The changes in all of our lives were so vast and so sudden, it's no wonder that with the arrival of COVID-19, our stress levels shot through the roof. Rather than going about our business in public, touching and breathing on everything without a care in the world, we're largely still keeping ourselves masked and indoors, hyperaware of how close anyone may be standing. Never did we think we'd get used to living like this — until, suddenly, many of us did.
Psychologists at the University of Maryland have just released a study looking into why these pandemic conditions are starting to feel less unusual, and it's not simply because we've had months of practice by now. "Our psychological immune system is so effective that even though we have an ongoing, persisting stressor, we start to fix ourselves almost immediately," said lead author Trevor Foulk. COVID-19 has provided us with a perfect example of how we rely on and form resilience.
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The study zeroed in on participants' feelings of agency and authenticity. While stress levels spiked starting in March, when state lockdown orders went widely into effect, the most distressing part of the experience came down to a sense of powerlessness and inauthenticity. Within about two weeks, Foulk and his team found that feelings of "normalcy" returned, even if objective stress levels were still high. Intriguingly, people with more neurotic tendencies ("people who tend to be more nervous, anxious, depressed, self-conscious and vulnerable") recovered even more quickly, despite a more pronounced reaction to the stress.
All of that is to say that while working from home, providing nonstop childcare, shopping online, and self-isolating remain exhausting, our brains have found a way to help us get through to the other side of it.