RALEIGH, N.C. — It’s never been easier to fall into a cycle of stress and anxiety. COVID-19 continues to disrupt all of our lives with no end in sight, so it’s easy to see why so many people are feeling on edge. Now, a new study finds that knowledge is perhaps our best asset in the fight against pandemic stress.
Researchers from North Carolina State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology conclude that the more a person knows about COVID-19, the less pandemic-related stress they feel. Also, making post-pandemic plans is another effective way for older adults to feel more mellow. A similar relationship between younger adults and planning was not observed.
“COVID-19 is a new disease – it’s not something that people worried about before,” says study co-author Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State, in a release. “So we wanted to see how people were responding to, and coping with, this new source of stress.”
Testing coronavirus knowledge
Researchers surveyed 515 U.S. adults between the ages of 20 and 79. The average participant was aged just under 40 years old, but 46 of the 515 participants were older than 60. All of the surveys were distributed and completed between March 20th and April 19th of this year.
One section of those surveys featured a 29-question quiz designed to gauge just how knowledgable each participant was regarding COVID-19. In addition to the survey’s others sections, this information helped the study’s authors examine the relationship between coronavirus knowledge and stress levels.
Sure enough, people who were able to answer more questions correctly about the coronavirus also showed lower levels of stress. This was true across all age groups.
“We found that knowledge is power. Knowledge reduces uncertainty, and uncertainty can be very stressful,” Neupert explains. “Although speculative, it is likely that knowledge about this new virus reduced uncertainty, which in turn reduced feelings of pandemic stress.”
Pandemic stress a problem for all adults, not just the elderly
Heading into the surveys, the research team hypothesized that older Americans are particularly more stressed out these days since the coronavirus poses more of a health threat for older people. The survey’s findings, though, didn’t support that theory. Stress levels generally remained consistent across age groups.
“The strongest predictor of stress was concern about getting COVID-19, which isn’t surprising,” Neupert says. “And the older people were, the more pronounced this effect was.”
As mentioned earlier, older adults also appear to have an added advantage when it comes to beating coronavirus stress: pro-active coping (making plans for the future). For adults over the age of 52, pro-active coping resulted in lower stress levels, but any younger than that and planning didn’t seem to help with stress.
“These results suggest that everyone can benefit from staying engaged with factual information that will increase knowledge about COVID-19,” Neupert concludes. “In addition, older adults who are able to use proactive coping, such as trying to prepare for adverse events, could decrease their pandemic stress.”
The study is published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.