Almost no nation has been spared as the novel coronavirus has swept around the world. But responses to the coronavirus have differed greatly from country to country. Quarantines and lockdowns have become ubiquitous, but even then there is great variance in their severity. In South Africa, tens of thousands of troops have been brought in to enforce one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, while countries like South Korea and Taiwan have managed to contain their outbreaks without closing everything down.
Drastic changes to our routines have forced us to alter our social habits and re-evaluate our relationships – the effects of which could continue into our lives after lockdown, according to experts speaking to Euronews.These changes could also have a significant impact on our mental health even as stringent stay-at-home measures continue to lift across Europe.”Massive levels of stress and anxiety are a big factor,” clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy told Euronews. “It will impact different populations in different ways, but individual stresses have been ramping up.”
The Ireland-based psychologist noted that each nation would be looking at its own protections for mental health amid the pandemic, but stressed that psychological first aid would be necessary.He said: “This would be a one-off immediate approach, and would be around for the general public to use if they are distressed.”According to Dr Murphy, the interventions being crafted are built around three specific stages: the first being broad-based for stress and anxiety, a second for generalised anxiety and “disrupted grief”, and a peak level for those who could be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).He said the interventions would be in place for everyone, but would be on a particular alert for children, those with disabilities, and the vulnerable.
It’s ‘time to re-prioritise’ what matters in relationships
The effect of lockdowns across Europe aren’t always negative. For many, they will have also proven to be a good opportunity to re-evaluate personal relationships.For cohabiting couples, social psychologist and relationship scientist Veronica Lamarche said partners could use the lockdown to work to “re-prioritise what they want to be getting out of these relationships.””Think of lockdown as a clean slate. Things that weren’t working well before, we can focus on and re-invest.”She then noted that some couples would be feeling a strain due to unusual circumstances “bringing to light issues” when spending a lot of time together.”Some countries will say there has been a sudden increase in divorce rate, which is partly natural because you’re forced to evaluate and re-prioritise what matters,” she said.But for others, she added: “Some are really valuing and appreciating the time they’re able to spend with their partners.”Before lockdown, external [factors] may have been taking away from the relationship.
The ‘value’ of face-to-face interaction
More widely than this, an extended lack of physical face-to-face communication could prompt people to realise just “how valuable” social interactions can be, according to behavioural psychologist Benjamin Voyer.He told Euronews: “Humans are very social by nature. The things we find to replace these [interactions] do have merit, but people are discovering how tiring virtual communication can be.
“With face-to-face communication, we can sense and communicate in a much more subtle way.”But with online interaction, we need to compensate for the lack of cues that we usually use to signal we are engaged, happy, etc.”This makes it more tiring.”
A cultural shift?
Voyer said lockdowns could also lead to a shift in values of Europe’s traditional cultural mindset – from one where “everyone is expected to take care of themselves” to another where “the default is to take care of others because you expect others to take care of you.””People are likely to develop these as they are forced to take the perspective of others and understand their difficulties – see parents realising that teaching children is much more challenging than it may look like.”
Examples of this level of empathy can be widely seen amid the pandemic, such as the #StayHomeSaveLives campaign in the UK that encourages people to consider protecting the lives of others.The personal merits of face-to-face interactions are also clear among those kept apart by lockdowns in public posts detailing things people have missed the most.
Will habits and detrimental psychological effects fade?
Any long term changes in social habits are more likely to be personal rather than societal, Voyer said, adding that this could vary depending on our experiences of the lockdowns.He added: “Some may have discovered working from home and may want to stick to it after the lockdown.”For others, it is about establishing a routine of video calls with friends – or getting everything delivered.”
“Virtual partying” is a term that has gained currency over the past two months as a world in quarantine looked around for new ways to socialise, along with other words or phrases that have become commonplace, like “social distancing” and “Zoom bombing”. And, as we take uncertain steps into a not-so-brave new world after lockdown, another term will perhaps get even more commonplace. The “new normal”.Though initially used to describe business conditions in the western world following the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, the term has resurged now globally following the Covid-19 pandemic. The “new normal” is already here, and the changes go way beyond the mask you have to wear.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
The lockdown may have made us retreat into a bubble, but it is a digitised bubble—from virtual parties to conference calls, webinars to online learning courses. The trend is here to stay, at least to some extent. While the benefits for employees include saving time from commuting and better work-life balance, employers have actually experienced more productivity, accountability and transparency from employees. There are practical reasons, too. Social distancing norms mean many offices will not be able to function with full strength, at least until a vaccine for Covid-19 is found. WFH, coupled with hot-desking (allocating desks to workers when they are required or on rotation) and technology means you need lesser office spaces.
* TOUCH ME NOT
In the post-Covid-19 world, “no contact” might become the standard. Sanitary- and gadget-makers are working hard to bring out products that work on sensors, and tech companies like Apple and Samsung are trying to bring out phones that could work as virtual debit cards. Recently, the Reserve Bank of India wrote to payment networks like Visa, Mastercard and the National Payments Corporation of India to allow tap-and-go functionality on card payments at all shops, soon, instead of swiping. “A contactless revolution in communication, collaboration and commerce is imminent.”
* KEEP DISTANCE
The new rules of social engagement will include a big dose of distancing. IITs have already earmarked a new matrix for classrooms as well as staggered schedules. The directorate general of civil aviation has proposed a seating arrangement where a certain number of seats in flights are left vacant. From Restaurants Association of India talking about fewer tables and contactless menu to multiplexes talking about new seating arrangements, everyone is preparing themselves for a new reality.
* HEAL THE WORLD
The lockdown period spawned many memes, some funny and some poignant, on human impact on the world. “Ideally, I would like this black swan event to help us lead lives that are less materialistic and leave less carbon footprints.” “Of course, the way our society has been leading this consumption-fuelled life has just been unsustainable. This is nature’s revenge; we have to change. In many ways, I am actually so respectful of this new normal.”But will it last? “While a few people may make lifestyle changes, I believe [soon enough], we will largely be sucked back into the same enticing lifestyle as before,” sighs Kumar. It will be curious to see whether the “new normal” is just a bump along the way or a path-changing reality.
Once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.”
—Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore