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Lockdowns: sense of restriction diminishes restorative effect of leisure time

Study investigates the effects of the Coronavirus measures
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Lockdown diminishes restorative effects / Copyright shutterstock

(Vienna, 27 May 2021) The more constrained and restricted people felt by the recent lockdowns, the less able they were to switch off in their leisure time. On top of that, those who felt the most restricted were less likely to adhere to the imposed protective measures. This was the finding of the interim evaluation of an ongoing study being conducted by MedUni Vienna's Center for Public Health in collaboration with FH Burgenland (University of Applied Sciences Burgenland) and the University of Tampere in Finland to assess the effect of the lockdown between 19 January and 7 February 2021 on rest, recuperation and well-being within the population.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a decline in well-being and more stress, anxiety and depression among the population. In normal times, freely disposable time that is free from any obligations is one of the main sources of rest and recuperation. One of the main factors is the ability to "switch off", that is to say to gain emotional distance from work. Other factors are the need for self-determination and belonging, which are lived out in leisure activities. The current study is being led by health psychologist Gerhard Blasche from the Division of Environmental Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at MedUni Vienna's Center for Public Health. Erwin Gollner from the University of Applied Science Burgenland organised part of the initial survey during the lockdown and checked the interim report, while Jessica deBloom from the University of Tampere, who is an expert researcher in the area of leisure and recuperation was involved in developing the study.

Preliminary results
One of the primary effects of the lockdowns was the restriction of leisure activities, which in turn led to a decline in the quality of recuperation. The inability to adequately offset tiredness and stress leads to exhaustion, more stress and diminished self-control.
The interim evaluation of the study is based on a cross-sectional survey conducted online during the third lockdown between 19 January and 7 February 2021. The final random sample included 1,216 people, 731 of whom were female. The result: 21% of respondents did not experience the lockdown as restrictive at all, or only slightly, while 40% found it restrictive and 39% found it extremely restrictive. Younger people and students were more likely to find the lockdown restrictive, as were those who were more worried about the economic and social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Those who found the lockdown restrictive were four times more likely to feel exhausted and three times more likely to feel stressed and less likely to adhere to protective measures. The greater incidence of exhaustion and stress can be attributed to the fact that leisure time was found to be less restorative. The greatest factor in this was the loss of self-determination in relation to leisure time and, to a lesser extent, a reduced ability to "switch off" and a diminished sense of social connectedness. Furthermore, those who found the lockdown to be restrictive were less likely to adhere to the Covid-19 rules.
Health concerns were more likely to drive people to follow the protective measures while economic concerns were more likely to result in an unwillingness to follow the rules.

Further surveys are planned as part of the study. Blasche explains: "On the basis of the present interim evaluation, we were able to demonstrate that the restriction of leisure time due to lockdown reduces our ability to offset tiredness and stress adequately." Says Erwin Gollner, Head of the Department of Health at FH Burgenland: "The lessons learned from the study show us that, in future lockdowns, we must be particularly careful with restrictions to leisure behaviour, if we are to reduce the psychological consequences of such measures."

Prospective final evaluation
The final evaluation is based on two surveys. The second survey will take place at a later point after the end of the current lockdown. The researchers are expecting the key findings of the interim evaluation to be confirmed. The aim of the overall study is to explore fundamental questions of research into recuperation and stress recovery. The final results will be peer reviewed and then published.

Study in German: