Britons Struggling with Feelings of Guilt During Lockdown

A new survey commissioned by NerdWallet into Brits’ attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that 20% of us have significant and regular feelings of guilt around our daily behaviours and how we spend our time. Plus, more than quarter of people felt guilty about not saving more.

John Ellmore Last updated on 28 January 2021.
Britons Struggling with Feelings of Guilt During Lockdown

or 10.2 million people have significant and regular feelings of guilt due to how they are behaving and using their time in the pandemic

Our survey of over 2,000 UK adults asked Britons what they felt most guilty about during lockdown, a period of time where seemingly everyone in your social circle is learning a new skill, saving money and coping with the situation better than you.

Subsequently, there’s a lot of pressure on all of us to use our time wisely, to help the vulnerable, support the NHS and stay in regular contact with our friends and relatives. If this feels like a long laundry list, and you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. With all of this weighing on our minds, in addition to safety concerns due to the virus, Brits have had some nagging guilt to contend with during lockdown.

We can reveal the joint number one reasons for lockdown guilt: a lack of exercise and not speaking to friends and family enough. Yes, 36% of us feel guilty about not using our new-found free time to exercise more regularly, and the same number harbour guilt that they’re not talking to friends and relatives on video conferencing software and over the phone.

Read on to dive deeper into our exclusive survey and discover the top 10 reasons for lockdown guilt.

“The lockdown has been a strange, challenging and completely unique period for everyone. Clearly, among the many things people have had to contend with at this time, inner feelings of guilt are among the most common – millions are beating themselves up for what they have done, or not done, during the lockdown.”

John Ellmore, NerdWallet Director

Top 10 reasons for feeling lockdown guilt

Not exercising enough and not being in regular contact with family and friends are the joint top reason Brits feel guilt during the lockdown.

“This is a perfect time to reflect upon behaviours in our everyday lives that don’t serve us financially and mentally, and to change our routines for the better. This might be a matter of making use of your newly-gained cooking skills to save on eating out and instead bringing lunch boxes to work once you're allowed back in the office, or to cancel your gym membership and continue with the free YouTube workouts you’ve discovered in lockdown. Regardless of what it is, making use of this downtime to reflect and review your behaviours will help you regain a sense of control.”

Beatrice Widmark, Method Researcher at financial wellbeing app, Dreams

1. Lack of exercise – 36%

Not exercising enough is the number one reason people have felt a sense of guilt during the COVID-19 pandemic. 36% of survey respondents said that this makes them feel guilty. Despite having more hours in the day and the hottest May on record, it seems that many Brits haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity to keep fit; although of course the heat may prevent some people from exercising and there are few exercise options available. This guilt is more likely to chime with women (39%), than men (33%), and the age group most likely to regret their lack of exercise are the 18-34 age group.


of people have felt guilty for not doing enough exercise during the lockdown - the most common reason behind feelings of guilt

One reason for the lack of exercise for some Brits is the closure of gyms, with many lacking motivation to adapt their exercise regime to a home fitness workout. It’s likely that the gradual reopening of gyms in the next few months will see the number of people exercising regularly increase, and many people will be keen to join exercise classes and group training so they can see friends and socialise again.

2. Not speaking to friends and family more regularly – 36%

36% have felt guilty about not talking with family and friends more regularly. Many families have been split up due to quarantine. Often families are based in different areas of the country and so have been unable to interact face-to-face - even families in the same city or town would have been unable to see each other in a meaningful way over the last few months because of lockdown rules.

People have stayed in touch through video conferencing apps like Zoom and Google Meet, so with technology making communication so easy, many will feel their lack of contact with family to be unreasonable. However, everyone has had their own approach to the lockdown and families and friends should provide a support network for each other where possible, while respecting each other’s individual situation.

3. Spending too much time on their smartphone - 29%

Extended periods on screens, especially phones, has been shown to be detrimental to sleep and mental health wellness, and we hardly need any more reason to feel anxious during these times. The guilt here probably ties into other guilt-inducing behaviours in our list, including not getting enough exercise, doing too much online shopping and not learning a new skill.

4. Not saving more money - 26%

Being financially irresponsible is another sore point for Brits during lockdown. With fewer temptations to eat out, although food delivery services are still operating, and nights out being taken away from us, not saving more money during lockdown might be a bit of an oversight.

On the other hand, a lot of people's incomes will have been reduced during lockdown so saving money may not have been top priority for everyone. Instead they would be focusing on more immediate concerns like paying bills, reducing debt and buying essentials. So, whatever their situation, people shouldn’t feel too guilty about not saving during these testing times.

5. Not learning a new skill - 26%

The vast majority of us have been working from home during the lockdown and many others have been furloughed. As a result, many of us have not had to commute during the last few months which could be freeing up an hour or more each day! No wonder so many of us are dismayed we haven’t used the extra time to learn a new skill, especially furloughed workers who may have felt even more pressure to use their time off work to “upskill” and be productive.

However, we should all bear in mind that, if we’re observing social distancing rules, we’re doing our bit.

6. Not donating money to charity - 24%

During these tough times, many of us are in privileged positions. If you’ve been feeling guilt during the pandemic, there are some charities which could use your support.

Good causes to donate to during COVID-19

FareShare – The UK’s largest food charity are donating food to the vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic

NHS charities togetherCOVID-19 urgent appeal

Mind – donate to their mental health emergency fund

7. Doing too much online shopping - 23%

Being stuck at home for the majority of the time can lead to overuse of our devices. Spending too much time online for most of us inevitably leads to online shopping. Shops have now reopened, so if this is something making you feel guilty, perhaps it’s time to take shopping offline – following social distancing measures of course.

8. Not supporting local businesses - 23%

Now that shops are open it will be much easier to support your local businesses. So, if possible get out and support independent businesses and help your community bounce back from the pandemic.

Your local independent businesses will have struggled hard to survive during COVID-19, so rather than heading out to shopping centres or Oxford Street to big retailers with deep pockets, your local business may need your support more.

If you’ve felt guilty that you haven’t been able to support local businesses because you’ve been less adversely impacted by the virus than those around you, now’s the time to repay your community.

9. Not properly assessing and taking care of finances - 21%

Staying in more has given many of us time to look into where we’re spending our money, and eliminating any unnecessary sources of spending, like unused subscriptions, expensive food and drink and overpriced utilities. If you haven’t yet assessed your spending during lockdown, perhaps now is the right time.

10. Being less environmentally friendly than normal - 21%

With so much on our minds, some issues can become peripheral. Many of us have allowed environmental concerns to slip down our list of priorities. Have you been less environmentally friendly during the lockdown?

“With more spare time and fewer distractions, it is easy to convince oneself that you ought to be running marathons, learning a new language, writing a novel, saving money and donating to charity simultaneously. But people must not be too harsh on themselves – this is a difficult period for many people, and as long as they are acting responsibly and doing the things that matter to them, that is more than enough.”

John Ellmore, NerdWallet Director

Who is most likely to feel guilt during lockdown?

According to our survey, millennials – 18-34 (37%) – are the age group most likely to feel guilt during lockdown, with those over 55 (6%) the least likely to feel guilty about their lockdown behaviour.

  • 18-3437% of this group have felt feelings of guilt during lockdown
  • 35-5422% of this group have felt feelings of guilt during lockdown
  • 55+ - 6% of this group have felt feelings of guilt during lockdown
  • 22% of women feel lockdown related guilt compared to 18% of men

But, why is there this massive discrepancy between age groups? Let’s look at the biggest differences between these generations. On exercise – or lack thereof! – as a source of guilt, 55% of the 18-34 group said they regret not using extra free time as an opportunity to improve their fitness, or physical condition, whereas 25% of 55+ year olds felt the same.

The biggest gulf in guilt triggers was excessive smartphone use, 57% of 18-34 year olds felt guilty for using their smartphone too much, only 11% of people 55+ said they felt guilty for spending too much time on their phones.

Another difference in opinion is in environmental awareness. 46% of 18-34 year olds said they felt guilty due to being less environmentally conscious than they would normally be, 7% of 55+ year olds said they felt guilty for this issue.

How the lockdown has affected our finances

As the nation has been quarantined at home for so long, all aspects of daily life have been impacted, and our finances are no exception. For some the lockdown has led to them naturally saving money; with no need to travel, whether commuting or for leisure, a considerable sum can be saved every day.

For others money has been saved by spending less on non-essentials like eating out, going to the cinema or theatre trips and holidays abroad.

Some people have used the extra time lockdown has given them to reassess their finances at every level. Sometimes we all just need a little time to reassess our spending on a micro scale.

However, plenty of people are feeling guilty because they haven’t taken the opportunity to overhaul their finances.

Money based woes

  • 26% of people surveyed felt guilty about not saving more money
  • 48% say they haven’t been diligent in how they’ve handled their finances
  • 13% of respondents & 25% of 18-34 year olds have acquired more debt in lockdown
  • Only 37% have managed to save more money during lockdown
  • 28% say their finances are a cause of concern and anxiety at the moment

Moreover, with businesses struggling, a significant proportion of people around the country have seen decreases in their household income, whether through losing their job, being placed on the furlough scheme by their employer, or not being able to find work as regularly.

44% of 18-34 year olds have lost income during this time, compared to 36% of 35-54 year olds and 22% in the 55+ age range. Young people are more likely to work in sectors that have closed down, like hospitality and entertainment, as well as casual and shift work.

With 48% of us admitting we haven’t been diligent in how we have handled our finances during lockdown, some tips and tricks to save money during the COVID-19 pandemic can be extremely useful.

COVID-19 business support

If you’ve been running a business during lockdown, we understand just how tough the conditions have been for you. Any business who comes out the other side relatively unscathed deserves a round of applause. The Government furlough scheme has been a lifeline for many businesses, however if you still need a financial boost to kick start your business, we’ve created a guide on how to apply for a coronavirus Bounce Back Loan.

The scheme provides small businesses with a loan from £2,000 - £50,000. Bounce Back Loans are 100% guaranteed by the government and applications are open now.

The guarantee means that the Government carries the risk for the loan, rather than the lender. Borrowers – or rather their business – are still liable.

A raft of other funding methods are available, check our business support guide for a complete list.

What impact has COVID-19 had on the nation’s mental health?

Aside from feelings of guilt due to our lockdown behaviour, a lot of people have reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted during the pandemic.


of UK adults' mental health has been adversely affected by the lockdown

Mental health and COVID-19

  • 35% say their mental health has been impacted during the lockdown
  • 50% are anxious about lockdown restrictions being relaxed

A report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that many people who have never accessed mental health services previously, have developed psychological problems for the first time during lockdown.

18-25 year old males are the worst impacted, feeling the restriction on their movement the most strongly.

If you or any of your family or friends need support, the following resources are invaluable.

Mental health resources:

About the research

The market research was carried out between 10 and 13 June 2020 among 2,003 UK adults via an online survey by an independent market research agency. The agency is a member of the Market Research Society (MRS) Company Partner Service, whose code of conduct and quality commitment it strictly adheres to. Its MRS membership means that it adheres to strict guidelines regarding all phases of research, including research design and data collection; communicating with respondents; conducting fieldwork; analysis and reporting; data storage. The data sample of 2,000 UK adults is fully nationally representative. This means the sample is weighted to ONS criteria so that the gender, age, social grade, region and city of the respondents corresponds to the UK population as a whole.

About the author:

John Ellmore is a director of NerdWallet UK and is a company spokesperson for consumer finance issues. John is committed to providing clear, accurate and transparent financial information. Read more

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