Researchers with Penn State have analyzed months of pandemic data to uncover the best coping strategies, ones that have helped people cope with the COVID-19 outbreak thus far and ones that will, hopefully, help the public deal with the coming winter months. The findings were recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
As one would expect, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic — which was unleased on the world with very little time to prepare — left many people suffering. Mental health issues, particularly anxiety and depression, skyrocketed, according to reports over past months, leading to a big uptick in prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication.
Loss of employment, risk of eviction, the health of vulnerable family and friends, and other concerns have driven the mental health issues. In addition, socially isolated people who don’t have much support from friends and family, as well as people suffering from pre-existing conditions that put them at more risk, are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues related to the pandemic.
Using survey data from adults through April and May, the researchers found that certain things were more likely to drive mental health issues, including ‘social strain,’ meaning things like having family members getting on your nerves or friends being critical. On the flip side, the study identified multiple coping strategies linked to better mental health during the pandemic.
These strategies are ones anyone can implement — they include things like having a consistent schedule, regularly reminding yourself that the pandemic will eventually end, helping those in need, and participating in activities that help distract you from the unusual circumstances. As well, those experiencing better mental health were also more likely to follow health-protective actions like wearing face masks and frequently washing one’s hands.
With that said, there is a big limitation to this study: the data used to identify these coping strategies spanned only through the end of May. Summer is now nearly behind those in the US where the study surveyed participants, and social unrest and stress related to protests and the elections weren’t yet a big factor for the volunteers. Coping strategies may need to be adjusted in light of these new factors.