MADRID – Seven psychologists were asked by the Spanish edition of The HuffPost what word they would use to describe the collective mood of Spaniards in 2021. This is the year when the third and fourth waves hit the country so hard.
The New York Times gave dominance to ‘languor’ as being the emotion of 2021. Furthermore, the HuffPost in their search builds on emotions defined as feelings of stagnation or emptiness, as if looking at life through a foggy windscreen. Therefore, it is neither exhaustion nor depression, but a feeling of joylessness and purposelessness. However because the feeling does not come upon you suddenly, you do not notice it. Consequently, if you don’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help.
The Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, CIS, reported in March that one in three Spaniards said they had cried because of the pandemic. Just over a quarter did so very often or quite often. Also, more than half of the respondents said they felt tired or sluggish. Furthermore, almost 42% said they had trouble sleeping. In addition to speaking about the sentiment of 2021, the Spanish experts also give their view on 2022.
Sergio García Soriano, clinical psychology specialist and expert in social intervention, does not stop at one word. He saw people this year with a lot of fear, tension, and disbelief; aware of rules and at the same time disillusioned with the new normal. He notes that the world has always been uncertain, but because this uncertainty is more evident, it leads to unease. He saw both patients with acute needs and patients who came later for psychological help. ‘This means that they have not discovered that languor is the precursor to depression,’ he warns.
According to Soriano, in 2022 there will be more impatience and irritation from people as they are fed up with the situation. Therefore they are not convinced that there is light at the end of the tunnel. ‘Only when we accept the new situation with its limitations and possibilities will we be more efficient and able to transform our emotion into a brief mourning that gives way to vitality and joy’.
Antoni Martínez is a psychotherapist specialising in positive psychology and founder of the Psicología en Positivo project. He links the word ‘uncertainty’ to 2021. The pandemic has made people’s reactions more extreme; while some are worse off, perhaps due to loss of affection, work, or health, it has accelerated change for others. These may include negative aspects, but also picking up hobbies, rediscovering nature, or taking better care of themselves.
Uncertainty is also the word to describe the collective mood chosen by Elena Lloberas, a psychotherapist at the public daycare centre for young children (CDIAP Rella). We live with it every day throughout our lives, but when external factors are variable, our adaptation mechanisms are put to the test. Then, in addition to our strongest points, the less developed ones also come to the fore.
Limitations to deal with frustrations
This year, the number of mental health consultations rose significantly in all age groups. Adults came with a wide variety of sufferings and complaints. In children, on the other hand, symptoms – in various forms – emerged that acted as a mouthpiece for the emotional discomfort of the adults at home. Often these were related to the limitations and ability to deal with frustrations. In other words, if adults cannot sustain our discomfort, it becomes an uphill task to help children to do so,’ she stressed. For Lloberas, what will happen in 2022 will depend largely on developments, but in any case, these will help us better understand the means at our disposal to cope with uncertainty.
Eirene García, a specialist in contextual therapies and perinatal psychology, stresses that the pandemic has caused an increase in anxiety and depression. ‘From one day to the next, our lives changed. Our choices, our positive incentives, and our avoidance mechanisms disappeared. It forced us to look inwards. And that is difficult because you could find very painful and old wounds.
García also thinks that 2022 will be a similar year to this year because the pandemic is not over yet. ‘More and more people are taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressants because the number of cases of anxiety and depression is increasing. Ultimately, they remain anesthetics, to allow you to adapt, disconnect and move on in ‘the hamster mill’. Medication alone does not solve the problem: it does not make us take decisions to change. Besides the health crisis, the economic and employment crisis is also affecting people. This in turn has a direct impact on their well-being and mental health. And the latter is still not properly positioned within the public health system’.
In psychology, learned helplessness is when we feel that whatever we do, it doesn’t help. It is the breeding ground for hopelessness, explains Miguel Ángel Rizaldos, a specialist in clinical psychology and one of the pioneers of online clinical psychology in Spain. He explains that this learning process can lead to dysthymia, a form of mild, but now common, depression whose symptoms can go unnoticed. Rizaldos saw an increase in 2021, the toughest year in the 31 years he has practised his profession. We see a decrease in pleasure and a lack of motivation. People are fulfilling all their responsibilities and are active in work, study, family, friends, and personal care. But in a constant state of disinterest, lack of energy, and discouragement, he lives life in an affectively flat way, as if on autopilot,’ he explains.
As for the future, Rizaldos reminds us that human beings have resilience, the ability to recover from adversity, and the ability to overcome negative circumstances while maintaining the most positive outlook possible: Being resilient does not mean that the pandemic and its consequences do not affect me, it means believing that we will get out of this situation and that, although we cannot change the circumstances, it is possible to face them with the best possible attitude. The aim is to look for solutions or to accept that there are none, not to remain stuck in complaining, which is like a rocking chair that moves but does not move.
Elena Puig Guitart, health psychologist and child and adolescent psychologist at Salut i Més del Consorci Sanitari de Terrassa, who specialises in mindfulness, also chooses the term learned helplessness to describe the collective state of mind of 2021. People feel that whatever they do, the outcome is not in their hands.
This can turn into the feeling of ‘being fed up’. What is missing is hope. Puig Guitart works ‘to be able to create from this impotence. To find light on this long, but still dark and gloomy road. She hopes ‘that the weariness she foresees for 2022 may be the seed of collective hope from which a new way of relating to each other and to our planet will emerge’.
I am tired of it
Enric Valls, psychologist, and teacher specialising in health and education, also chooses the word tiredness to cover the collective mood of the people in Spain. “Where last year was characterised by resilience, this year it is fatigue, because of the continuity of something that has no end, that we do not know when it will end”, he says. “Many people’s feeling is one of vulnerability, of ‘if it’s not one thing, it’s another’. As a patient said to me the other day, ‘we don’t have enough on the covid issue and now the blackout comes’.
Mental health problem will triple
It is true that life is sometimes long and hard. The number of consultations is increasing, and they are often related to life situations, such as ‘I’m going through a divorce’, ‘I’m more vulnerable because I don’t have the opportunity to do the things I used to be able to do’, or the reduced ability to meet a partner. Valls also sees an increase in phobias or fear of contagion and the fear of not knowing what will happen. His prediction for next year is not very reassuring. “I have a feeling that if this goes on for more than six months, the mental health problem will triple. If it has gone up now, it will go up even more. And if it continues over time, I might even say that there will be social tensions, with people taking to the streets’.