How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced our mood?

Jenny McMahon
About the Author

Jenny McMahon is a psychology student at the Technical University in Darmstadt (Germany) and is currently doing an internship at the University Hospital in Frankfurt at the Department of Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy. Here, she is supporting the APPetite-study (WP 3 of the Eat2beNice project).


Throughout this year, we have all felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in one way or another.

The pandemic and related measures such as lockdown have been a major part of lives worldwide and have had a wide range of effects, such as isolation, increased stress and fear of contracting or spreading the virus.

One further effect that has been present is a change in lifestyle and health behaviours like alcohol consumption, sleep quality, diet and physical activity.

As these behaviours have been shown to be linked to mental well-being and differences in mood, a recent study (1) examined changed health behaviours as well as differences in negative mood during different points of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Participants of the study were asked to rate the changes in alcohol consumption, sleep quality, diet and physical activity that occurred in their lives during the COVID-19 lockdown, as well as negative aspects of their mood, such as confusion, tension, depression, fatigue, and anger.

But were these health behaviour changes actually related to negative mood aspects?

The answer is yes: Diet, sleep quality and level of physical activity all showed clear links to negative mood states.

Regarding Diet, those who described having a much unhealthier or a slightly unhealthier diet than before lockdown reported worse moods than those whose diet had stayed the same or even improved.

A similar pattern could be shown in respect to sleep quality. Much worse sleep quality related to worse moods than all other groups. Sleep that was slightly worse in quality than before lockdown still related to more negative moods than sleep quality that was unaffected.

The participants who recounted much less physical activity than usual showed worse moods than those that maintained the same activity levels as before lockdown or increased them.

There was no link found between level of alcohol consumption and negative mood states.

These results suggest an interplay of life-changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in health behaviours and related changes in mood and well-being.

Any conclusions drawn from this should however mind that the associations that were observed in this study cannot be seen as causal. This means that it is not clear whether the changes in health behaviour caused negative mood states or whether the relationship actually should be seen the other way around. It is also possible that both are influenced by other factors not explored in this study.

Overall, lockdown conditions were associated with higher negative mood levels, which may be attributed to reduced social contact, which has previously been shown to be linked to poor well-being.

This study adds to the research concerning the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures on the present and future health and well-being of those affected by them.

It shows that well-being could be affected by lifestyle changes; suggesting that making positive changes in sleep, diet and physical activity could be linked to increased well-being, at least in lockdown situations.

Reference:

  1. Ingram, J., Maciejewski, G., & Hand, C. J. (2020). Changes in diet, sleep, and physical activity are associated with differences in negative mood during COVID-19 lockdown. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 2328.