Maybe you’re feeling distracted, pensive, annoyed or even serene as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on. Have you ever wondered how the rest of the world is coping emotionally?

We heard a lot more about how other countries are faring at the start of the pandemic in early spring. Remember listening to Italy sing?

McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm that studies market trends and emerging best practices, conducted digitally interactive interviews with 122 people in eight countries asking them to share thoughts and feelings about the coronavirus pandemic. Their findings were published in an Emotion Archive.

Though there were slight differences -- more joy in India, greater anticipation in Australia – they found that people across the globe feel pretty much the same way about the health crisis: a combination of negative and positive emotions.

Gauging emotions about the pandemic

“Positive emotions may seem incongruent with the state of the pandemic worldwide, but as the initial shock has given way to essentially a new way of life, it’s to be expected,” Tyler Arvig, PsyD, associate medical director for R3 Continuum, a global leader in behavioral health and security solutions for workplace well-being, told Medical Daily. Dr. Arvig was not involved in the study.

“As people have rediscovered priorities, spent more time with family and found gratefulness for the smaller things in life, positive emotions are bound to be present.”

The research was part of “The New Possible,” a series of COVID-19 related stories published online by McKinsey. The series explores how the coronavirus pandemic has challenged and changed people’s lives.

Spin the wheel of emotion

Researchers gathered over 800 comments from 122 participants in April and May about health, family, finances and work.

The emotions participants expressed were classified as joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger or anticipation according to the Wheel of Emotion, created by psychologist Robert Plutchik, PhD. Dr. Plutchik, who died in 2006 at the age of 76, developed the Wheel of Emotion in 1980.

Researchers found that topics associated with joy in Italy included family, home and time; in China, house and games; in the U.S., business, family and home; and in Germany, joy, money and sport.

They also found that:

  • People in Italy and Australia were more annoyed with the pandemic than people in India, China and Germany.
  • Those in the U.K and Singapore had more fear about the future, jobs and a vaccine, while those in Singapore said money, economy and health were the top fears on their minds.
  • Italy was the country with the most comments classified as sad, while the U.S. and India had the least sad comments.
  • Australia was the country with most acceptance comments. China had the least.

We’re all handling the pandemic similarly

As we’ve seen in the U.S., the level of negative emotions depends on several factors: the actual presence of the virus, the impact on jobs, the economy, financial stress and mental health.

“As different regions and countries are in different phases of the virus, variations in emotional states would be expected,” Dr. Arvig said.

The fact that one country’s citizens express more joy and less fear while another’s has more anger and less acceptance, is based not only on the virus, but on conditions in their homeland, like the state of the economy, life restrictions, jobs and money, as well as how people are doing physically and emotionally.

“We tend to think of emotional responses to negative events as being universally negative, and for good reason. While this may be true initially, humans are not able to survive in a constant negative emotional state,” said Dr. Arvig “Eventually, humor, fun and appreciation re-emerge, to balance out the negative. It was true during World War II, the 1918 flu pandemic and after 9-11.”

He added, “ The findings of this study are really quite hopeful, as it demonstrates that globally, despite some individual differences, humanity is adapting and finding a way to move forward emotionally.”

Jennifer Nelson is a health writer based in Florida who also writes about health and wellness for AARP, PBS’ Next Avenue, Shondaland, and others.