Stress and COVID-19: How a pandemic has impacted mental health

Sophia Kobernusz-Gibbs, Staff Writer

As everyone is still learning how to take care of themselves during this time of social distancing due to COVID-19, the question of how we can take care of ourselves mentally throughout these strange times arises. 

Psychologists Alexandra Main, Qing Zhou, Yue Ma, and Lina J. Luecken define stress as “best viewed as an interactive process between the stressors and the individual’s psychological responses.” Coping is the response to the stressors in an individual’s life. There are different ways of coping, cognitive, and behavioral efforts to manage specific external or internal demands that are taxing of a person. 

There are three different ways of coping: avoidant, active, and social support coping. They each sound exactly as they are. Avoidant coping aims to distract rather than deal with the stressor. Active coping is oriented towards the cause of the stress as an attempt to reduce the stress. Social support coping includes support from multiple sources like family and can be done through  community. Avoidant coping is typically applied when dealing with the stress of an epidemic or a pandemic because it is uncontrollable and out of reach for the stressed individual to manage  their situation. 

New studies have been created as a result of COVID-19. One study about college students during the pandemic was released in early 2020 when the virus was only in China and COVID-19 was still labeled as an epidemic. “The psychological impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on college students in China,” conducted by researcher Wenjun Cao, representing the Department of Preventive Medicine at Chang Zhi Medical College, is another one of these studies. The study found that 0.9 percent, 2.7 percent, and 21.3 percent of college students in China were experiencing severe anxiety, moderate anxiety, and mild anxiety, respectively. 

Indonesia also reported their own mental health findings. According to researcher Andrea Pragallapati, “about 24.9 percent of students have experienced anxiety because of this COVID-19 outbreak.”

A common theme across the board with stress is that there are different protections for people against it. Students who experienced a loved one dying from COVID-19 are more susceptible to stress and anxiety. Food insecurity and economic factors contribute to someone’s receptivity to COVID-19 related anxiety. If someone has a stable family income and stable family relations, these act as protective factors against anxiety. 

Patterns found when dealing with COVID-19 include cycles of thought. The more fear the individual has, the more focus they will have on the problem. The angrier the individual is, the more their coping mechanisms rely on emotions. 

Michigan Psychiatry and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both compiled lists of ways to help deal with COVID-19 related stress and anxiety for college students. In their lists, they both encouraged taking care of physical health which includes exercise and rest, knowing your health resources, such as where to get necessary treatment, and taking time to practice self-care. 

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