In the spring of 2020, it felt, for a moment, like the world was going to end. There was death and darkness on the news. Bodies piled up in morgues. New York City struggled to bury its dead. Somewhere around this time, at the end of March or the beginning of April, the collective discourse shifted from defiant to apocalyptical.
“I won’t get it” became “What if everyone gets it?”
“Things will go back to normal” became “What if things never go back to normal?”
Those fears turned out to be unfounded. They were just little pieces of mental debris that swirled around our heads.
Here we are, 18 months or so later, and the world is still spinning. People are back at work again, eating fast food again, running up credit cards again, and, thankfully, watching movies in theaters again.
Things haven’t gone back to normal. Not yet. But, for many of us, the future looks hopeful. Promising, even. We can see our families. Meet other industry members. Movie studios are making movies. And we finally get to exhibit them.
We get to sit in a movie theatre as the lights go down.
And smell buttered popcorn.
Many of us will emerge from the pandemic scarred but stronger. That’s because, as human beings, we’re resilient.
Far more resilient than we think.
Last March or April, many of us thought, for a moment, everything was going to end.
It had just started.
New research reveals how the pandemic didn’t affect our collective mental health as much as it could have. And why we’re more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.
In the earliest days of COVID-19, researchers at The Atlantic noted higher than average levels of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress in the general population, and the number of people who experienced “clinically significant” forms of these feelings also increased. Here in the U.S., depression climbed three-fold in March and April 2020 compared to previous years.
But then that changed.
By summer, the number of people who experienced these feelings dropped.
By the end of the year, people rated their lives the same as before the pandemic.
It’s almost as if COVID-19 had no mental impact at all.
“We were surprised by how well many people weathered the pandemic’s psychological challenges,” say the researchers at The Atlantic.
Those researchers think it’s all down to classic psychology. As humans, we believe a negative life event will affect us more than it actually does. That’s because, for one reason or another, we think that event will destroy our lives.
It rarely does.
The negative event could be a divorce. Or the death of a loved one. Or something else entirely. Regardless, things don’t impact us in quite the way we imagine.
The thought is worse than the reality.
The bark is worse than the bite.
“These incidents can produce considerable anguish, and we don’t want to minimize the pain that so many suffer,” adds The Atlantic. “But study after study demonstrates that a majority of survivors either bounce back quickly or never show a substantial decline in mental health.”
The Atlantic talks about how we have a “psychological immune system,” and our brains burst to the brim with coping mechanisms that help us navigate even the most negative of experiences. The worst-case scenario might be bad, but it’s never as bad as we think it will be.
It’s a strange psychological phenomenon. But the way many of us have dealt with the pandemic proves the power of resilience.
We survived. We’re still here.
We’re more resilient than we ever thought.
So what can we learn from the above?
How about expanding our mental horizons?
If a negative event won’t affect us in the way we think it will, let’s worry less about the future. Let’s redirect that wasted energy to something important. Let’s divert all that mental debris to something more positive.
For us veterans, that could be a new experience. Or a new hobby. Or a new relationship. Perhaps we can get around to writing the screenplay that’s been sitting on a shelf in the bedroom for the last few years. Or reconnecting with someone in the industry we haven’t spoken to for a while. Or reaching out for financial assistance or guidance when we need it.
Whatever we do, let’s not worry about something that might not happen. Or something that might happen but won’t affect us in the way we think it will.
Yes, the last 18 months have been tough for all of us in the film industry. But as we slowly emerge from the other side, let’s recognize our mental courage. Our inner strength. Our collective ability to “bounce back” and deal with negative experiences.
If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we can’t predict the future. Movie studios can close again. So can theaters. It might not always be easy to see our family. Or other movie industry veterans.
But the pandemic has also taught us we’re more resilient than we think.
Let’s celebrate that.