On behalf of the whole UCL-Penn Global Covid Study team, THANK YOU to everyone who tuned into the webinar series!
This summer, the UCL-Penn Global Covid Study held a free, virtual webinar series sponsored by the UCL Global Engagement Fund. Over 5 talks, with speakers and discussants from all over the world, we explored how COVID-19 impacted our mental health, physical health, and relationships. If you missed any of the sessions, or want to watch them again, you can find recordings of all the sessions here.
No time? Read on for a summary of the key findings and recommendations from each session!
1. Lockdown impacts Mental Health: Greece and UK
2. How Do We Trust (Again)? Paranoia & Mental Health
4. Doctoral Students’ Educational Stress & Mental Health
5. Let’s Talk! What do you need to recover from the pandemic?
We hope that you were able to learn something new and help you think about what you and your country can do to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter for exciting developments in our study’s goal to make our findings as accessible as possible, including a podcast and sharing our findings on the UCL Open Environment!
We are very excited to invite you to our FREE virtual webinar series, ‘Lessons from COVID-19: Reflections, Resilience and Recovery‘. For five Wednesdays between 2 June to 28 July 2021, 5-6:30pm (GMT) we’ll have a chance to share and discuss our findings with you on how COVID-19 has impacted our livelihoods, health and relationships. Importantly, we’d love the opportunity to hear from you! Want to learn more?
This webinar series will feature speakers from across 6 institutions from Italy (University of Trento), Singapore (Nanyang Technological Univeristy), USA (University of Pennsylvania, University of Massachusettes Lowell), China (Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences) and the UK (University College London) and experts working in the field.
2. Who are these talks for?
Anyone and everyone! Given that the pandemic has affected all of us in differing ways, your input is as good as any. We would really value your participation in the interpretation and understanding of our findings and as always, the sharing of your experiences of the past year. In these challenging times, we’d like to bring people from all walks of life to reflect on the past year, engage in discussion about the lessons from COVID-19 in order to assess the ways in which we can recover better. We hope you will join us!
Our 5 webinars cover a range of topics including COVID’s impact on mental health in the general population across different countries, family relationships and social trust in others, postgraduate student wellbeing in higher education and what kinds of support we need to recover. We hope there is something for everyone!
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on students, from courses being moved online to opportunities being cancelled. This year has forced all of us to pivot, adapt, and just get used to new situations and schedules. For example, many undergraduates like myself, are sitting at home attending ‘Zoom University’ from another time zone. For the past year, I have had to attend class in the evenings and make plans to fill up the non-class time during the day. I am not alone in this.
An Instagram poll from the Global Covid Study found that:
67% of participants (full-time students) took part in an internship/part-time opportunity during the pandemic;
63% of the participants committed to two or more internships; and
80% of the participants that haven’t yet had an internship would like to take part in one.
When asked why undergraduates decided to take up internships during this time, they said:
“I would like to expand my learning further through actual practices and being able to support myself financially. Also, I spend so much time at home, I feel somewhat more pressurised to find something else to do other than studying.” – UCL, Year 2, BSc Psychology with Education student
The fact of the matter is that students are located across different countries and time zones. From my experience, an 8-hour difference between China and the UK has impacted my ability to study. Studying in the evenings from 6PM to 12AM, is the equivalent of ‘night shift’ for students. For other students in Asia enrolled in U.S. colleges, they would have their lectures from midnight until 6AM in the morning. The time zone difference poses considerable challenges to student’s academic progress. For example, collaboration on group work with members in other time zones leads to sleep disturbance and disrupted circadian rhythms that in turn could reduce productivity and mental health.
“Covid has definitely taught me that unexpected events could come any time in the future that we haven’t fully prepped for.” – USC, Year 1, BS Computer Science student
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated undergraduates’ worries about the future and many have grown accustomed to the constant changes and unpredictability of the pandemic. But this is not all bad. Feelings of uncertainty and stress seem to have motivated students to work harder in order to feel better prepared for the future.
Students have also expressed concerns about being unable to manage their time properly with both academic and internship responsibilities – despite being motivated to gain new skills during an internship to increase employability. Thus, young people today are perhaps experiencing more stress than pre-COVID-19 times.
While this post provides a glimpse of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted student’s motivations towards finding an internship and part-time job, we have also highlighted the added stress that comes with this new responsibility. So, should we be engaging in internships or not during a global pandemic?
Whatever the decision, the psychology student in me believes it is just as important to remind my fellow peers – especially those of other disciplines – to recognise when they need to take some time to rest in order to avoid emotional exhaustion and burnout. As exam term looms, students should be reminded to reach out for help via the appropriate university mental health support services, or try accessing some of our study resources page and blogs on tips and techniques for better sleep and mindfulness practices. Staying connected with friends and community are also important.
Some universities have also made reasonable adjustments to learning during COVID-19. For instance, UCL has provided creative ways of delivering lecture content through a hybrid learning model of asynchronous (e.g., pre-recorded lectures) and synchronous sessions (e.g., live sessions). To alleviate student’s stress in assessments, a ‘no detriment’ policy was introduced. Wellbeing events and counselling services have also been easily accessible for students who may need help in reducing psychological burden during the pandemic. These ways of supporting students and understanding that students under different circumstances will require different levels of support should be encouraged across universities.
Having you been remote learning or teaching? What has your experience of learning been during the pandemic? We’d love to hear from you! Please email us at email@example.com or follow us on our socials @GlobalC19Study (Twitter & Instagram).
This post was written by Ms Sammi Lee (@SammiLee818) a BSc Psychology with Education student at University College London with minor edits from Dr. Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).
As we approach Wave 3 of data collection for the Global Covid Study (April 17th 2021), here’s a summary of what we’ve found so far!
Key lockdown stressors
The top sources of stress for our participants throughout lockdowns 1 and 2 were other people not social distancing (51.8%), uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (50.8%), future plans (46.3%), mental health (33.4%) and boredom and loneliness (30%). In lockdown 3, government’s COVID-19 guidance (47%) and other people not wearing masks/gloves (51%) were added to the list of key stressors.
Changes in prevalence and attitudes to mask usage
In the first lockdown, UK participants reported a lower prevalence of face coverings being used in the community (<30%) compared to Italy (>80%), the USA (50-80%) and Hong Kong (90-100%). Of the UK participants, 55% expressed they firmly believe in the efficacy of wearing face coverings outdoors. This percentage was much higher in Italy (78%), the USA (85%) and Hong Kong (97%). By the second lockdown, mask wearing in the UK had increased to around 50%.
Age group differences
Compared to other age groups, COVID-19 appears to be having the strongest impact on participants aged 18-24 in terms of their mental health, stress and time spent doing mild exercise. Participants of all ages are being affected by levels of loneliness.
Loneliness in particular has been identified as a key risk factor for lockdown. Our colleagues in Italy found “U-shaped” patterns of self-perceived loneliness in the UK and Greece, with loneliness decreasing significantly in Week 4 and 5 of the first lockdown and then rising again in Week 6. We are currently testing whether Wave 1 findings replicate in Wave 2 data during lockdown 2 and 3 in the UK and most of Europe and these findings will be presented at our summer webinar in June-July 2021 which is open to the public.
We’ve found no gender differences across psychological constructs except for empathy and anxiety, where female participants have reported on average higher levels of anxiety and empathy compared to males. Although, it is important to note that like other COVID studies, we also have a higher number of female respondents than males (74% females).
Teacher’s mental health
Of our participants, 319 are teaching/educational professionals. Compared to the general population (n = 1117), there was no difference on levels of anxiety, depression, stress, sleep quality or aggression after controlling for gender, age and site.
For more information on how you can cope with various stressors that have arisen or have been emphasised in the COVID era, check out:
We asked our participants whether they would take the COVID vaccine when it became available to them (back in October 2020 through January 2021). The word clouds below represent the most common reasons for whether they are likely, unlikely or unsure to get vaccinated.
Testing positive for COVID and experiences of loss
We asked our participants “Do you know any friend(s)/family member(s) who have tested positive for COVID-19?” and found that in the first lockdown the majority of participants responded No (70.6%), with only 29.0% responding Yes. This changed in the second lockdown, where 61.8% of participants responded No and 38.2% responded Yes (13.9% tested positive themselves, and 7.9% tested positive themselves along with at least one family member).
We also asked our participants “Do you know anyone who has passed away from COVID-19?” and found that more than half knew of at least one acquaintance (59.8%), 25.2% lost a family member and 20.5% have lost a friend to COVID-19.
Despite the difficulties and challenges COVID-19 has created, participants have identified some positive outcomes from the pandemic such as strengthening solidarity and cohesion between family members, friends, and communities, increased volunteering and acts of good will and more hygienic behaviour.
It’s hard to believe that it’s now been over a year since COVID-19 interrupted our lives. With the UK government’s recent release of their roadmap out of lockdown, 21st June 2021 is certainly a date to look forward to. The light at the end of the tunnel is near! So let’s keep washing our hands, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and getting our vaccinations so we can make this (hopefully) the last lockdown.
Exciting things to come!
As one of 53 UCL projects led by UCL academics that have recently won the 2020/2021 UCL Global Engagement Fund (GEF), we are excited to launch a summer webinar series over June and July 2021 where our research team will be presenting on our findings to the public. This is a free event involving UCL and Penn alumni groups around the world. You are invited! Check back on our website in May to see how you can sign-up!
From all of us in the Global Covid Study team, we hope you’re all staying safe and wish you a Happy Easter!
This post was co-written by Ms. Kyleigh Melville (@MelvilleKyleigh), an MEd Psychology and Education student at the University of Cambridge, and Dr. Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).
Can you believe that we’ve reached the end of 2020? While some are in disbelief others might say it hasn’t come soon enough. Whatever your journey has been this year, ‘tough’ is only an understatement, so we applaud you for making it this far. The UCL-Penn Global COVID Study Team would also like to take this opportunity to thank you and the 1000+ study participants who have continued to support our second survey. You have enabled us to learn how things may have changed for the better or worse in the last 6 months and inform current policy/debates on covid. As promised, we will have a £50 Amazon raffle and announce the winner at the end of January 2021. We will be in touch again in April 2021 for the final survey.
Before we sign-off, our team would like to wish you and your family a safe and wonderful holiday. The holiday season may be an especially challenging time for some of us – especially this holiday – so we would like to share some resources that may be of help to you. These include COVID-related readings from scientific sources, media updates on our study, two timely blogs on vaccine hesitancy and a a virtual webinar on ‘Lessons from Lockdown’ with the Wharton & Penn Club earlier this month.
We encourage you to subscribe to receive relevant blogs/updates from our study (like this one) at www.globalcovidstudy.com or follow us on Twitter @GlobalC19Study, as we continue to share our study findings. We always love hearing from our participants too, so do get in touch!
Original post published on the UCL IOE blog (here).
This week, the UK rolled out its largest vaccination campaign in history: “a decisive turning point in the battle against coronavirus” according to the NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens. Some people say it’s too soon; others say it hasn’t come soon enough. Yet still others are skeptical and have been so for months.
In our UCL-Penn Global COVID Study launched in April 2020, we have been following-up our participants for the second survey where we asked our participants (N = 495):
“Should a COVID-19 vaccine be available to you in the next couple months, how likely are you to take it?”
The majority of the respondents said they were likely/very likely to take the COVID vaccine (63%), about a fifth were unsure (21.8%), and the remainder said they were unlikely/very unlikely (15.2%).
These numbers are aligned with a large poll conducted across seven European countries where 40% of participants report vaccine hesitancy in the latest September survey (University of Hamburg). In another rapid report in November, 36% of Britons said they were uncertain/unlikely to take the vaccine (British Academy and the Royal Society).
Why might this be?
Our follow-up question may shed some light.
By inviting our participants to respond freely about the reasons for their choice above we have collected a corpus of detailed reasons for both vaccine hesitancy and adoption. With the most commonly used word presented in larger text in word clouds below, we begin to understand people’s views towards vaccinations. From left-to-right:
Figure 1. Likelihood of taking the COVID vaccine.
Unlikely and Very Unlikely
Respondents who were unlikely or very unlikely to take a vaccine spoke about the “lack of trust in the government”, the “unknown long-term side-effects” of the vaccine, “not feeling safe enough” to inject something into their body, and think it is better to wait and see as they are “not high-risk”.
Here’s what people said:
“Don’t trust a vaccine that has been developed so quickly without real understanding of possible long term dangers.”
“I am not in the high-risk group, I keep fit, healthy and considerate of my immune system. I also follow all the rules to protect other. The vaccine is very new and I would prefer not to take it and continue looking after mine and others health as I have been so far. I do take flu vaccine every year, had one this year already.”
“Not inclined to vaccines in general. I believe that our children our dangerously over-vaccinated and that their general well-being is impaired as a result. Definitely not intending to take a vaccine that has been rushed to market.
Respondents who were unsure were “afraid of the risks” and “side-effects” of vaccination. They spoke of the unknowns surrounding vaccine development, that they needed to do more research or wait for longitudinal findings to see if there are side-effects as they feel this was a “rushed” job. And again, a general sense of “distrust towards the government” for pushing for the vaccine.
“As a scientist myself I would want to be convinced of the science behind the vaccine and see proven efficacy in enough subjects before taking it myself.”
“Feel like others both within the UK and around the world are in need of it more than me.”
“I don’t really trust my government to create such important tasks like this. Who knows how many corners they cut? They still implement a highly unreliable rapid tests as a clearance for traveling and other outdoor activities. I think that says a lot about their capability.”
Likely and Very Likely
Respondents who were likely and willing to have the vaccine spoke about the strong “belief in science” and scientists, that “the world’s greatest minds are working on this”. Many people spoke about health as a public good, this was the “right thing to do”, wanting to “protect their loved ones and their community”, this is the way to get back to a “safe” community, “getting back to normality” and “help” stop the virus. Even within this group, there was a sliver of doubt about where the message is coming from: if the vaccine is endorsed by scientists/CDC/WHO people are more likely to adopt it while the growing sentiment of distrust in the government means people are less likely to take it.
“Belief in science, wanting more freedom to travel and go out.”
“Great university’s researching vaccines in the UK.”
“I have a friend who lost his life to it [COVID], another who suffered permanent lung & kidney damage, I don’t want to infect or put others in danger if I get it. I would like to know for myself obviously as well.”
“If CDC and WHO approves, I’d likely take it. I’m supportive of vaccines and trust scientific research. If pushed by the government, I’d be significantly less likely to trust it. It may also depend on how willing whoever produces the vaccine is willing to share it worldwide and continue with appropriate safety precautions.”
“It’s the right thing to do and I want COVID to get under control as soon as possible. Downloading an app on my phone and getting vaccinated is the least I can do to honour the efforts of all the frontline workers who have and are RISKING THEIR LIVES to keep us all safe.”
Many of the comments from our participants resonated with those of other studies including key concerns about the side-effects of the vaccine, and distrust in the government. Of course these are legitimate concerns that ought to be addressed. Even within the Likely/Very Likely group there is some doubt over the longer-term side-effects and whether individuals with pre-existing conditions may have bad reactions to the vaccine.
So what does this mean for society and policy?
This means we must come together as a global community. It is also evident from these comments that governments’ role in endorsing vaccines, perhaps well-intentioned, may not be perceived that way by the population. Thus, this means letting the scientists and science communicators do the talking. Have clear, smart, and accessible global campaigns to make sure everyone is up to speed on the facts about the vaccine. This means bringing together the smartest minds in marketing and PR to work with our scientists to take control of this virus.
We need an 80% community-level uptake of the COVID vaccine to protect all of us. One suggestion would be to try to convince the 20% ‘unsure’ group as they are perhaps more likely to swing to the adoption side than the antivaxxers. This means addressing people’s worries about side-effects and providing them with a clear cost-benefit analysis that reflects the true risk of not vaccinating.
The next few weeks will be crucial. All sorts of things may go wrong: from the supply-chain to the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine in a frozen box at -70C degrees and the receiving of two shots three weeks apart. Knowing about the psychological barriers towards the COVID vaccination, what we – the global community – need to focus on now is how to overcome this imminent hurdle.
Echoing two of the five recommendations from the British Academy and Royal Society rapid review, there is an urgent need to: 1) start an open and transparent dialogue with the general public surrounding the side-effects of the vaccine, efficacy and safety of the vaccination roll-out and 2) counter misinformation and fake news by empowering the public with the tools to spot and report misinformation.
With the scientists working non-stop to develop an effective vaccine to protect our community, essential workers working around the clock to keep our community running, what role will you choose to play in keeping our community safe?
This post was written by Dr Keri Wong, Assistant Professor Psyschology at the Department of Psychology and Human Development, UCL IOE (@DrKeriWong). Want to share your thoughts about vaccine and how COVID has impacted you? Visit UCL-Penn Global COVID Study or follow us on Twitter @GlobalC19Survey.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, candidates for a potential vaccine have been making global headlines. Pfzier‘s BNT162b2 and Moderna‘s mRNA-1273 in particular are showing encouraging effectiveness rates of +90% in providing protection against the virus in clinical trials. Today, the UK Government will begin vaccinating Britons with Pfzier’s vaccine who are part of high priority groups such as adults aged 80+, adults in care homes and frontline health care workers. Until more of the groups have been vaccinated, it is important that we all continue to follow government guidelines, social distance, and wear masks.
These past weeks leading up to the vaccine rollout, I had several conversations with people who tried to convince me that COVID-19 is “a hoax” and that they would not be taking the vaccine when it becomes available to them. These conversations inspired me to look deeper into what health experts are calling the next challenge in the fight against COVID-19: Vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccine hesitancy: where did it come from?
Vaccine hesitancy is defined as the refusal, delay or acceptance of doubts concerning the safety and usefulness of vaccines. Vaccines have been called one of the most important innovations in the history of medicine. However, vaccination rates have declined all across the world. This shift in attitudes towards vaccines is commonly attributed to an article published in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield (1998), who proclaimed a false link between the MMR vaccination and onset of autism spectrum disorder. Wakefield was consequently struck off the medical register and is now an avid campaigner for anti-vaccine movements in the US.
From our UCL-Penn Global Covid Study (see webinar), we investigated vaccine hesitancy too. Over 65% of our participants were likely/very likely to take the vaccine, but the remaining 35% were either unsure or unlikely/very unlikely to take the COVID vaccine.
Why is this the case?
Our participants tell us that some are ‘unsure’ because it’s a bigger issue regarding vaccines in general, they don’t know whether it will work. Participants talk about vaccination going against their core beliefs and won’t need it if they are healthy. In a smaller group, some participants tell us they don’t really need it because they are not at-risk, there is a lot of talk about distrust in the government on vaccine development, and a general hesitancy towards injecting something that we don’t yet know much about was also a common consensus. As with the majority who are likely/very likely to get vaccinated, themes of gauranteeing freedom of travel and interaction with loved ones was very common, the belief in science and the rigorous development process, as well as public health as a common good, doing the right thing to control the virus and keeping everyone else safe.
What causes vaccine hesitancy?
Three factors have been globally identified to cause vaccine hesitancy: confidence, complacency (seeing vaccines as not useful), and convenience (seeing too many barriers to access health or vaccination services). The particular factor of confidence has been suggested to depend on an individual’s confidence in:
In addition, researchers have identified the popularity of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories as a factor that promotes vaccine hesitancy. In a 2014 study, British parents completed questionnaires measuring the strength of their beliefs in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and the likelihood that they would vaccinate a fictional child. The researchers found that the stronger the beliefs, the less likely the parents would vaccinate the fictitious child. This relationship was influenced by the parents’ perceived dangers of vaccines, feelings of powerlessness, and mistrust in authorities.
The pandemic continues to persist around the globe and we witness its repercussions ripple through society. Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 is currently a leading cause of death worldwide: as of 12th September 2020, the death toll has surpassed 900,000. Our blog today explores the ubiquitous theme of ‘Grief and Death’ during Covid-19 and how existing psychological research may help us better cope with the days to come. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we would also like to take this opportunity to direct our readers to additional resources that may support you during these times, including ways to cope and support those who have lost loved one(s).
Grief is painful, both physically and psychologically. Research has shown that this pain predominantly emerges from two realisations: that one cannot control fate and that contact with a loved one has been permanently severed. These realisations highlight two fundamental human yearnings: the wish to be close to loved ones and the wish to influence one’s surroundings.
Each person will cope with grief in their own way. It is important to note that there is no ‘correct’ way to grieve. One of the most widely held psychological myths in society is that grief proceeds in stages. The ‘5 stages of grief’ theory, created by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, postulates that grieving persons experience stages of denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. Interestingly, there is currently no empirical evidence that people undergo most of or any of the 5 stages. The grieving trajectory does not comprise a discernible sequence of stages but instead, consists of the ebb-and-flow of an array of emotion.
Bereavement and the pandemic
In today’s world, broadly speaking, there are two types of bereaved people affected by the pandemic: previously bereaved and newly bereaved.
May not have been able to properly say goodbye to loved ones or been able to give them a proper funeral
May not be able to distract themselves by engaging with activities
May feel that the shock and numbness they are experiencing is constantly triggered by our current global climate
Can anything be done to make things easier?
I recently conducted a year-long BSc dissertation at UCL on sibling bereavement which may lend some insight into our understanding of coping with grief during the pandemic. Sadly, there is no therapy that can cure grief since most of the emotions bereaved people experience are rational: if someone you truly love dies, it would be abnormal to not be heartbroken.
Nevertheless, the bereavement literature has generated some intriguing findings: research has shown that the majority of bereaved persons, approximately 55-85%, are known as resilient grievers. A resilient griever is defined as a bereaved person who experiences short-lived and distressing episodes of grief throughout an otherwise stable trajectory of healthy functioning. My research addresses influencing factors for resilient grief, which may help individuals return to ordinary pre-loss routine functioning. Below are some factors:
Social Support, identified by nearly 60% of the participants, includes emotional and tangible support such as love and financial assistance. Connect with people as much as you can; even during a pandemic you can speak to people through WhatsApp, Zoom and other social media platforms. In addition, make sure you tell people that you’d like them to reach out to you.
One participant said: “It was the way my friends rallied around me that helped most.”
2. An empathetic support, identified by 86% of participants, is a person with first-hand experience of loss. Talking about grief with someone who understands it will likely make you feel less alone. This is especially important in today’s world since isolation has dramatically increased rates of loneliness. If you don’t know anyone personally, there are many online communities of bereaved people you can join.
One participant said: “Joining the online support groups were a massive help…it was great to meet other who felt exactly how I felt.”
3. Exercise, identified by 86% of participants, was reported as playing a valuable role in adapting to loss. Exercise can help trigger feelings of control, clarity and focus. It also helps with sleep which grief can disrupt heavily. Most countries allow their citizens to exercise once a day, even during the peak of lockdown.
Another participant said: “I’d go running all the time and be committed to watching my running time improve. It actually changed my mood for the rest of the day…I was happier and felt more alive.”
While I prepare my findings for publication, I hope this blog has been helpful if you are bereaved or know someone who is experiencing a bereavement. Should you need additional help, we would like to suggest the following resources for extra support:
A charitable organisation of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents dedicated to the support and care of other bereaved persons. Helpline: 0345 123 2304 Northern Ireland helpline: 0288 77 88 016 tcf.org.uk
Cruse Bereavement Care
Provides bereavement support, both face-to-face and over the phone, from trained volunteers across the UK. 0808 808 1677 (Calls to this helpline are free) cruse.org.uk
Uncertainty looms as the global pandemic persists. We have so far covered a range of topics on the effects of COVID-19: from how our sleepmay be affected, to relational conflicts with family/partners and staying motivated during these tough times to the role of parents and technology in helping us cope. Amidst the uncertainty and confusion on the news and in our lives, perhaps we ought to turn to mindfulness – the focus of today’s blog – to ground us back in the present.
In this COVID-19-dominated world, how do we go about easing the discomfort around uncertainty so that we make sure to stay healthy?
First, recognise the source of your stress. Categorising whether your stress is external to you (outside/environmental) or internal (individual physiology/thinking patterns/anxiety) can help you understand whether or not you have any control over them or not. For example, our COVID-19 study has previously identified various sources of stress ranging from external (lack of social distancing (51.8%), uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (50.8%), the future (46.3%), to the individual’s current mental/physical health (30-34%). One might benefit by focusing on the internal factors more so, as you have more control over them.
Second, practice mindfulness to help better manage your stress. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness where we focus on our moment-to-moment experience. There are a wide variety of techniques one can try such as those suggested below!
Third, start small and repeat. We know from behavioural research that to enact to big and sustainable change, one must start with creating small habits. So pick one technique above to try, and see how you feel about it! Over time, these tiny habits will amount to more long-lasting change. But how might mindfulness practices benefit you? Below are three key areas of benefit:
1. Emotional regulation
Studies suggest that mindfulness results in more effective regulation of an individual’s emotions because of an increase in metacognitive awareness. This leads to disengagement from perseverative cognitive activities. In addition, individuals may experience a decrease in reactivity to emotional stimuli due to practicing mindfulness over time. Importantly, catching yourself when you are about to react in an ‘explosive’ way is a good start. From there, a trick that may help, is to engage in deep breathing for 6-8 breaths. Through repeated practice, you will gradually increase emotional stability and feel more secure during this difficult time!
2. Attentional control:
Practicing mindfulness also allows for improvements in sustained attention. This means, you will be better able to hone and control your attention onto your task (with minimal distraction) and increase your ability to switch between tasks as well. Research suggests that grasping good attentional control can increase self-regulation in behaviours, motivations and emotions.
3. Stress reduction:
In terms of stress, studies of mindfulness-based stress reduction have shown that practicing mindfulness reduces one’s sense of perceived stress level and psychological symptoms of stress. Practicing mindfulness can help individual’s tune into their needs and the needs of others resulting in heightened empathy and increased sense of belongingness to a community. Regardless of it being a pre- or post-COVID-19 world, certain stressors are here to stay. So, improvements in emotional regulation and attentional control can allow for a more effective and healthy response to our short- and long-term stressors. Although the current circumstances are less than ideal (an understatement), practicing mindfulness regularly may ease some of the short- and long-term stress we are facing.
How do I get started?
You can get started on your mindfulness journey with the simple techniques noted above or by using an application. There are several free applications available including:
Who knew that ”COVID-19” would be a household name for 2020. Eight months into the new decade and it is still with us. As we pivot, modify, and adapt to the new norms, the common theme through it all is more time at home. For a small minority, this may be good news. But for most others, we may find ourselves sleeping more and feeling more lethargic.
Does more sleep time equate to better sleep quality?
A survey led by King’s College London showed that 62% of respondents in the UK are at least getting the same amount of sleep they use to before lockdown or more. But why do we sleep more when we are moving less?
Sleep is important for both our physical and mental health. Getting high quality sleep and enough of it helps:
The average person needs at least 8 hours of sleep per night, however, 2/3 of the population do not get enough sleep.
The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life span.
Short Sleeper Syndrome is a sleep condition that allows a person to sleep less than 6 hours and be fully functional. Research by Shi et al (2018) demonstrated that short sleepers tend to be more optimistic/energetic, better at multi-tasking, have higher pain threshold, and don’t suffer from jet lag.
Sleep loss is linked to the acceleration of a plethora of common issues, such as DNA damage, cancer, diabetes and weight gain.
Some people process caffeine faster than others, and we get less efficient at processing it as we age.
We produce a neurotransmitter (Adenosine) which is continuously secreted from the moment we wake and builds up until we cannot resist the urge to fall asleep – a process known as sleep pressure.
A recent self-report study showed that during the pandemic, people slept more on average but, presented poorer sleep quality. Sleep quality is defined by one’s satisfaction of the experience, including the initiation of sleep, its maintenance, its quantity, and the level of refreshment upon awakening.
So what are the factors influencing sleep during the pandemic?
Physical Activity plays a crucial role helping us consume energy (stamina) and keeping our mind and body healthy.
Anxiety and stress, which could be due to numerous factors such as isolation, work, incertitude or conflicts (read more about it in our previous blogpost).
Quality of sleep, which includes your quantity of sleep, how fast you’re able to fall asleep, how tired you feel when you wake up and how often you wake up at night.
Exposure to light, being exposed to screens may negatively impact your sleep cycle, while being exposed to natural lighting improves your circadian rhythm.
Sleep habits, are mainly influenced by behavioural and environmental factors before sleeping. (E.g. exercising before bed and being exposed to blue light both negatively influences your sleep).
Many people report having more vivid dreams during lockdown – why?
78% of our social media followers claim to dream more often and better able to recall their dreams since the start of lockdown while 25% experienced an increase in nightmares. This increase in recalling one’s dream is partially due to the amount of sleep we’re getting. More sleep equals more time in the REM stage which equals more dream time. (REM or Rapid Eye Movement stage is the stage during which dreams, body movement and faster pulse/ breathing occur).
Sleep is sometimes referred to as overnight therapy (It boosts brainwaves), since sleeping and dreams help us process emotions, information and memories. It is proved to help process painful emotions and anxiety.
It is thought that dreams can also help us prepare for difficult situations by producing dreams simulating these stressful situations to help us face our fears, this mechanism being referred to as the threat-simulation theory.
In an on going study, Covid-19 lockdown has been found to cause a 35% increase in dream recall and 15% increase in nightmares. In a different study analyzing dreams, nightmares have been linked with parasomnias and PTSD symptoms. Deirdre Barrett, a Harvard professor and author of ‘Committee of Sleep’ explains that this increase in dreams and nightmare could be due to the fact that the virus is invisible, and thus take different form/shape in one’s mind.
How can you improve your sleep quality?
In his book, Matthew Walker shared some tips to promote better sleep habits:
Stick to a schedule and a routine, it will allow your body to adapt to a consistent sleep schedule. You can do so by setting an alarm every morning at the same time while avoiding pressing the snooze button and setting a bedtime ritual to prepare your body to sleep (e.g. taking a warm bath or reading a book, avoid blue lights!).
Sleep in your bed without technology. Avoid working or using your laptop in bed so you can associate your bed strictly with sleeping. If you have a hard time falling asleep, do not force it: Instead get out of bed and do something that will relax you – but stay away from screens.
Expose yourself to the right type of lighting. This means avoid blue light before getting into bed and expose yourself to natural lights – through walks or opening the blinds – to improve your circadian rhythm and melatonin levels. The circadian rhythm is responsible for your sleep/walk state while melatonin is the hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle which increases in the evening to induce sleep.
Avoid napping, especially after 3pm. Even though you are spending more time at home and might be tempted, you should avoid naps as it will impede on your sleep cycle.
Be physically active. Lockdown or not, being physically active for 150 minutes/week helps you feel alert during the day and sleep better at night.
Actively try to reduce yourstresslevels. A wide range of apps are available to teach you breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques e.g., Calm, which is available in the app store.
Keep a healthy and balanced diet. Avoid large meals, caffeine/sugary/alcoholic drinks, especially later in the day since it will disrupt your sleep cycle.
Have a cool bedroom. When we stay cool, we’re referring to the temperature in the room; we tend to sleep better in cooler environments.
This post was written by Ms. Laetitia Al Khoury(@LaetitiaAK), a MSc student on the Masters in Child Development degree at UCL with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).