Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

“Pessimistic.” “Distrustful.” “Socially awkward.” “Exhausted.” “Sloppy.” “Indifferent.”

It was a beautiful fall day, and my friend and I were celebrating her milestone birthday with a walk in a park. As we strolled, she was gloomily applying the above adjectives to herself. 

“I just don’t feel like myself anymore. The pandemic made me ornery, stressed, and uncaring. It changed me. I miss my old self,” she quietly confessed.

Lots of people can relate to my friend’s experience. I know I can. 

Of course it changed you.” I said. It changed me, too.

It changed a lot of people. A recent study out of Florida State University College of Medicine linked the pandemic with measurable personality shifts in adults (especially younger adults). As Covid-19 dragged on, we lost interest and skill in connecting with others. We got cynical, stressed, overwhelmed. We lost discipline and organization. We felt uncreative, uninspired, blah.

In short, we went into survival mode. And who can blame us?

When our brains are in survival mode, higher cognitive functions – like empathic relating, imaginative innovation, and structured planning – fall to the wayside. Our freaked-out lower brains take over, and we find ourselves ready to fight (so we’re ornery), or flee (so we isolate), or freeze (so we lose motivation for, well, everything).

Can our personalities go back to the way they were?

Yes, but we need to find ways to convince our nervous systems that we aren’t under regular, direct threat. That it’s safe to spend some emotional energy on being kind to someone else. That it’s safe to venture a new, imaginative thought or two. That it’s safeto stop dissociating through mindless social media scrolling. That it’s safe to actually show up for our work, our friends, our families. Maybe even for our disorganized closets.

How do we do that?

Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, describes a beautiful ritual carried out in post WWII- Japan. In the years following the 1945 surrender of Axis powers, Japanese communities noticed that soldiers returning home from war weren’t fit to re-enter society. Their self-understanding had been profoundly shaped by their role as a soldier. It was hard for them to adjust psychologically and socially to their former roles as citizens, employees, and fathers. So, a ritual was created to help with the transition. Soldiers were first thanked extravagantly and publicly for their service in protecting and defending the people. And then, as Rohr explains, “an elder would stand and announce with authority something to this effect: ‘The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you. The community needs you to return as a citizen, and something beyond a soldier.’”

Maybe it’s time for us to discharge our own inner pandemic soldiers. When “the Vid” hit the fan, we all went inward, got mean, and stopped caring for a while. We were scared – and our inner solders sprang into action. And you know what? Maybe those personality changes served us well for a bit. Maybe they protected us, made us feel safe. And that’s okay.

But our inner soldier can take a deep breath now, and begin to let go. The higher brain can come back online, the brainstem can chill. 

Societal threats remain. Of course they do. They always will. But we must risk courageously reaching toward our own healing and restoration. It’s time to remember the connected, compassionate, creative, and competent people we most truly are.

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.