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Happy new year & Thank you!

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!

If you have questions, please email contact@globalcovidstudy.com.

Thanks again for your continued support. Stay safe over the holidays!

Best wishes,
Keri

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Covid vaccine: what makes some people wary while others want to be first in the queue?

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 (= 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.

Unsure

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.

This means, marketing widely clear explanations for why scientists have been able to develop a COVID vaccine in such lightning speed as supposed to non-pandemic times (e.g., extra resources, investment, global effort) – preferably using infographics that are easily accessible. While all of the above information is available online from credible sources like the WHO, access to such information is arguably skewed and low.

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.

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Vaccine hesitancy in the COVID-era

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.

Findings presented at the Wharton Club & Penn Club UK webinar on 3 December. Slides available for download and detailed reading here:

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:

  • Health care professionals
  • The health care system
  • Science
  • The social-political context

The Global Vaccine Confidence Index study (2015) surveyed participants from Nigeria, the UK, India, Pakistan and Georgia (US). The researchers found a medium-to-high confidence rate in vaccines and immunisation programs, and vaccine hesitancy was relatively rare. However, the researchers also found a minority of individuals who were vaccine hesitant in each country. The researchers concluded that even small groups of hesitant individuals can severely undermine immunisation programs in health emergencies.

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.

How can we reduce vaccine hesitancy?

A 2020 study analysed over 1900 anonymous questionnaires about willingness to take prospective COVID-19 vaccine(s). COVID healthcare workers and individuals who consider themselves to be more vulnerable to contracting the virus were more likely to report taking the vaccine compared to healthcare workers and individuals who were not responsible for the care of individuals with COVID-19.

Research has identified ways on how to improve attitudes towards vaccination including persuasion using expert sources and emphasising getting vaccinated is something you should do to protect yourself and others.

Want to learn more?

Vaccines & Other Findings: Global COVID Study Wave 1 & 2 (Wharton x Penn Club Webinar). Presentation slides can be accessed via UCL’s data repository DOI: 10.5522/04/13333568 or by emailing the author (keri.wong@ucl.ac.uk).

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).

What are your thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccines? What evidence would you need to get vaccinated? Did you learn anything new about vaccines? Get in touch at contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!

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Grief during times of COVID-19

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).

Understanding grief

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

Previously bereaved individuals:

  • May find the experience bewildering and frustrating (“no one seemed to care about grief before the pandemic”)
  • May find that lockdown is somewhat reminiscent of the early days of grief (“I feel trapped in a strange world again and am surrounded by memories and triggers at home”)

Newly bereaved individuals:

  • 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:

  1. 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:

Compassionate Friends

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

This post was written by Ms Ketki “Keya” Prabhu (@kkprabhu), a UCL alumna, with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

How do you view grief amidst the pandemic? Please share your thoughts with us at contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!

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How can we practice Mindfulness in a post-lockdown world?

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 sleep may 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:

  1. Headspace — available on iOS and Android.
  2. Aura — available on iOS and Android.
  3. MyLife Meditation — available on iOS and Android.

Good luck on your path towards mindfulness! Please get in touch with us at contact@globalcovidstudy.com to share your experience and/or let me know your thoughts about this topic!

This post was written by Ms. Reina Kirpalani (@rkirpalani), a third year student on the BSc in Psychology with Education degree at UCL with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong). You can reach Reina directly at reina.kirpalani.18@ucl.ac.uk.

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Do you hit the snooze button and snooze again?

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:

Our recent poll on Instagram (@Globalc19study) showed that 71% of our followers reported that lockdown has affected their sleeping habit.

What does the research say?

Dr. Mathew Walker, a sleep expert reveal interesting facts about sleep in his book ‘Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams‘. We mention some below:

  • 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 your stress levels. 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).

How has your sleep been affected by lockdown? Share your tips/tricks with us on how to improve your sleep at contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!


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Game on! How might video games make lockdown more bearable?

Previously, we talked about how technology is helping us stay connected to one another during lockdown. Today, we’ll talk about the technology behind video games. Video gaming has become one of the most popular leisure activities in the world and have been recorded to be played by:

  • 48% of all Europeans
  • 56% of young-adult Norwegians
  • 97% of Americans aged 12-17

Psychological research on video games often investigate the negative impacts of gaming in the form of gaming addiction. In 2018, the World Health Organisation added “gaming disorder” to the International Classification of Diseases as 1-9% of all gamers across all age groups, more commonly in males, qualify for this diagnosis. However, more recent research has begun to suggest that video games can serve as virtual platforms where players can build and maintain social connections (with 70% of all players playing with others), which is perhaps an especially helpful way of coping with these challenging times.

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In contrast to the potential benefits that video games may instil during these difficult times, our Instagram poll found that:

  • 13% of respondents are living alone;
  • 44% of respondents are feeling more suspicious/hostile towards strangers during lockdown;
  • 64% respondents feel lockdown has them feel less motivated;

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Thus, during lockdown, video games may become an invaluable source of entertainment, a way to build and maintain our social connections, distraction and motivation amidst the stresses of living in the time of COVID-19. In particular, the social simulation game Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) is the No.1 trending game in Japan, the U.S, Korea, Spain and France and has been hailed as a “conveniently timed piece of whimsy” where players take on the role of a lone human on an island filled with “relentlessly cheerful creatures”. Players are tasked with building a thriving, island society by filling it with shops, bridges and other accommodations to attract other players. ACNH follows a real-time clock and calendar and the game changes from day-to-day, offering players daily rewards and special seasonal content. For the 2020 graduates, ACNH has even become a popular venue for virtual convocations and the subject of over 38 million tweets and many news articles about the game’s ability to provide comfort and social connection in these times of isolation and social distancing.

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Image courtesy of a graduating student from the University of Toronto.

Dr. Romana Ramzan, a lecturer in Game Narrative at Glasgow Caledonian University suggests that the massive appeal behind video games during lockdown is:

  • They allow you to get absorbed into day-to-day activities without the real world consequences.
  • They can be played indefinitely, which is especially favoured these days as there is also no current end in sight for COVID-19.
  • Where we are powerless in the real world, video games and the virtual worlds they provide give players a level of calmness and total control over how the world progresses.

With regards to caring for our mental health in the time of COVID-19, video games may offer a sense of support and community when other means of support are lacking or are now harder to access. Mental health benefits of video games include:

  • Formation and maintenance of social connections
  • Improvement of mood
  • Sense of control and accomplishment
  • Reduction in stress and anxiety

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Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that post-COVID-19, research may increasingly find that video games can have positive effects, particularly on influencing pro-social behaviours and fostering social connectedness. Occasional or moderate playing of video games may in fact come to be recognised as a beneficial activity to take up. However, until then, further research on it’s health benefits will require more stringent research. While we gradually come out of lockdown, you may want to find out more about the kinds of games that are out there, and whether you’d want to start playing yourself. But don’t forget: Take regular breaks from the screen every now and then!

This post was co-written by Ms. Kyleigh Melville (@MelvilleKyleigh), a UCL alumna and Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

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‘What gives?’ Conflict in the time of Corona

Lockdown life has its ups-and-downs. Our daily routines have endured big changes and we feel the strain of spending unnatural amounts of time with our isolation partners. While some of us may appreciate spending more time with those who are close to us, others may not share this sentiment. More contact time may result in more conflict. Understanding why this happens and what we can do about it is important, lockdown or not.

In our previous post, we reported the top stressors that participants from the Global Covid Study found were most concerning during lockdown. In our recent Instagram poll, we found that over 70% of voters experienced household conflict during lockdown. So this a genuine concern.

So what causes conflict in the first place? 

While there may be many reasons, research has identified the following roots of cause that may be particularly salient during these challenging times:

  1. Misperception: believing something to be true without definitive proof. For example, believing your sister is lazy for leaving dirty dishes in the sink when in reality, she received an important phone call just as she was getting started.
  • Difference in opinion: you are annoyed at your sister for leaving dirty dishes in the sink while she thinks it’s not a big deal.
What can be done?

It’s easier said than done, but here are some good reminders:

REMAIN CALM 

The best way to address a problem without turning it into a personal attack or argument is to stay calm. When you feel yourself getting angry, deep breathing is an effective technique that eases stress. You can also try counting to 10 before responding to a loaded comment or even leaving the room and returning once you feel more relaxed. Another effective tip is to ask yourself the following question: ‘What will this achieve?’ More often than not, the answer is greater conflict.  

LET THINGS GO

If you do lose your cool, don’t fret. This happens to the best of us. However, what is more important is that you move on from it and let things go. Research has shown that allowing conflict to cause a rift between you and another person while isolating together won’t be conducive to either of your mental health. Further research has identified cognitive reasoning as an effective technique to keep arguments at bay. This is when you assess a situation from a third-person’s perspective to re-evaluate personal opinion. By reasoning cognitively, you may realise that you are in an ‘emotional’ state and that your behaviours and words are driven by emotion over reason and rationality. Research has also shown that this will in turn help you avoid saying something horrible you don’t mean.

With regard to family life, letting things go is of particular importance. Research has shown that household conflict can have adverse effects on children including sleep disturbance, anxiety, conduct problems and academic problems. It is important to recognise that although it is perfectly normal for parents and guardians to argue, engaging in frequent and unresolved conflict is what the literature identifies as negatively affecting children the most. Moreover, if the conflict is explicitely about children, research has shown children tend to blame themselves leading to feelings of guilt and sadness. So resolving conflict is an all round win-win solution!

FOCUS ON THE NEW OPPORTUNITIES 

The suggestion of a silver lining in a time of crisis can sometimes feel condescending. An inherently unpleasant situation doesn’t always warrant a ‘something good always comes from something bad’ approach. However, after accepting that lockdown gives rise to conflict, we can also accept that it has provided some of us with unique opportunities. Young adults who have moved back into their family homes, for example, are able to reconnect with family. It can feel quite nice to go for walks together, watch movies and simply hang out as a family more than you usually would. Therefore, don’t let conflict stop you from exploring the unique opportunities lockdown presents. You may surprise yourself and feel rather comforted. 

Remember, the glass is always half full and it is your perception that can keep things in perspective. A small dose of household conflict is normal, but the key lies in knowing how to come to a resolution quickly.


This post was written by Ms Ketki “Keya” Prabhu (@kkprabhu), a third year student on the BSc in Psychology with Education degree at UCL with minor comments from Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

How have you resolved conflict in your household? Please share your tips/tricks with us at contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder: How is technology helping us socialise?

Researchers say virtual communication cannot replace face-to-face interactions. But since the COVID-19 outbreak, many of us are using virtual apps like “Houseparty” and “Zoom” and social simulation games like “Animal Crossing” to fulfil our need for social connection, in a safe and socially distanced way. Social connection, ‘a person’s subjective sense of having close and positively experienced relationships with others in the social world’, is a core human need. An absence of social connection has been linked with poor emotional wellbeing, such as feelings of loss and sadness, and pain akin to physical injury.

The Global Covid Study’s Instagram polls have found that:

  • 13% of respondents are in lockdown alone
  • 25% of respondents moved back to their families
  • 60% of respondents are finding lockdown stressful

Even before the pandemic, research has been steadily finding that more people are communicating online than offline. But perhaps this pandemic has caused a dramatic increase in our virtual social presence. If social distancing measures are here to stay, what role does the internet and technology have in helping us stay socially connected?

  • Meeting new people and catching up with old friends face-to-face is now harder or impossible. Research has shown that when relationships are at risk of decaying from lack of interaction, we will invest more time in communicating to reinforce our social connections. With an internet connection, we are able to safely maintain our existing connections and even form new ones virtually.

Despite the benefits, the emerging phenomenon of “Zoom Fatigue” is a good example of how prolonged and intensive use of the internet and technologies every day in lockdown can leave us feeling drained and exhausted. To combat Zoom Fatigue, here are a few tips on how to stay socially connected with one another without getting overwhelmed.

  • Build-in breaks. If you have back-to-back virtual meetings, consider making them 25 or 50 minutes instead of 30 minutes or an hour. This will give you a little time in between to get up and prepare for the next meeting.

The pandemic has shifted our working and social lives to being “digital-only” for the time being. But remember, it’s important to take breaks from the technology when we need them to take care of our mental wellbeing. Technology is often portrayed as an influencer of negative social behaviours. However, there is a silver lining in recognising that in these challenging and uncertain times, technology has allowed us to carry on with our working lives, safely communicate with our loved ones, and to virtually maintain our social connections.


This post was co-written by Ms. Kyleigh Melville (@MelvilleKyleigh), a final year student on the BSc in Psychology with Education degree at UCL and Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong).

How do you use technology? Are you adequately equipped to work from home? Please send your comments to contact@globalcovidstudy.com or tag us on @GlobalC19Study (Twitter) and GlobalC19Study (Instagram). We’d love to hear from you!

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If COVID-19 is here to stay, how will it affect our mental health and trust in others?

As lockdown eases in the UK, many people are populating the parks and the outdoors. The latest government advice for England told us to ‘stay alert’, to practice ‘social distancing’ and to be vigilant. This heightened alertness combined with accumulating uncertainties around COVID-19 are stressful. In fact, living with stress for long periods of time can take a toll on people’s mental health.

The question then is: If COVID-19 is here to stay, what can we learn about people’s mental wellbeing now so we can help them later?

The UCL-Penn Global COVID-19 Study, which is still recruiting, aims to address this question. In collaboration with experts from five other universities1, we want to understand the short- and long-term impacts of the coronavirus on our mental health, physical health and trust in others. Some 1800 respondents from the UK, Greece, Italy, and the US have already taken part.

Sources of stress reported by over 1800 respondents on our Global Covid Study survey during lockdown.

Initial findings

During the UK lockdown, we asked participants to identify sources of stress and the extent to which it causes them stress. Participants told us that they were experiencing ‘moderate’ to ‘a lot of stress’ from:

  1. Other people not social distancing (51.8%)
  2. The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (e.g., when it will end, how it is transmitted) (50.8%)
  3. Future plans (46.3%)
  4. Mental Health (33.4%)
  5. Boredom and loneliness (30%)

When broken down by country – UK, Greece, Italy, US, and Hong Kong, it is clear that:

  1. Concerns over other people not social distancing (63.6% and 63.9%), mental health (42.7% and 35.6%) and boredom/loneliness (36.3% and 40%) were highest in the UK and the US respectively compared to Greece (43.8%, 25.1%, 18.3%), Italy (35.6%, 32.2%, 33.3%) and Hong Kong (39.4%, 18.2%, 22.7%) where the number of new cases and deaths have already plateaued during the same period; and
  2. Participants from all countries were concerned about the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 (48.5%-61.1%) and future plans (36.4%-54.2%).

Our study also look at people’s beliefs about social distancing measures. Of particular relevance to people returning to work, our UK participants reported the use of face covering in their community to be very low 0-30% compared to their counterparts in Italy (80%-100%), US (50%-80%), and Hong Kong (90%-100%). After months of debate around ‘face masks’ not being essential, the UK government has made the formal announcement of making ‘face coverings’ mandatory (4 June) on public transport as of on 15 June will be a nation-wide challenge. This behavioural change will require changing people’s beliefs about social distancing practices. With approximately half of UK respondents (45%) not firmly believing in the efficacy of wearing face masks outdoors – compared to Italy (78%), US (85%) and Hong Kong (97%) – the UK government will need to provide the public with more supportive and informative messages around face coverings.

What face coverings are encouraged if not surgical masks? How will families that are already disproportionately affected financially also afford face coverings? Could there be a nationwide scheme for a standard face covering?2

Source: Hong Kong governenet scheme for free reusable face masks for its citisens. Online registration required. https://www.nonwovensnews.com/consumer-products-news/14965-extra-protection-for-hong-king-citizens

While COVID-19 has affected everyone, some are affected more than others. To rebuild our community and direct resources to populations in need, we must understand how COVID-19 is impacting us today. Our survey of adults during these challenging times and beyond can help assess the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and social relationships in the UK compared to other countries where lockdown policies are more strict or more lax.

As we continue to learn how COVID affects people’s lives, we hope to build a community for interested participants to share their lived experiences. We have collated some resources on our website and started a blog to inform people about our study findings.

Because if COVID-19 is going to be with us for some time, we should do everything we can to emerge from this stronger, more informed, and better prepared for the future.

Image by mattthewafflecat from Pixabay

  1. University of Pennsylvania, University of Trento, Nanyang Technological University, University of Massachusetts Lowell and The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
  2. For example in Hong Kong, reuseable face masks are free and mailed to directly to all citizens who register their details on an online form. A similar arrangement is in place in South Korea, which has a very good track-and-trace system and encourages its citizens to collect reusable face masks at local convenient stores on specific days of the week, based on information on their identity card.

This is a repost of the original post by the Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 9 June 2020. This post is written by Dr Keri Wong (@DrKeriWong), Assistant Professor in Psychology at the University College London, UK and PI of the Global Covid Study.

If you have any questions and/or comments, please post below or email contact@globalcovidstudy.com. We would love to hear from you!