Perceived control over time, fear, and anxiety during and after lockdowns imposed due to COVID-19 pandemic; an overview for the Greek context 

Since March 2020, the lives of millions of humans worldwide have changed. How have people perceived this time? How socio-economic situations can really affect our understanding of time and our emotions? Many studies try to solve this puzzle, despite that though, as wise people say, you need to experience something to understand it. Soon after the official announcement by WHO for the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic on 16th of March 2020 (WHO, 2020) the majority of the governments worldwide enforced lockdowns and other restrictive measures aiming to reduce social interactions and decrease the possibility of transmissions. That time, billions of people self-isolated in force with sanctions in case of disobedience. During this period, I was existing in Greece and for that reason my standpoint unfolds from the socio-political context of this environment. 

Firstly, people in Greece forcibly self-isolated for about 192 days during the two major lockdowns between March 2020 and May 2021 (more info about the state regulations see here). Next, in the following paragraphs, I give an overview of how fear and anxiety may have been escalated and how perception of time may has been distorted during and after lockdowns. 

According to studies, pandemic has been an extreme stressor and has generated a fear of the unknown for an unknown duration, stress due to intolerance to uncertainty, to perceived vulnerability to get infected, and fear of death; all together have caused an elevated sense of worry, panic, agitation, distress, and have dramatically increased the levels of anxiety, depression, and terror among individuals (Kontoangelos, Economou, & Papageorgiou, 2020; Menzies & Menzies, 2020). More, lockdowns have also provoked intense emotional and behavioural reactions including boredom, loneliness, insomnia, and anger. Waking up to the news of thousands of deaths daily while at the same time many people have lost loved ones have certainly affected our state of mind. In a similar way, the conditions of lockdowns have forced individuals to confront with their own inner thoughts and selves and have raised a ton of individual existential questions as typical social interactions were enforceably interrupted. Moreover, the constant fear for violating the social isolation measures during lockdowns as this could had led to contracting the virus has also contributed to augmented levels of anxiety and stress. Enduring constantly two years difficult negative emotions has also affected our decision-making mechanisms which have been disoriented placing some in a state of fight or flight (Gunther, 2020). Despite the fact that lockdowns have not been imposed for more than a year now, and people have returned to a normality globally, without a doubt they have been emotionally dysregulated. Taking into account the perception of time into the equation of the emotional response of the lockdowns, it is certain that the comprehension of the psychological impact of the pandemic is becoming even more complex and more time will be needed to see the actual effects within communities. 

As far as it concerns time, principally, it is a social construct, an invisible, abstract, non-existent something which humans invented and nominated to categorise an intangible situation that they cannot control so that to have a sense of control and the ability to organise life and create a state of stability and routine (Adam, 2013). In an objective reality, time is a continuum; it is usually taken for granted, and it is made trivial by habits and routines. Normally, the structure of time emerges consciously either in times of pandemic either when social institutions implement extreme changes in policies or during other phenomena (see more at Levrini, et al., 2021). According to Wessels et al. (2022), perceived passage of time has been distorted during lockdowns. This distortion of time has been found to be associated with attention and emotional state (Martinelli & Droit-Volet, 2022). For instance, when someone is giving attention towards the passage of time or is in a decreased arousal state of mind (e.g., boredom or moody) then time passes with a slower speed (e.g., checking the clock when waiting for the bus). On the other hand, when someone is busy and in an increased arousal state then time passes with a high speed. The truth is that time passes with the same temp no matter what is happening in our environment. The lockdowns certainly contributed to the unrest of our perception of time. Considering that we have not been in lockdown since early 2021, it is reckoned that many individuals probably have the feeling that time is passing fast, especially when socio-political and economic developments, social activities, and other forms of social interactions have returned to normality.  

To conclude, studies note that the feeling of panic that has been left due to an uncertainty about the future has a larger impact on mental health than the fear of contracting the virus itself (Kontoangelos, Economou, & Papageorgiou, 2020). Despite all the challenges though (e.g., Carlin, Baumgartner, Moftakhar, König & Negrin, 2021; Usta, Murr & El-Jarrah, 2021) the pandemic has certainly given a chance for a re-evaluation of our time and our existence in this planet. 

References 

Adam, B. (2013). Timewatch: The social analysis of time. John Wiley & Sons. 

Carlin, G. L., Baumgartner, J. S., Moftakhar, T., König, D., & Negrin, L. L. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 lockdown on suicide attempts. Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift, 133(17), 915-922. 

Gunther, A. (2020). COVID-19: fight or flight. Agriculture and Human Values, 37(3), 591-592. 

Kontoangelos, K., Economou, M., & Papageorgiou, C. (2020). Mental health effects of COVID-19 pandemia: a review of clinical and psychological traits. Psychiatry investigation, 17(6), 491. 

Levrini, O., Fantini, P., Barelli, E., Branchetti, L., Satanassi, S., & Tasquier, G. (2021). The present shock and time re-appropriation in the pandemic era. Science & education, 30(1), 1-31. 

Martinelli, N., & Droit-Volet, S. (2022). What factors underlie our experience of the passage of time? Theoretical consequences. Psychological Research, 86(2), 522-530. 

Menzies, R. E., & Menzies, R. G. (2020). Death anxiety in the time of COVID-19: Theoretical explanations and clinical implications. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 13

Usta, J., Murr, H., & El-Jarrah, R. (2021). COVID-19 Lockdown and the increased violence against women: understanding domestic violence during a pandemic. Violence and gender, 8(3), 133-139. 

Wessels, M., Utegaliyev, N., Bernhard, C., Welsch, R., Oberfeld, D., Thönes, S., & von Castell, C. (2022). Adapting to the pandemic: longitudinal effects of social restrictions on time perception and boredom during the Covid-19 pandemic in Germany. Scientific reports, 12(1), 1-12. 

WHO (2020). Origin of SARS-CoV-2. Retrieved online from: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/332197  

Author : Eleftherios Baltzidis has graduated from the Democritus University of Thrace in Greece holding a B.Ed. in Education and from the University of Kent in England holding a M.Sc. in Developmental Psychology. The last six years he is a humanitarian field worker in Greece, and you could contact him at e.baltzidis@entaxis-aie.org.  

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