A year is a long time to not live your life the way you’d planned to.
We’ve become more reclusive than ever before – and not out of choice.
Extroverts who thrived off nights out and time with friends have been forced to adapt to a very stripped back, anti-social lifestyle and have instead found themselves taking up wholesome hobbies such as baking and embroidery.
And while introverts may have welcomed the slower pace of life the pandemic has presented, they’ve also had to learn to live with virtually no alone time, with housemates, partners and family constantly in the house.
‘Everyone will have changed to some degree out of this, there’s no way it can go on for a year and people will be exactly the same as they were before,’ says behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings
All this makes us question if it’s possible such a prolonged change will impact our personalities for the long-term. After all, if we’ve changed our behaviour for so long, surely it could affect who we are going forward?
Jo explains that our personalities don’t tend to radically change unless there’s a traumatic event, so we won’t become brand new people. But we might notice some differences.
‘Our personalities are sort of set in stone really,’ she says.
‘It is possible for them to change but usually it is as a result of PTSD – you could argue that some people have PTSD when this is over and they will have some sort of personality change – but I think, in essence, the people we are don’t change.
‘We do, however, learn things about ourselves, so we either learn how resilient or how adaptable we are, we learn to change our behaviours – they are not personalities, they are just adapting to the change that’s been forced upon us or our reaction to that change.’
So what are some of the things that we will notice over the months to come?
If there’s one positive to come out of the pandemic, it’s that we’ve realised the things that truly matter to us in life.
Jo says: ‘I think a lot of it is to do with what we did take for granted before – whether that was going to the shops, hugging your family or good health.
‘So I think we will – certainly for a considerable period of time – cherish the things that were once on auto-pilot.
‘Now, we know to value them more – that’s one good thing that will come out of this, is the value people put on the things they didn’t question previously because they had never been threatened or compromised.’
The pandemic has put a lot of things into perspective. Silly arguments and stressing about minor day-to-day things just don’t matter anymore – we’ve all seen first-hand how things can be so much worse than an annoying boss or an irritating housemate.
Jo adds: ‘You learn not to be fussy about the petty things in life, you just learn that some of the things we worried about or fell out with people about just seem so ridiculous now.
‘Even talking about Brexit – that went on for three years and the arguments around that. If you look back on that, I can’t remember why we invested so much energy in discussing that – compared to a pandemic it really isn’t that big a deal.’
It’s also made us come to terms with what we want out of life – whether it’s to spend more time with our friends and family, to change career path or to just live every day to the fullest.
This isn’t a change in our personalities, it’s a change in the things we are prioritising and giving more time to.
Our bodies will feel better
Another noticeable change we will start to see as life slowly returns back to normality, is both our bodies and minds finally relaxing – which will have a positive impact on our mood.
Jo says: ‘We’ve been running very high for the past year on adrenaline and cortisol so those are the two stress hormones.
‘Normally in life you have to have a bit of them both (otherwise you’d just be the most chilled person ever), but they have been running on overdrive for most people for the best part of a year, and we haven’t been able to regulate them. So that in itself is partly why we get anxious and sad.’
We’ve been constantly on edge for the past 12 months – anxiety around headlines, restrictions and our health, in general, has been never-ending.
But this will gradually decrease as the months go on and our bodies won’t feel like they are constantly on high alert – which means we will physically (and emotionally) feel better.
Hormones that have been rampaging through us for the past year will drop
Jo adds: ‘Once freedoms are back and we feel safe in those freedoms, those hormones that have been rampaging through us for the past year will drop. So, inevitably, those people who have been affected badly by mental illness will start to feel better.
‘That will help and they will drop down to more regular and normal levels, and help people feel less sad or anxious.’
This should make us a lot happier, too.
We will have built resilience
When you think about it, we’ve come a hell of a long way in just a year. We’ve adapted to working from home lifestyles, home-schooling, limited social contact and restrictions – and we’ve just got on with all of it.
Jo says this is one thing that will change everyone collectively.
She adds: ‘I think 100% we will be more resilient, I think that’s maybe the one thing people don’t know yet that they’ve learned.
‘I think as we begin to come out of it people will look back on it and be like “I did that” and we should be proud of ourselves.
‘There were ups and downs and good days and bad days, but somehow once that resilience is with you that’s quite enduring, and I think that’s something people don’t necessarily consider very often.’
Young people may take a hit
In terms of identity and the long-term impact of the pandemic, Jo says it’s actually the younger generations we should be looking out for.
‘I think when your identity is being formed – which is really your adolescent years (12-19) and even into your early 20s – those are really formative years and understanding yourself and identity.’
There’s no denying the past 12 months have been tough on everyone – key workers and NHS staff, in particular.
But when it comes to self-development and learning about who we are, the pandemic has robbed younger generations of one their most important years.
Jo says: ‘I think that has been really tough for them, as it’s a time to find out who you are, and what you believe it and that opportunity hasn’t been there for them to exercise their own understanding of their identity and I think that will have an impact on them in due course.
‘I certainly hope the government has put aside some money for people’s mental health and wellbeing, because one of those formative years has not been there for them to explore.’
The Year That Changed Us
The past year has been… weird, to put it lightly.
12 months of living with Covid-19, from the restrictions on our old way of life, to going in and out of lockdown, to being confronted by the reality of death and illness, is bound to have radically changed us.
We may never go back to the way we were before.
Our series, The Year That Changed Us explores all the ways we’ve been impacted by the pandemic and how these effects will stick with us long-term, from our friendships to the nation’s mental health.
You can read the full series here.
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch at MetroLifestyleTeam@metro.co.uk.
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