Context: The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated containment measures have impacted mental health around the world. However, the temporal dynamics of causal factors that modulate mental health during confinement are not well understood.
Objective: We sought to understand how a COVID-19 lockdown changes the temporal dynamics of loneliness and other factors affecting mental health. This is the first study that compares network characteristics across lockdown stages to prioritize mental health intervention targets.
Methods : We combined momentary ecological assessments with wrist-worn motion tracking to investigate the mechanism and changes in the centrality of the symptom and behavior network before and during lockdown. A total of 258 participants who reported at least mild loneliness and distress were assessed 8 times a day for 7 consecutive days over a period of 213 days from August 8, 2020 to March 9, 2021 in Germany, covering a “period without confinement “. and a “containment” step. Concern, information seeking, perceived restriction and loneliness related to COVID-19 were assessed by digital visual analog scales ranging from 0 to 100. Social activity was assessed on a 7-point Likert scale points, while physical activity was recorded from bracelets worn on the wrist. actigraphy devices.
Results: We constructed a multilevel autoregressive vector model to estimate dynamic networks. To compare the characteristics of the network between a non-confinement phase and a confinement phase, we performed permutation tests. During lockdown, loneliness had the highest impact within the network, as indicated by its centrality index (i.e. an index to identify variables that have a strong influence on other variables). Moreover, during the confinement, the centrality of loneliness has increased considerably. Physical activity contributed to a decrease in loneliness during the confinement phase.
Conclusion: The COVID-19 lockdown has heightened the central role of loneliness in triggering stress-related behaviors and cognition. Our study indicates that loneliness should be a priority in mental health interventions during lockdown. Additionally, physical activity can serve as a buffer for loneliness amid social restrictions.