As if the effect of Covid-19 on the body isn’t bad enough, a flurry of new research is showing just how damaging the global crisis has been on the mental health of people around the world.

But that’s not to say psychologists, psychotherapists, and mental health practitioners aren’t getting better at treating it. In fact, new research published in the journal American Psychologist identifies a number of coping strategies that are associated with increased resilience in the face of the growing pandemic. Topping the list of effective coping strategies are active coping, positive reframing, instrumental support, religion, and acceptance. Here’s what each entails.

  • Active coping is characterized by solving problems, seeking information or social support, seeking help, and/or changing one’s environment. Generally speaking, an active coping strategy occurs when an individual makes a conscious decision to change his/her life for the better. For example, the many people who have sought out the support of a therapist or mental health practitioner during the pandemic is a form of active coping.
  • Positive reframing occurs when someone turns a negative into a positive, or finds the best in a given situation. For instance, acknowledging that the pandemic has led you to learn a new skill you might not have otherwise acquired, instead of bemoaning the fact that you have been stuck in quarantine, is an example of a positive reframe.
  • Instrumental support refers to various types of help others may provide you — for instance, by offering financial assistance, childcare, or housekeeping support.
  • Religion. Coping with stress or trauma through the comfort found in religious or spiritual practices is another effective way to manage Covid-19-induced anxiety.
  • Acceptance is about not allowing ourselves to get caught up fighting against things that are out of our control and, instead, responding to change in a way that aligns with our values.

Not all coping strategies are associated with enhanced psychological resilience, however. The researchers report that planning, substance use, denial, and venting actually cause more harm than good. They also report that self-distraction and humor neither induced a positive nor negative change in people’s mental health during the pandemic.

To arrive at these conclusions, the team of psychologists tracked changes in people’s well-being between December 2019 and May 2020. Their sample included 979 German adults. They found that psychological well-being did not change all that much during the early stage of the pandemic (December – March), but that it declined significantly from March to May.

The researchers believe their research offers a clear path forward for mental health practitioners seeking to understand how to best treat the psychological effects of life in times of a pandemic. They write, “These findings imply that the Covid-19 pandemic represents not only a major medical and economic crisis, but also has a psychological dimension, as it can be associated with declines in key facets of people’s subjective well-being. Psychological practitioners should address potential declines in subjective well-being with their clients and attempt to enhance clients’ general capability to use functional stress appraisals and effective coping strategies.”

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