender, economic stability, and exposure to COVID-19 have an influence on our pro-social behavior, so do neural, biological, and emotional mechanisms. Sevda Kilicalp, a Policy and Incubation Manager at European Foundation Centre gathered insights below from the social and behavioral sciences can be useful for understanding why charitable giving is changing and becoming more localized and expansive:
1. Social distancing urges us to reconnect with others to cope with psychological distress. While social distancing has been effective at flattening the curve of infection, it has had significant negative effects on mental health (leading to psychological distress like depression, anxiety, and stress) as found in recent research. As neuroscientist and social psychologist Matthew Lieberman explains, evolution made us more social, more connected to and dependent on the social world to ensure that humans thrive as a species.
2. Reawakening to our collective vulnerability creates a sense of collaboration. We all react differently to stress, whether fight-or-flight or tend-and-befriend mode. Alex Evans of Collective Psychology Project suggests that the pandemic incites our “tend-and-befriend” nature to the extent that we consider ourselves part of a larger us, feel like we can shape our lives and have mental space to deliberatively reflect on and choose how to react to events instead of being driven by fear and anxiety.
3. The problem of numbers. There is a suggestion that surge of generosity during the COVID-19 pandemic is due to the sheer magnitude of the crisis, but the brain’s inability to make sense of big numbers makes it difficult to process tragedy of this scale, and concern for those in distress does not tend to rise in parallel to the increase in cases.
4. Feeling collective. The notion that “we’re all in this together” and the virus threatens everyone (although not equally) creates a collective emotional experience. Research shows sharing adverse experiences may increase cooperative behavior within groups, leading individuals to mutually seek and provide support to one another. While these negative experiences enhance ingroup cooperation, they also fuel polarization, and intergroup bias toward outgroup members, thus contribute to conflict, discrimination, and exclusion.
However one decides to move forward, there are a collective number of ways to execute the faculty of wellness. The future truly originates from the creativity of the present and with the knowledge base of today, there only can be hope renewed.