Excited and nervous: Mixed feelings as the pandemic evolves
In the latest survey of the “Love in The Time of COVID” project, our ongoing international study of how people are connecting, relating, and coping during the pandemic, we were curious to understand how people were doing one-year in.
We asked participants the following question: what are you most looking forward to when the pandemic is over? The answers are touching, relatable, and very interesting. It is safe to say that most people are exhausted and ready for the pandemic to be over. As can be seen in the word cloud made from the hundreds of answers we received, which illustrates the most mentioned words by highlighting them in larger text, repeating themes and commonalities emerged.
People seemed to express a collective longing and deep yearning for similar important aspects of life, for “normal every day things that we haven’t done since the start of the pandemic,” as one participant put it. Most people’s answers included mentions of wanting to see and be with their loved ones in person (hugging in particular was mentioned over and over again), some they haven’t seen in almost two years, and to make up for skipped celebrations and gathering (e.g., birthdays, graduations, wedding, family reunions but also funerals). Many people listed a series of social and cultural events and spaces they were looking forward to frequenting again, such as concerts, museums, theaters, bars, clubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, and sporting centers. They looked forward to going out with their partner or starting to date again, to having deep conversations with friends, and also casual chats with strangers. People especially mentioned looking forward to being able to do these things without feeling worried about contracting COVID-19 and the constant fear and anxiety that accompanies that (people said things like, “I look forward to not having COVID anxiety that seems to live just below the surface. That thought that hits once or twice a day of ‘What if I or someone I love gets COVID?’”). Many mentioned looking forward to travel, to seeing old friends, visiting familiar places, and also to discovering new things. Some people even said they look forward to being spontaneous again and to leave the repetitiveness of their current rhythm behind. One participant captured the tediousness of their current life quite vividly, stating that they look forward to: “Eating out and not doing dishes or buying the food or cooking the damn food or picking up the groceries for the food or contributing a single bit of emotional energy to plan out the damn food.” Despite the excitement and eagerness people expressed when listing all the things they were looking forward to doing, people also expressed some mixed feelings when thinking about the end of the pandemic or the easing up on the restrictions and regulations and a return to more “normalcy.” People are, in fact, also feeling nervous, especially about having physical contact with others. While people say that they mostly look forward to time with family and friends, spending time in larger crowds (e.g., at bars, parties, concerts, or sporting events), is something people are quite nervous about. When we asked about their social life after the pandemic is over, about 50% of people said that they find the idea of having a busier social life more overwhelming than not. There is a lot for people to adjust to, and in some cases, it turns out, there are some things related to the pandemic that people are apprehensive about leaving behind. For example, when about 70% of participants said that there was something about their life during the pandemic that they would miss. Here too, as the world cloud below illustrates, people’s answers reveal some common themes.
Many answers revolved around work, and particularly the benefits for those working from home. For example, people appreciated nixing the commute (no more traffic stress and more sleep!) and the extra personal time that this allowed, along with avoiding small talk with colleagues, the pressure of the office environment, and the ability to prioritize comfort when picking out the daily outfit. Many people mentioned they will miss the slower pace of life they had during the pandemic, a less scheduled and frenetic calendar, and the lack of social pressure and expectations to do things. People seemed to have been able to simplify their life and prioritize things that mattered more and cut out the noise. Several people mentioned that while they had lost touch with certain friends or acquaintances, their closest relationships got stronger as they found ways to stay connected during the pandemic. People seemed to appreciate the lower quantity of relationships and activities to keep up with, the slower pace that that afforded them, and the ability to focus on the fewer deeper connections they cared about as well as hobbies or activities they intrinsically enjoyed. As one participant put it, “My life has slowed to a nice pace. I’m afraid of the hustle and bustle of ‘normal’ life.”
(It is important to note that there are strong social/economic moderators that are likely at play here, as people who experienced greater stressors due to the pandemic, such as having to take care of sick loved ones or small children, losing a job or having to continue physically going to work, is much different from those who didn’t experience these stressors. Our research team is currently investigating these points). Interestingly, a thorough read of responses suggests that people are not experiencing one or the other, but both — people are both looking forward to life after the pandemic and are nervous about it, there are things they very much are longing to do again but also things they will miss. As we cope with these mixed emotions and experiences, it is important to remember that these are understandable and quite widespread feelings. As the commonalities in the responses to our survey questions show, we are not alone in both our excitements and our fears.