Data Discoveries

Date: 28 April, 2020

Covid-19 Emotion Tracking: How do we really feel?

Lucy Remitz
Janine McBennett

By Lucy Remitz & Janine McBennett

Strategist & Data and Insight Analyst

So, as another week of lockdown rolls around and another week of uncertainty looms over us, we’re back with another edition of Covid-19 Emotion Tracking: How Do We Really Feel? As always, we are continuing to use our AI technology to track our ups and downs (and the everything in between) in order to obtain a deep insight into the ever-changing attitudes of the nation as we make our way through the unknowns of this pandemic.

To get even further under the skin of how we are really feeling, each week we’ll also be delving deeper into a key audience to illuminate their specific moods and layer these insights alongside our emotion tracker. To do this, we are running online focus groups with a relevant audience around the country to bring you the most up-to-date take-outs from our discussions with them. The conversations will offer a closer look and provide some of the why behind the emotion tracking data that we see.


However, over the weekend we saw a dip in these feelings of optimism, overtaken by a sharp rise in feelings of anger and frustration, most notably on Saturday, 25th April:

These feelings were attributed largely to users taking to social to shun those who are ignoring social distancing measures. There is a real concern that people are becoming too relaxed and therefore prolonging this lockdown for everyone else. There was also very pointed anger felt at 8pm on Saturday, when it was announced that the strict garda enforcements would not be in place for those coming from Northern Ireland on day trips. People deemed this an “absolute joke” and an “insult” to the rest of us.


This week, we’ve spoken with urban working millennials to get under the skin of what they’re thinking, feeling and how they are impacted by the current situation. We’ve broken our conversations into highlights and key themes, then we finish with three things for brands to keep in mind about this audience right now.


After discussing the things lots of people are feeling right now (“Absolute cabin fever” “I’ve watched more Netflix in the past four weeks than I have the past four years” and “I hate the feeling of my hair touching my face all the time”), a theme around everyday monotony began to emerge.

While this group of millennials cited losing their normal routine, the days felt very repetitive and in some ways unexciting. “I miss the unpredictability and the options of what to do. We’re forced into it now and I know what my next month is going to be… I don’t really like that”, said a participant working from home in Galway. There’s a sense of feeling very stagnant, like things have just come to a halt, with a feeling of blandness seeping in.


As days start to blend together (as one person said, “It’s like groundhog day, with me standing in the kitchen wondering what to make for dinner”), there’s an unknown undercurrent pulsing in millennials’ minds. They say the worst part for them is just not knowing how long this will last.

There was lots of discussion around “the numbers” and what it truly means. While most agreed the Irish government have been excellent in terms of sharing information, they feel it’s hard to get an unbiased take on how the information should be interpreted. As one person in Cork explained, “It’s an information overload, but also not enough information? I don’t know what’s actually useful”.

Without an end in sight or a way to actually understand our status, for some there will be a constant tension below the surface that even an episode of Tiger King will have trouble keeping at bay.


As tracked last week, people are taking moments to thank healthcare and other workers who are putting themselves most at risk. Of those we spoke with, several had connections to the likes of nurses (housemates, partners, etc) and this truly shone through for people. Those brands that are really working to support them were also remembered.

In addition to this, there was also gratitude about the time of life we’re in. As one person stated, “15 years before now, if this happened we would have been miserable”. The people we spoke with all commute into cities for work and several mentioned how they were taking that commuting time and using it for better things, like exercise, cooking, learning new skills or reading.


When asked what the number one thing they were missing was, one person quickly jumped in to say “hugging”, with several more quickly echoing the sentiment. While in some ways, this group is connecting more than ever (for instance, messaging apps like WhatsApp are seeing an increase of 40% in usage), physical connection cannot always be replicated.

For some who are isolating alone it can be trying, but for those isolating together it can be as well. As one person described constantly living with a newer partner: “It’s only him I see every day, it’s testing”. And the constant “friend dates” are somehow at the same time wonderful, yet pressure-inducing. While there’s no true FOMO right now with no one going out, is there now FOMO if you’re not invited to that virtual pub quiz? And if you’re invited to the pub quiz, is that how you want to spend every Friday night at home?


Last week we saw optimism as a key theme emerging from the wider online space. This feeling came out naturally in our conversations with this audience and they are absolutely optimistic about our health, believing in our workers and that we can get through this.

But at the same time, there was some scepticism around it. Millennials are completely aware of their presence online and their own personal brand. They agreed people are optimistic in some ways, but there were potential conflicts. Reflecting an optimistic self online might be separate from the real self.

“Externally, yes of course I’m projecting positive but like am I actually doing that inside? I feel like I need to put up the happy ‘we can get through this face’ online with the good quote or the good stat, but then, like, that evening I cry in the shower, so…”


This audience knows a negative turn is coming for our economy. And while not all millennials were working during the last recession, they are all aware of what happens.

We were talking with millennials working from home, but many of their friends or co-workers were impacted by things like job loss. There is now a constant worry about pay cuts, layoffs or closures because they are seeing it directly impact their own businesses. We’ve seen this quantitatively as well, with the most recent KBC Consumer Sentiment Survey citing that 63% of Irish consumers thought the coronavirus would affect their household finances either substantially or somewhat. Then, even beyond their own paycheque, they are worried about how else the economic changes will affect their wider life.

For instance, several people discussed how the first thing they would do when restrictions are lifted (after visiting family), is take a lovely trip to somewhere in Ireland. However, immediately, there was pessimism around how much that would cost. While some appreciated that businesses will have to make up their losses, they believe they will be the ones to pay for it with “jacked up hotel prices” as one person explained.


This is a time where this audience has a little bit more time to reflect on wider societal issues. One that was discussed often was the environmental impact and fear that this will take eco-consciousness away from people. “We were all becoming more green aware and it’s now going to be pushed back again”.

Not that it’s the wrong thing to do, but it does show that we ultimately prioritise the main value of today. Today, that has to be health, but for this group it does make them worry about any progress that was made before. One participant summarised her feelings on the future: “We can’t go back to what normal is. It wasn’t perfect before, so this could be an opportunity to re-evaluate how we feel and change our behaviours for good”.


One of the biggest impacts for this group is actually working from home. While some had occasionally worked from home here and there, for many, this is new. It suited some well and for others they really felt the difficulties. “Truly not enjoying working from home, finding it draining and I’m actually looking forward to going into the office… something I never thought I’d say”, said one person in Dublin.

The working hours were blurring for most and they were spending all of their time at the computer (working, connecting with friends, entertainment). Most felt like it was taking much longer to do what they would normally do, so while they were all working longer, more than the 39 hours, they felt much less productive.


Every company is well and truly different in relation to working from home, but for lots of millennial employees there’s a big question of trust. One participant in Cork summed this up very well, saying: “With working from home, it feels like companies didn’t trust you before, but now they have to because there’s nothing they can do about it. For our work, this feels like a trial time – getting more people to work from home, which is fair but it’s also like that, PLUS trying to work through a pandemic, so it feels unfair because it’s not just working from home”.

For many, this felt like an inevitable step towards the trend of remote working, working from home or other places (to rent flexible shared office space in Dublin can cost up to €1,000 per month alone). First it was offices, then it was cubicles, then it was an open plan office, then shared workspaces, next, is it completely home offices? As one person explained, “it’s the shift to a new (that’s not actually new) way of working that should have happened years ago”.


While they are optimistic about their health status, the fear of what’s coming is ever present. This very much registered in the data tracker and is an underlying theme across this audience. For some, they might not be necessarily worried or scared in relation to the virus, but there’s just no end in sight at all and they are not exactly optimistic about what this means for the economy.

In addition to this, as we saw in the surge of anger and frustration at people not complying, everyone agreed that once restrictions are lifted, they expect the country to go mad. Friends have already planned the first big night out: “Once you ease it up even an inch, they’ll take a mile”.

Three things to keep in mind about this audience

1. WFH… in a pandemic 

This isn’t a business as usual situation. Before all this, millennials were stressed out with the weight of the world. But now, people are grappling with even stronger levels of anxiety, health issues most likely within family connections, and trying to weather this storm. The pressure to be productive amidst all of this is heavy on their shoulders.

2. Craving something new

Much of their day is the same right now, with the days blending into one. Like always with millennials, any new experience (cocktail making classes at home, a new way to workout, etc) will be welcomed.

3. Optimistic but worried

 While there is a sense of optimism in relation to our health, the constant worry about how this will affect them, their jobs and our economy is very present.