Last spring when we were first told to stay home and follow the guidelines for the lockdown needed to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, some Americans used those long months to engage in family activities, try out new recipes, pursue online physical fitness programs and stream TV shows.
But not surprisingly, many of us were also trying to cope with negative emotions like stress, anxiety, loneliness, boredom and depression. Did these sorts of reactions remain after restrictions were eased? Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana devised a study to find out.
They reviewed individual lockdown regulations across the country between January and June 2020 and the Google searches made by each state’s population. There were plenty of searches for topics related to coping with the quarantine, such as “at-home exercise” and “pasta recipes;” but there were also repeated searches of more troubling topics, such as “antidepressants,” “isolation,” “worry” and “suicide.”
Google searches for “at-home exercise” and “pasta recipes;” “antidepressants,” “isolation,” “worry” and “suicide” rose.
“...[E]ven though the mitigation measures increased negative feelings of isolation or worry, the effects were mostly transient,” she added. “A potential explanation of this finding is that even though social isolation increased risk factors for mental health, the stay-at-home order also increased within-home hours that might promote new routines and greater social support within the family. Searches for activities such as ‘exercise,’ ‘Netflix’ and ‘cooking’ were positively associated with the stay-at-home policy, suggesting that individuals enjoyed spending more time at home.”
There were even more hopeful findings. Those Google searches for topics that indicated serious mental concerns such as “suicide” lessened after the official launch of stay-at-home regulations. Although it seems like it should be the other way around, the researchers theorize that the perks of staying home, such as allowing for more time to be with family or to pursue hobbies, offered a notable upside to the lockdown.
The researchers are quick to caution that certain populations are more susceptible to the stresses of a lockdown. The data collected for the study didn’t include information such as income, age or education that would tend to impact the amount of stress a person or household is under. People who have lost their jobs as a result of the lockdown, for example, may be experiencing food insecurity, living in cramped conditions and having limited access to online entertainment.
If you’re still feeling anxious or blue and finding it difficult to deal with ongoing pandemic restrictions, don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional. You can call the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) HelpLine: (800) 950-NAMI (6264) Monday through Friday between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. ET for mental health resources or email email@example.com.