Having spent more than a year in and out of lockdowns, many of us have started to experience unexplainable symptoms such as tiredness and a general lack of motivation as we muddle through the days. This cognitive fog is a result of pandemic burnout as we go through the same motions every day. Life under the third lockdown in the UK, which began on 6 January 2021, has certainly added to this sense of stagnation, or ‘languishing’ as termed by psychologist Corey Keys.
This phenomenon was certainly the lived experience of the participants we worked with as part of our Lockdown Diaries project last year, and who we recently revisited in order to understand how they were coping as we first embarked on the roadmap out of the third lockdown. Between 1 March and 14 March 2021, our six participants used their smartphones to share videos, images, and notes about daily life and talk to us about the pandemic.
Similar to cognitive fog, pandemic burnout and ‘languishing’, the key themes emerging from our research were boredom and monotony. Participants told us in a dull, flat tone of voice, nearly every day, that their lives were unremarkable and unexciting. In the following video Charlie tells us how boring the last few months have been:
Our participants tried different things to stay entertained. Carolyn picked up Spanish with the help of the Duolingo app, and Martin began renovating a home for his daughter and grandson. Some used the time for self-reflection and to find a different path in life. Sophie began meditating daily during the second lockdown and then chose to pursue a yoga training course. And with a lack of things to do, participants took time to appreciate the small joys in life. Charlie enjoyed takeaways and video gaming with his friends, and Martin was buoyed by his hens’ egg laying capabilities.
The long lockdown also left participants feeling demotivated. This was particularly evident among those who had to home-school their children. Jess and Jane mentioned how both they and their kids struggled to stay engaged with learning at home as lockdown continued. Jane described how her daughter was enthusiastic about online Zoom classes last September, but that this was no longer the case.
“Forcing her to sit in front of a screen and do all this has been quite tough.” – Jane
Nor were they alone in this; a recent KnowledgePanel Poll found that three in ten (31%) parents stated that home schooling has not gone well.
Looking towards the future, the roadmap out of lockdown has led to mixed feelings. Like three in five (61%) of the public who find it hard to be positive about the future, we found differing levels of confidence amongst our participants. Charlie, who’s in a band, was keen to start playing again and is already enjoying studio time. On the other hand, Carolyn, a retiree who is recovering from long COVID, was apprehensive about going back to her busy social and volunteering life.
In spite of the difficulties they have faced though, our participants have tried to stay positive as they look towards the future. With the vaccination programme underway, many of them are keen to get theirs, and see this as the route out of lockdown. Sophie, like over four in five (83%) of the UK , intends to get vaccinated as soon as she can and has already made plans to travel with her group of girlfriends later this year.
They also reflected that, ultimately, we might find that the ‘new normal’ looks and feels a lot like our pre-COVID routines. They also wondered whether, as we ease our way back into shops, pubs, gyms, public transport and each other’s arms, we might find that symptoms of brain fog and pandemic burnout will give way to excitement as we can once again do the things we have all missed.
 3,588 British adults aged 18+ were interviewed online on the Ipsos MORI UK KnowledgePanel between 4 - 10 March 2021. 674 were parents/guardians, of whom 520 were parents/guardians of children who needed home-schooling.
 Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,065 British adults aged 18-75. Interviews were conducted online from 8th-11th January 2021. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.
 Ipsos tracking survey conducted on the Global Advisor online platform from 11th – 14th March 2021 with 1,000 British adults aged 16-74.