7 Surprising Ways COVID-19 Is Changing the Way You Think

You are undergoing personal change, but is it for the better?

Posted Mar 22, 2020

 Slidebot, used with permission
Source: Slidebot, used with permission

If you are like most people, the COVID-19 virus has you stressed out, even if you are not sick. You may feel tired, worried, apathetic, anxious, frustrated, depressed, or afraid. You may even be angry or disgusted because you think some people aren’t taking the pandemic seriously enough, while others are being overzealous and unnecessarily panicked. You might believe that the call for social distancing is unjustified or that the government has lost control. Whatever feelings the virus has prompted, we know one thing for sure, the world in which we live has changed. Along with a greater focus on personal hygiene, consideration for others, and an evolution in work practices, there is a major paradigm shift occurring in the background—a change in the way we think about the world and ourselves.

We have a choice: we can succumb to the psychological pressure of the pandemic or leverage the opportunity to induce personal growth. You probably know from experience when things feel hopeless and times are tough, we wind up thinking, feeling, and doing things that we hadn’t considered or even thought possible during more prosperous times. I remember the day I returned from my honeymoon to find out I was laid off from my first professional job. Another time I was fired a week after buying a new house that I couldn’t really afford in the first place. However, both times, in what I thought were my darkest hours, I wound up experiencing more personal growth than ever before. I reinvented myself and that is likely what is happening to you right now.

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t noticed any change because when distracted by an external enemy like the chaos of Corona it is common to lack awareness as to how our beliefs and behaviors evolve. Unlike the pronounced physical attributes that distinguish human beings, psychological markers, such as beliefs, preferences, and personal expectancies, defy direct observation and are even more difficult to interpret precisely (Hoffman, 2015). Humans are notoriously bad at self-assessment, leading belief researcher David Feldon to declare in one study that “participants’ self-explanations are largely inaccurate” (2010, p. 395).

What’s really happening and how is COVID-19 silently changing you? There are at least seven possible ways:

You realize what you have taken for granted. The “corona crisis” has forced us to realize that many of our customary ways of life are not guaranteed. Regardless of wealth, ethnicity, age, political beliefs, or any other individual differences, we are collectively feeling the consequences of the virus. Socializing is restricted and many of us are unable to perform the basic functions of our jobs (if we are lucky enough to still have one). Necessities are scarce. When we acknowledge our good fortune, we also become more aware of the plight of others. In turn, we boost our empathy and the willingness to help those who are in need. Assisting others ultimately serves as an ego boost because when we help we often feel better, too (Batson, Ahmad, & Stocks, 2011).

You harbor feelings of diminished control. Many people, especially in North American cultures, feel independent and believe that they can determine what they will accomplish and how they will navigate their lives. Described as external control beliefs by psychologists, we are now in a period where even our greatest efforts and extraordinary faith may be challenged and derailed by the infectious global climate. The perception of control is gone. Despite the external challenges, we can still promote personal change and remain in control by considering different approaches. For some, this may be a time of deep introspection and a period of resurrection when we re-evaluate the course of our lives to orchestrate positive changes once the crisis is over.

You are gaining clarity through simplicity. Considering the massive regulatory and mandated restrictions on our mobility and discretionary time, we are now forced to focus on those things that are unaffected by the global climate. We can still take pleasure in phoning an old friend, writing in a journal, taking long solitary walks, or relaxing in the sunshine while ignoring the minor inconveniences of life. Things that typically were frustrating like sitting in traffic or having to work through lunch don’t seem quite as significant now because we recognize that the most basic pleasures in life are still intact and there for the taking.

Your long-term goals may seem less important. Many people have the tendency to look forward to what comes next at the expense of enjoying the moment or as advice columnist Ann Landers advocated and popularized in the 1950s, we should take time to “stop and smell the roses.” Landers wanted people to enjoy the moment. While it may be illogical to think our future goals are at risk, research does show that individuals who “presentize” and enjoy what they are doing when they are doing it report higher subjective well-being than those who dwell on the past or who focus on the future. Considering the uncertainties that are ahead, the virus for many has shifted thoughts from what may happen months from now to what we are doing today.

Your gratitude is growing exponentially. We are in an extraordinary period of uncertainty. If you can get to a grocery store you probably cannot find toilet paper, hand sanitizer, or even something as basic as hamburger meat. You are beginning to feel fortunate that you have some of the necessities in life. People with higher levels of gratitude routinely report greater life satisfaction (Fagley, 2012). Collective well-being is replacing the more common individualistic and selfish ideologies that are often the norm in countries like the U.S. and Canada. You may find yourself more frequently “opting in” to support common causes such as volunteerism and organ donation when previously the default choice was “opting out.”

You may finally understand what exceptionalism and privilege mean. Let’s face it—if you are reading this post, you probably have a smartphone or computer and internet service. Whether you realize it or not, regardless of the personal challenges you may need to overcome, you are far better off than the vast majority of people who are less fortunate and may not know when or if they will have a place to sleep or food to eat. You may now realize that exceptionalism and privilege are not about how hard you have worked or what you have sacrificed or accomplished, but instead is about living your day-to-day life without needing to think about your physical or psychological safety, which in many cases, at least temporarily, may be in serious jeopardy.

 Slidebot, used with permission
Source: Slidebot, used with permission

Individual differences are fading. When we have a common enemy, we tend to bond with those around us. Even the most argumentative spouses, partners, or overbearing teenagers can agree they don’t want to get sick and need to work together to overcome the virus. We realize that the virus doesn’t care if we are black, white, young, old, educated, illiterate, Democrat, Republican, incarcerated, homeless, or a celebrity living in a mansion. We are learning that we are all equally vulnerable and fundamentally the same despite the superficial differences in how we look, what we believe, or where we are from.

Summarily, the world is uniting against a common enemy. Social change is upon us. Personal and political ideologies must become secondary to overcome the current obstacles. Rival countries are banding together to help each other despite philosophical differences. Now is the time to recognize that your beliefs are also changing and the fight against COVID-19 will ultimately transform you for the better. Now wash your hands.

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References

Batson, C. D., Ahmad, N., & Stocks, E. L. (2011). Four forms of prosocial motivation: Egoism, altruism, collectivism, and principlism. In D. Dunning (Ed.), Social motivation (pp. 103–126). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Fagley, N. S. (2012). Appreciation uniquely predicts life satisfaction above demographics, the Big 5 personality factors, and gratitude. Personality and Individual Differences53(1), 59-63.

Feldon, D. F. (2010). Do psychology researchers tell it like it is? A microgenetic analysis of research strategies and self-report accuracy along a continuum of expertise. Instructional Science, 38(4), 395–415.

Hoffman, B. (2015). Motivation for Learning & Performance. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.