How the Pandemic Hit Our Mental Health

Have lifestyle changes during the Covid-19 pandemic left an enduring mark on our well-being?

Erman Misirlisoy, PhD
Elemental
Published in
6 min readFeb 22, 2022

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Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Like most things in life, our behavioral changes during the Covid-19 pandemic may come with some unfortunate trade-offs. National lockdowns and restrictions of social activity have helped to curb the number of virus-related deaths en route to the highly effective vaccines available to us today. But have they also left a dent in our mental health along the way?

Here’s a look at some of the latest research examining how our daily behavior has changed over the course of the pandemic, and how those changes are continuing to impact our well-being, even as pandemic restrictions are becoming less severe.

Comic from Skeleton Claw Comics

The Great Behavioral Shift

In a paper published in February 2021, a group of US researchers investigated how the early course of the Covid-19 pandemic affected people’s daily habits. They analyzed data from a wellness study on college students that ran from February 2019 to July 2020. This time frame allowed them to examine student well-being before the onset of the pandemic and compare it to well-being after lockdowns began in March 2020.

Data came from surveys and Fitbits. Surveys collected feedback on daily habits and changing lifestyles. The wearables added some objective wellness indicators to the mix, especially in relation to physical activity and sleep quality.

The critical time period the researchers analyzed was the 3-month semester from February to April in 2020. They found that the average number of steps people took per day declined more than 50% from the start of February to the end of April, dropping from ~10,000 steps to ~4,600 steps. Physical activity more generally dropped from 4.4 hours to 2.9 hours per day, but came with a nice counterbalance of an extra 30 minutes of sleep each night.

Unsurprisingly, social contact suffered right after pandemic onset with people reporting ~30 mins a day of social activity — a decline of almost two-thirds. People also…

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Erman Misirlisoy, PhD
Elemental

Research Leader (Ex-Instagram / Chief Scientist at multiple startups). Author of the User Insight Newsletter: https://userinsight.substack.com/