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22 Sept 2021

Pandemic Blues and Gratitude News: Emerging Research on Family Life and COVID-19

Hard work by scientists around the world has focused on understanding the COVID-19 pandemic from a medical perspective, such as how it is spread and how that spread can be mitigated. Although you’re less likely to see it in the news, there is also research being done about how the pandemic has influenced family life. What they have found so far may match up with your experiences during the pandemic.

If your heart rate is already increasing just thinking about the stress your family has been carrying since the start of the pandemic, here is the short and sweet version of what you’re about to read:

  • You are not alone; families across the nation have faced significant challenges.
  • That being said, families have showcased their resilience amidst their challenges.

If your family struggled during the pandemic, that’s completely normal!

A study conducted during April 2020 highlighted some of the changes parents saw in their children. Even this early on (only a few weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic), parents saw behavioral changes in their kids (e.g., whining, bickering, acting out) and noticed that they seemed more anxious and depressed. Anxiety in kids was especially likely when their parent was also experiencing anxiety, under a lot of stress, or recently lost a job. In seeing these changes, parents expressed an awareness that kids didn’t just need entertainment and social opportunities, they needed increased emotional support during these tough transitions.

Parents were also concerned about the changes in their children’s schooling, especially because kids now had limited opportunities for social interactions and exercise. Overall, switching to home-based education felt more challenging when parents were already under duress (i.e., experiencing high stress or depression). Additional research from the summer of 2020 highlighted that a key source of this stress for parents was managing multiple competing roles (e.g., parent, partner, employee, teacher).

From children’s point of view, they tended to miss school and have difficulty adjusting to home-based education. Their self-reports confirmed poorer mental health, especially in terms of worrying about family members’ health, missing other family members (e.g., grandparents), and feeling like family was tense when everyone was cooped up together all the time.

However, even when families were struggling, there were silver linings!

Most parents reported some positive changes amidst the stresses of adjusting to pandemic life. More than 65% of parents said they were playing games or watching media with their kids more often during the pandemic changes. Over half said they did more activities together with their children including hugging and giving physical affection, reading books, going on walks, or playing with toys. Children reported positives too, including enjoying more time for leisure activities, learning new things while at home (e.g., how to ride a bike), and growing closer to family members.

Another study examined how thoughts and feelings about the pandemic might be intertwined from the perspective of a group of over 50 parents and their children (ages 6 to 17, average age 10). All family members completed surveys where they reported on their emotions - positive and negative. Then, they spent 5 minutes writing about their deepest thoughts and feelings specifically related to the pandemic. Right after the writing activity, they reported again on how they were feeling. Interestingly, parents who included expressions of gratitude in their writing activity tended to then report fewer negative emotions right after. The focus of gratitude ranged from simple things like good health and stable family finances to pandemic-specific changes such as not having a work commute, having closer family relationships, and pride in their family’s ability to adapt to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.


So, there were a lot of great finds in the research, but what would actually be helpful for you to remember once you’re done reading this?

  1. If you struggled early in the pandemic or continue to feel overwhelmed now, give yourself grace. Many people are in the same boat as you. (That means there might be room in your social circles to validate the struggles and triumphs of others and receive the same support in return! #connection #empathy #buildingstrongcommunities)
  2. If you want a specific activity that might help alleviate some of the stress of pandemic life, consider adding some new #gratitude practices!
    • The University of California, Berkeley has more specific information on what we mean by gratitude and a reader-friendly explanation of how gratitude works - such a simple practice can have such big impacts on people who use it!
    • Check out this list of 10 ways to practice daily gratitude and tips for sharpening each of those into a great tool for mental wellness

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