Corona aktuell: a year of pandemic changed our psyche

A pandemic was declared around the world more than a year ago. Corona has turned our everyday life upside down and restricted our basic rights. What did that do to our soul? We asked a researching psychotherapist.

On March 11, 2020, the WHO officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. More than a year full of hardships, measures and nervous breakdowns is now behind us. Life is no longer the way it used to be. Mask requirement, contact restrictions, concert and party bans as well as gastro closings: What was unthinkable in the past is now everyday life. What have the last twelve months been doing to our behavior and our psyche?

Corona: The pandemic promotes tendencies towards resentment and ignorance

We discussed this with Dr. Anne Runde spoke. The psychological psychotherapist and her colleague Dr. med. Gregor Leicht at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) study on the psychological well-being in the corona pandemic. She draws a conclusion with us – after 12 months of coronavirus in Germany and ten months of data collection.

BRIGITTE: You started the online survey in April 2020. Does the study already provide initial results on how the subjects’ psyche has changed?
Dr. phil. Anne round: It is too early to draw any definitive conclusions. But we can see a tendency. Especially people who are vulnerable (more vulnerable) to mental illness and the development of depression are likely to suffer particularly from the restrictions of the pandemic.

In the lockdown times of April, May, June and from November onwards, a slight increase in depression was observed.

It is the same with people’s satisfaction with life.

My colleague Professor Martin Schröder has already published the first results from our study. The data suggest that life satisfaction drops quite significantly in lockdown, only to rise again to a good level when the pandemic does not have our everyday life under control – as it was the case in summer 2020.

How has the pandemic changed our behavior?
We avoid each other on the street, no longer shake hands in greeting and no longer hug each other. Overall, we have much less social and physical contact.

In addition, an increased willingness to help can be observed in some cases. The mutual care has increased and efforts are made not to spread the virus.

But there are also tendencies towards resentment and even ignorance. You compare or check what others are doing and what others are saying.

What effects does the pandemic have on your patients who you care for as inpatients at the UKE?
Many patients who we have admitted in the past few months report that the loss of everyday structure (such as the changed work routine, reduced social contacts and leisure activities) has become a real stress factor and has triggered depressive episodes.

Others were very afraid of an infection – so much so that they further restricted their already restricted lives, never went out of the house or were in constant worry. So far, we have not been able to detect an extraordinary influx of patients. But my perception is that it has become more difficult to find outpatient therapy places. A first sensible point of contact is the family doctor.

“Social contacts and physical contact have significantly decreased”

How is the pandemic changing our interpersonal relationships?
Our study participants reported that their social and physical contact decreased significantly. We miss that, of course, since humans are social beings. Some get along well with it, but some also suffer very badly from it. In addition, there are fears, for example, that friends or family will fall ill with the virus.

Too little vaccine, winter darkness, lockdown and initially no improvement in sight: Many people are corona tired. How do we best deal with it? Persevere or change and adapt everyday life in the long term?
It makes sense to change everyday life in the long term in order to be able to deal with the situation better. This has happened in many places in life. We have completely integrated keeping our distance from others and wearing the mask into our everyday lives. It is remarkable that man is so adaptable.

What else I find important:

The more sensible the measures seem to a person, the easier they are to persevere and the less restrictive they may be perceived.

In psychology this is called value-oriented action. If I keep making it clear to myself why I am restricting myself, that is a different context than if I simply follow an externally given rule. For example, I refrained from contacts because it is important to me to protect my loved ones and others. With this change in perspective, the restrictions are less toxic to our psyche and easier to implement.

Will normal life return after Corona?

What happens to us when normal life comes back?
The first results of the study give reason to hope that mood and life satisfaction can quickly “normalize” again. At the moment I cannot assess whether we will have lasting changes, for example in our behavior or our interaction with one another. Who knows whether shaking hands will still apply as a social convention?

What is the best way to keep ourselves mentally fit?

  • Are for our mental health contacts very significant. Either way we should do this absolutely maintain. If not otherwise possible, then digitally or over the phone.
  • Regular exercise being outdoors has been shown to help improve mental health. Ideally in the country and at lunchtime to get as much light as possible.
  • Besides, this is Sustained or redesign one Daily structure important. What helps: Everyday plans to formulate, with regular getting up, sleeping, eating times and leisure activities.

In March 2020, the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry launched a “Short program for self-application“with the title” Staying Mentally Healthy During Social Distancing, Quarantine and Exit Restrictions Due to the Corona Virus. “There are further tips.

If symptoms such as depression, joylessness, and lack of energy persist for more than two weeks, you should seek professional help and contact your general practitioner. It is then a matter of assessing whether it could be depression. Conversely: Anyone who realizes that someone is not doing well should stay in contact with them and, if necessary, encourage them to seek medical help.

Help with depression

Are you seeing any signs of depression? At the national Crisis hotline on 0800 1110111 help is provided quickly and anonymously! Further information is also available from German Depression Aid Foundation.