2020 has been a psychologically hard year.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

We’ve had the pandemic, the lockdowns, the election, the race riots and the general fear and anxiety these monumental events have caused.

People handle stress differently, and they deal with fear and worry differently.

The most basic of reactions is the fight or flight response, but that doesn’t really apply when it comes to this pandemic or campaign season. There’s nowhere to run and hide to avoid it all.

What I’ve noticed, however, from reflecting on my own fears as well as observing others is that the pandemic has exacerbated our already-established personality traits, both good and bad.

For example, when the virus first struck, those with a propensity to hoard and selfishly put their needs above others’ did so even more eagerly. People fought each other over toilet paper, paper towels, meat and sanitizer in store aisles. The propensity for hoarding lay dormant in these folks and the pandemic merely brought it to the surface.

Similarly, those prone to violence and rage did so with gusto this summer with rioting, looting and the killing and maiming of police officers. Would the race riots have occurred in the absence of the election, pandemic, government-imposed lockdowns and feelings of fear and hopelessness? Probably not.

Those prone to social withdrawal and agoraphobia – the fear of going outside and into the world – have become even more fearful on account of the virus. Recluses revel in the pandemic because it gives them an excuse for not leaving the house.

Those prone to laziness are becoming even more lazy with stimulus checks fueling their ability to pay the bills without working and work-from-home technology like Zoom allowing them to stay home and in their pajamas all day.

Those prone to weight gain are experiencing the so-called Quarantine 15, adding an average of 12.5 pounds, according to a recent Weight Watchers study.

Those prone to worry, depression and thoughts of suicide have waged a particularly difficult battle during the pandemic. Not only is the nation’s collective mental health declining, suicide rates are up over a year ago in a number of different populations, and experts warn they’ll continue to increase in coming years as people deal with the emotional and financial toll the pandemic and lockdowns have caused.

Relatedly, those prone to dealing with their anxiety by using drugs and alcohol are doing so even more during the pandemic. Data show overdose deaths are on the rise, newly jobless Americans are abusing substances to ease their despair, and many in recovery are falling into recidivism because therapy is lacking.

Those prone to domestic violence are abusing their victims even more this year.

In terms of politics, the pandemic and government reaction to it are bringing out our political leanings like nothing before.

Those prone to the “Don’t tread on me” mindset are loading up on guns and ammo, foregoing face masks and feeling government conspiracies lurk around every corner.

Conversely, those prone to believing government is the answer to every social ill want scientists, not politicians, to manage how the nation responds to the crisis. They don their masks happily at all times, even outside, and echo the “trust the scientists” and “follow the science” mantras.

The events of this year are bringing out our base fears and propensities like nothing else in recent memory. Will we get back to normal in 2021 or will we be forever changed by the events of 2020? Only time will tell.

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