“Pandemic Skip”: Its Impact on Mental Health Milestones

Pandemic Skip - For Mental Health

A few months ago, the term “pandemic skip” started to gain traction on social media apps like TikTok as a way to describe the feeling of having been frozen in time during the pandemic. Your experience of aging might be one manifestation of this “skip.” You might be pushing 30, but if anyone asks how old you are, you almost immediately respond “26.”

Even now, with the worst of the pandemic behind us, many people find it difficult to move forward and continue to experience the sensation of halted development. The pandemic skip has influenced many of us, from children to adults and students to executives. In many ways, it feels as if the pandemic limited our ability to process the wins and losses we experienced during those years. Some experts compare this to the sensation of depersonalization. In this article, we’ll dive into the concept of the pandemic skip, how it has affected us, and what coping strategies can help manage these feelings.

Defining the Concept of the “Pandemic Skip”

At its core, the pandemic skip describes a form of impaired development, as if life halted when the pandemic began. You couldn’t advance any of your goals or plans, so it feels as if those years simply didn’t happen. Whatever age you were when the lockdowns began is the age you feel you are. For example, you may have had plans to be married by the time you were 30. When you see other people around you getting married, you may feel relief since you have several years left. Then it hits you, you’re actually 30—you just “missed” those few years. This is one way the pandemic skip may affect someone.

This effect is particularly pronounced in people who were in developmentally sensitive states, such as childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. In these periods, many changes happen rapidly and we develop at extreme paces. However, the pandemic limited people’s abilities to actually engage in the activities and environments that foster that development.

With the lockdowns behind us, the impact of the pandemic skip rears its head at various points. It can pop up when completing education, having to make career decisions, establishing relationships, and becoming financially independent. Some experts worry that not addressing the pandemic skip could continue to affect a person, leading to permanently slowed or halted development.

The Psychological Impact of the Pandemic Skip

There is no doubt that COVID, the lockdowns, and the pandemic as a whole had massive impacts on mental health. Even now, its effects continue to ripple and affect us. The pandemic skip is one example of this.

Those periods of development that are so essential are also often the times we are at our most mentally vulnerable. There is immense cultural pressure to progress with life and hit certain milestones. From graduating to starting a family, not meeting those expectations can come with feelings of shame, hopelessness, and even symptoms of depression and anxiety. The pandemic skip essentially heightened all of those feelings.

Not only is there the societal pressure that makes you feel as if you’re falling behind, but there is now the additional pressure that you have to meet those milestones in a much shorter time frame. This multiplies those already-mentioned symptoms and may even introduce new issues, such as executive functioning difficulties and struggles interacting socially.

When a person feels as if they will be judged for their lives or the perceived lack of progress, they may slowly start to withdraw socially. This, in turn, leads to feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, which then feed conditions like depression, ultimately creating a loop of negativity.

Beyond this, there are often feelings of grief, loss, or regret for the things we missed out on. A teenager may experience negative feelings because they missed out on an iconic event like prom. A young adult may have those feelings due to not being able to establish themselves at work. Regardless of the trigger, these emotions also add to the negative mental impact of the pandemic skip.

Coping Strategies to Manage the Pandemic Skip

Recognizing the pandemic skip is the first step to managing it. Understanding that this is something that millions of people are affected by helps us feel like we’re not alone, which can go a long way in addressing the negative feelings stemming from it.

Experts agree that the most important thing to do is to avoid putting pressure on yourself. The worst thing you can do for your mental health and personal development is to try to rush improvement. As long as you recognize that something impacted you and you are taking steps—no matter how subtle—to move forward, you will make progress.

Avoid comparing yourself to other people who seem to have hit the goals you wish you had hit. Especially if you are viewing their lives through the lens of social media—where people often only post the best parts of their lives.

Make simple goals on reasonable timelines. Don’t worry about the societal expectations of where you need to be at certain ages. Just focus on your own growth at a rate that you can reasonably achieve.

If you’re struggling with feelings of uncertainty or stress, there are many actions you can take to manage these feelings. Reflect on your past successes or moments where you overcame stressful events. The pandemic itself was one of the most stressful periods in human history, and you made it through.

Avoid dwelling on things you can’t control. Don’t spend time imagining worst-case scenarios. Instead, focus on the things you can control. Even small things like meal planning for the week or laying out your clothes for the next day can give you the small successes that help you feel better about the unknown.

The goal is to build up your resiliency and your ability to adapt to the unknown. Having those skills will allow you to tackle the worst the world can throw at you.

And, ultimately, ask for help. Managing mental health issues is not easy, especially when they stem from something as nebulous and hard to grasp as the pandemic skip. Speaking with a mental health professional can be a critical opportunity to gain the skills you need to manage problems like stress, anxiety, and depression.