“With a blizzard, everything shuts down, but you know it’ll be a day, 2, maybe 3. It has some degree of a time frame,” says Philip R. Muskin, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. “This has no time frame. You can’t assess anything because we don’t have reliable information. The information we have is always tempered with politics. Who do you believe?”
Staying home indefinitely leads to behavior that can worsen your malaise. How many Zoom calls have you sat through without getting fully dressed? “For many of us, every day feels like every other day, even if we’re working,” says Muskin. “We joke about being in our underwear, but that’s different from how most of us work. No tie, no suit, no dress — the homogeneity of days contributes to the sense that this will never end.”
That was the case for Marvin Doctor of Corona, NY. “In the beginning, I really wasn’t coping well,” he says. “Working from home, I could get away with not doing certain things, and that led me into a depressive episode.”
He found himself sleeping more and letting projects that weren’t urgent go unfinished. When he developed symptoms that might be COVID, his mood sank even further. “The paranoia of being sick contributed somewhat. I got tested and was negative, but the feeling of being a pariah was horrible,” Doctor says. Once the art gallery where he works began to reopen, his outlook improved.
Isolation, too, can dull your mood. “We’re missing something called the amplification effect, the idea that when we’re around other humans, our emotions intensify, both positively and negatively,” says Marisa G. Franco, PhD, a psychologist and friendship expert. “When we’re not around people in the same way, we’re not getting that amplification of our emotions. We’re in a state of constantly feeling blah.”
For others, the financial effects of the shutdown have been overwhelming. Sofia Moncayo of Sunnyside, NY, owns a martial arts studio with her husband. They were forced to close for 6 months.
“The first few weeks, I was a little numb, trying to adjust, waiting for it to be over,” she says. “It was scary and stressful, and you just wanted everybody to be safe. And then it became, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do? How are we going to get by? How will we make ends meet?’ That was a really difficult time.”