Data Discoveries

Date: 26 May, 2020

Covid-19 Emotion Tracker. How do we really feel – The grounded global citizen.

Lucy Remitz
Janine McBennett

By Lucy Remitz & Janine McBennett

Strategist & Data and Insight Analyst
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Welcome back to ‘How Do We Really Feel?’, where we dig deep into the nation’s feelings using our self-taught AI mood tracker along with our weekly focus groups.

Now that the country is on its way to (slowly and steadily) regaining a sense of normality, we’ve been continuing to sense-check the mood of the nation online on our very own ‘Mood Tracker’ as we move through this phase. As always, we see peaks and troughs of both positive and negative sentiment by the day, and even by the hour, so let’s take a deeper dive into it...

Understandably, we saw a huge rise in feelings of positivity and optimism from 9am on May 18th, the day we entered phase 1 of returning the country back to normal. Interestingly, morale had been quite low leading up to this day, and if we notice on the graph, it dips once again in the days that follow this. On this day, users took to social to express their positive feelings about entering the first phase of returning to normal, highlighting the "big day"  for local Irish gardening and hardware businesses. There was also positive conversation around “reasons to be optimistic about a coronavirus vaccine”. Many posts thanking Simon Harris and the government for their work circulated, and there were special shout outs for the GAA and the positive impact its members are having in supporting frontline workers. Overall, the mood this day was largely ‘feel good’.

However, we have noticed since that the mood of the nation has taken a dip, as the high we felt entering phase 1 has slowly faded to the realisation that we are still a long way away from regaining the lives we are yearning for. We are feeling frustrated with the “monotony” of the routine we have been living for the past few weeks.

Some are also feeling frustration at the term “new normal” - have we become too accustomed to hearing this term being thrown about, without really questioning it and what repercussions it might have?

There is also the worry that it is misleading as a phrase, implying that life before was “normal”, as viewed with rose-tinted glasses:

This concept of Covid 19 shining a light on the ‘inequality’ of the country has been a topic of discussion overall over the past two weeks amongst many users, ultimately driving this negative sentiment and mood we are seeing. We are realising the longer this pandemic goes on, that it is potentially heightening the inequalities that exist within the country.

A closer look at the grounded global citizens

This week we’re talking to a group of people who have been truly grounded as a result of this pandemic. While we are all essentially “stuck here,” some are more affected than others, either relying on a majority of work abroad, having all of their family in a different country or those who travel for extended periods of time.

Because of these broad ‘global citizen’ parameters, we were allowed to hear from all sorts of different people around Ireland. We spoke to a wide range of people, like musicians or actors generally used to working abroad (one of whom had just had a US & Australia tour cancelled), business executives who spend around a week each month in London, non-Irish people who have lived here for more than a few years and those who are used to spending the majority of their time travelling around the world.

We wanted to speak to this group to help represent a somewhat outsider view and have a good discussion of what lessons we might want to take into the future. For this week’s report, we first detail some of the common themes for this audience and then shift to some guiding questions they (and probably lots of us) are asking themselves while we shift into this “new normal.”

Novelty is over, plain and simple

It’s been well over two months now (who can keep count?) and speaking to new groups of people weekly, the point is often reinforced: the newness is over. People are simply tired of it all, with this group in particular being “over it”.

For those used to living lives across countries – they find this especially hard. One of the business execs we spoke to is the only one of her team in Dublin, with all of her co-workers in London. She said it’s the longest she’s been without going over and even though everyone is virtual, it feels like she’s left out or missing what’s happening over there. They are wondering what’s next and how we proceed forward as right now we’re completely stuck – “Zoom and teams and the like just aren’t the same as human contact”.

It’s a total feeling of stagnation, the “temporariness” of it all is fading. For this group, who are used to meeting new people often and seeing new places, being stuck in a small radius is a big blow to normality. At the end of our discussion guide, people stayed on the line and talked about how nice it was to talk to someone new, and how they were “itching to get back to it”. Simply said: “I want to be served a drink on a coaster!”

Palpable desperation to get out of where they are

“When they closed the airports I automatically felt claustrophobic. I had to make a decision to stay here rather than go home to Spain, it was so difficult and I still wonder if I made the right call.”

Especially for those not from Ireland, there is a keen sense of dread or fear that would never have existed there before. There was generally always a choice to being somewhere and once that’s removed or you’re unable to go to your real home, it’s like a tightening at the throat. Immediately there was a collective sense of stress, a feeling of being stuck and an intense worry around when they would work or travel to see family again.

There was a look into people’s desperation with one example:

“My friend bought a flight ticket leaving from Cork, she didn’t plan on using it at all, but essentially had a pass if she was stopped then she could have an excuse. This was so that she could leave her immediate area as she felt just so stuck. She has eight housemates as well (two in each room) so needed to escape.”

Pressure to pen the ‘Great American Novel’ yet lack of motivation

As the reality that this situation isn’t going away any time soon, it feels almost like talking to a group of people in the middle of January or early February. The ambitions and aspirations that were present have definitely started to weather away.

Not even just having extra time without a commute, there’s now a lot of extra time that would have been filled with travel time. Like many other groups we’ve spoken to, this one also feels that “there’s such a pressure to be productive internally right now.” However, it’s feeling harder than ever to have motivation, as what was originally going to be a potential few weeks has extended much further beyond a couple of months and is now a question of early 2021.

Planned down to the millisecond before

While this sentiment isn’t necessarily exclusively for this audience, with this particular group constant travelling nearly every weekend (or week in some cases) now being gone, there’s a realisation that, before now, essentially every weekend and evening was planned. It was always a focus on what is next rather than what was presently in front of them and living in the moment.

“For instance, I don’t really have anything on next weekend, something that would never happen before, which is both exciting and terrifying”.

There is a collective understanding that there is some joy in not having plans, not having every weekend taken up by travel (sometimes) and potential learnings moving forward beyond this limbo. Again, it’s difficult to know whether that’s a temporary measure and novelty feelings, when after a summer (or a year, really) without travel if that will still be the case.

Optimistic, but the danger of having a plan in place

These were the first conversations we had after the government’s phased plan was announced, which meant, in some ways, there was less uncertainty in the following few months as having dates attributed to movement and when things could open again did provide some comfort for people.

This did lead to a sense of optimism, “especially because no other countries are really publishing actual dates. Yes, they might change but I like that we can have milestones at least,” with feeling like there was an end of some kind there was reassurance for this group.

But there’s a huge worry that having this plan and dates will make people break the rules even more. It seemed to be equally parts comforting and unnerving, with a legitimate concern that people will go mad when each stage is progressed. We’ve already seen this with hours of queues at home and gardening stores re-opening last week.

“My friend emailed a link of a musical happening in December that I would normally go to in a heartbeat. But now I’m not even sure if in December it will feel safe enough?”.

Evaluating what’s worth the risk and what’s at the other end of the journey

As things open up more, this audience of course realises that the virus hasn’t simply gone away and that other countries aren’t taking things as seriously as Ireland, which presents unique problems when traveling. It’s not going back to their normal life of travel.

One person’s family in India has a family wedding set to happen at the end of this summer (with a planned attendance of over a thousand people) with talk of it being postponed to sometime early next year. They’re not sure if they would travel back, weighing up that it might not be worth the risk. It feels at this stage if you’re traveling far, it almost requires you to stay put there as there will likely be self-isolation required on both sides. Most aren’t really entertaining the thought of international travel, unless they absolutely have to.

Beyond travel – the idea of any type of gathering elicits a sense of stress:

Shifting towards a new future and defining what we think this could be

This extra time and extra headspace for some has us questioning so much in our lives. There’s essentially a BC (before Corona) and AD (after disease) that has us wondering what we actually want to take forward into the “new normal.”

One participant even joked that it’s like the Marie Kondo effect for all of our lives – what brings us joy, what’s worthwhile and what is worth tossing? The result meant lots of questions that I think we’re all asking ourselves and re-evaluating what happens when the restrictions loosen and we’re getting back to some level of “normality.”

There is a collective understanding that there is some joy in not having plans, not having every weekend taken up by travel (sometimes) and potential learnings moving forward beyond this limbo. Again, it’s difficult to know whether that’s a temporary measure and novelty feelings, when after a summer (or a year, really) without travel if that will still be the case.

1Work: How can companies say no in the future to working from home?

“My friend emailed a link of a musical happening in December that I would normally go to in a heartbeat. But now I’m not even sure if in December it will feel safe enough?”.

The typical office environment will have to change and allow for more flexible approaches across the board.

2Friendships: How can we prioritise relationships without all of the normal excuses?

This time has shown more Zoom calls than ever. For some, especially those with family and friends far afield, the question is if this will continue or if this will shift back to the normal levels of busyness.

3Environment: How can we turn a blind eye to some of the positive effects of our inaction?

It was a topic that was on many people’s minds before the pandemic, especially for this group who feel some guilt for their global citizen lifestyle. Even with a worldwide halt in contributors like travel, we have still barely met the targets set for us this year.

4Wider social issues: How can we address the burning issues that won’t simply go away after this situation?

For example, with the leaving cert and broadband access – there are disadvantages threaded throughout our society that have been highlighted even more that now need to be addressed.

5Community: How can we maintain this lovely, local community feeling?

We all hear the wonderful stories of neighbours helping neighbours, when before this lots of people were essentially strangers. This is a sensibility still maintained in country parts, but what about urban centres? Will we still know our neighbours in two years time?

6Gratitude & appreciation: Ultimately, how can we continue the kindness we’re showing to others and thank those doing important (yet sometimes unrecognised) work?

Fast forward a few years, even a few months, and there’s speculation that all this niceness will be gone. There’s been a palpable ‘we’re in this together’ vibe and a sense of group power. How can we keep this, maintain it and bring it to the future? Can we keep this, channel it and bring more positives into whatever this new world is?

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