Irish people are struggling to cope with relentless demands, research finds

New B&A research finds the slow lockdown lifestyle is over and people are exhausted, writes Conor Pope

Irish people are exhausted, struggling to make ends meet and gloomy about when the cost-of-living crisis might end, while those on lower incomes are disproportionately suffering, according to the latest Sign of the Times survey published by Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A).

The research suggests that technology is increasingly being used as a “pacifier”, with tech addiction exacerbated by the isolation caused by the pandemic.

It highlights how young people have been psychologically damaged by the Covid-19 crisis and suggests they are “much more negative and directionless” now than in times past.

And it says the aspirations of many to turn the slowed-down lifestyles enforced by successive lockdowns into a routine have faded, with people once again snared in a “productivity trap”.


But despite the gloomy undercurrents identified in the survey, it finds potential silver linings, including a burgeoning and collective confidence and a desire to forge an independent path free from outside influences. It also suggests people are showing signs of resilience forged in the heat of a series of almost existential threats.

Almost half of those who took part in the research admitted to levels of exhaustion not seen in B&A surveys before, with 47 per cent agreeing with the statement “I feel tired all the time” and less than one third disagreeing.

b&a poll for Conor Pope piece

It is an almost complete reversal of the answers to the same question in 2019, when 29 per cent agreed while 47 per cent disagreed.

According to B&A, the “level of change and uncertainty in life has contributed to the exhaustion” and as life picks up pace in the post-pandemic period, “many are finding it challenging to come to terms with the hustle and bustle”.

Psychological impact

The survey also lays bare the psychological impact of the Covid-19 crisis, with 44 per cent saying their mental health suffered.

Unsurprisingly, there is considerable focus on the cost-of-living crisis in this year’s report, with much of it making for depressing reading.

It highlights how the gap between those the survey describes as middle class and working class has “widened significantly” over the past year.

In the last year, we have flocked back to activities and busy lifestyles to reassert a sense of control over our lives

—  From the B&A report

When B&A went into the field in January 2020, it found that 17 per cent of people described as working class were struggling to make ends meet, while the percentage of middle class people in the same financial situation was put at 7 per cent.

Last January, before the true scale of the cost-of-living crisis emerged, 21 per cent of working class respondents said they were struggling, compared with 9 per cent of the more affluent cohort.

By January of this year, the percentage of the working class respondents who were struggling was put at almost one in three, compared with 13 per cent of the middle classes.

The research also looked at how different parts of the country are being impacted by spiralling inflation, with working class people living outside Dublin feeling the pinch substantially more than any other group.

While 22 per cent of the total population said they were struggling to make ends meet, that reached 34 per cent outside of the capital.


“I think we have to acknowledge that the cost-of-living crisis is affecting everybody but it’s not affecting everybody equally,” says B&A managing director Luke Reaper.

He suggests that people have become “a battle-hardened bunch” but for many it has “come to a point where they can’t do any more... and they’re really at the pin of the collar.”

Most people feel that the cost-of-living crisis does not have an end in sight. When asked if spiralling inflation would ease this year, 43 per cent said no while only 32 per cent were optimistic.

Own-brand ranges in supermarkets have been big beneficiaries of the crisis, with 77 per cent of respondents saying they are buying more of such products. Meanwhile, 76 per cent are driving less and 61 per cent are spending less on essentials.

As a society, the report warns that ‘we are losing the art of spontaneous conversation’ and it suggests that younger people seem ‘much more negative and directionless’

But the research also points to limits to our spending self-control. “There are periodic (often unplanned) splurges of spending – felt to be a necessary antidote to a sense of perpetual good behaviour.”

The “from scratch” cooking that seemed to become such a central part of the first phase of the pandemic for many may yet prove to be a passing fad as the “return to the hustle and bustle and life feeling busier than ever [means] consumers are looking for shortcuts”, the report suggests.

Despite an apparent desire to maintain a slower pace of life post-pandemic, things haven’t worked out that way for most.

“In the last year, we have flocked back to activities and busy lifestyles to reassert a sense of control over our lives,” according to the report.

‘Lost time’

That is coupled with what researchers identified as a strong desire to make up for “lost time”, with parents mentioned as a specific group putting themselves under pressure to ensure that their children “catch up” on experiences that were lost during the pandemic.

For Reaper, it amounts to a “productivity trap. We all wondered if there was any silver lining during the pandemic and one was around the idea that we would have a slower pace of life and would never go back to the way it was. And it just hasn’t transpired that way.”

Not all the lessons of the early phases of the pandemic have been forgotten, with people seemingly more determined than ever to put strategies in place to achieve balance and maintain good physical and emotional health.

“As a country, we are on a journey from self-care being perceived as narcissism to confidence,” says the report.

“There is a growing realisation that we need to shape our own future, that we can’t truly rely on others, and a renewed sense of confidence that we have the ability to forge out own path.”

We have certainly stopped looking to the immediate east and west for guidance on how to shape the country, with only 5 per cent saying Ireland should aim to be more like the UK while the percentage falls to 4 per cent when asked about the US.

“By dint of the rapidly evolving cultural and political landscape against which Ireland can measure itself, we are a nation coming to terms with our own unassailable strengths on the world stage,” say the report’s authors, who point to a nation of “progressive ideologies”.

Reaper says there is “a new emerging Ireland” one that is “not necessarily reliant on the old North Stars. The US and the UK are not as aspirational as they once were and they have flaws as well. There is a sense that we’ve reached a tipping point, that we need to take our future into our own hands, a sense of forging our own path, as a nation. We have changed dramatically as a society over the last 10 to 15 years.”

Far-right voices

But there are “ever voluble right-wing voices”. The study notes that while the political far-right remains small in Ireland, when presented with the statement “I worry that Ireland is losing its sense of identity with the influx of foreign nationals” 43 per cent agreed while 35 per cent disagreed.

While 46 per cent said they “take pride in how Ireland has managed the inflow of Ukrainian refugees”, 27 per cent did not.

Reaper argues that context is key when it comes to these findings and suggests the report is “encouraging... in terms of societal change. We have become a much more diverse and accepting society, notwithstanding some of those protests.”

He says there are what he describes as “lighter concerns versus more radical concerns” with regard to immigration.

“As a nation as we grow and expand and there’s different viewpoints and nationalities, it becomes a little bit less familiar and we sort of need to navigate that.”

Reaper accepts that the far right will attempt to latch on to the 43 per cent figure (the number of those who believe Ireland is losing its identity) and could attempt to use it as evidence that more people are “against foreign nationals, which is not what it’s saying. It’s saying that there’s a degree of concern there”.

Climate change, the environment and sustainability remain a concern but, Reaper says, “there has been a waning and that is not surprising, because people have a finite capacity for worry and more pressing concerns are coming into play. During the pandemic, the durability and longevity of products was very much in focus but cost has become a very core consideration for people at the moment, so people’s attention has drifted.”

‘Giant leap forward’

Technology is reshaping the world and there is a feeling that we are the “cusp of a giant leap forward”.

“There is a fear that this leap forward will further blur the lines between what is real and what is not,” the report says.

“Many are apprehensive about the impact on their jobs and their lives, fearing that not all progress is necessarily a good thing.

“For many, technology has become a ‘pacifier’ and is “increasingly used as a ‘ritual to escape’ – an outlet to briefly disconnect from the stresses of the world around us when we need it. Our phones distract us – a constant stream of dopamine when we need it. Our headphones signal that we are unavailable for conversation.”

However, as a society it warns that “we are losing the art of spontaneous conversation” and it suggests that younger people seem “much more negative and directionless”.

This could stem from a number of possible factors that were not in play in previous generations.

It also highlights the ”shock of the pandemic itself”, which it says was the “first significant shock for many”, and how the “tech reliance during the pandemic created a new norm.”

Reaper says it is important to acknowledge that “young people were hit hard by the pandemic in terms of social isolation and that pushed many toward technology and has created an even greater dependence on it as a form of interaction”.

He says there is an “acknowledgment of their reliance on technology and they probably understand they are using it too much but are finding it very hard to pull away”.

A representative sample of 1,000 people aged 16+ were surveyed, quota controlled in terms of gender, age, socioeconomic status and region. In addition, five focus groups were conducted, and fieldwork was conducted between January 16th and 30th.