Countries around the world have been wrestling with the negative mental health effects of COVID-19. Here are some insights on how to cultivate resilience during COVID-19 from three researchers from Spain, Rocío Rodríguez-Rey, Helena Garrido-Hernansaiz (both with Ph.D.s in Clinical and Health Psychology), and Silvia Collado (with a Ph.D. in Environmental Psychology).
Rodríguez-Rey is a Lecturer at the Psychology department in Comillas Pontifical University (Madrid), Garrido-Hernansaiz is a Lecturer at the Psychology and Education department in Cardenal Cisneros University Centre (Madrid) and Collado works in the Psychology and Sociology department, at University of Zaragoza (Teruel). Rocío and Helena are specialized in studying mental health, coping, and resilience in the face of health-related adverse events, like HIV or critical illness, and Silvia is an expert in environmental psychology and her studies have focused on the psychological well-being of youth.
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Spain, the three decided to join efforts and use their previous research experience to study how the population in Spain is being psychologically affected by this new and unexpected situation.
Jamie Aten: How would you describe the COVID-19 situation in Spain?
Rocío Rodríguez-Rey, Helena Garrido-Hernansaiz, and Silvia Collado: If a couple of words could describe the COVID-19 situation in Spain right now, we think that they would be “changing” and “unpredictable.” The epidemiological situation in Spain has been very severe (especially during March and April), and the confinement measures taken by the government have been very restrictive.
All of these caused an immediate psychological impact on the population, as we found in our study (about 36% of the participants reported moderate to severe psychological impact, 25% showed mild to severe levels of anxiety, 41% reported depressive symptoms, and 41% felt stressed). This impact was especially severe for young people, women, and those who perceived themselves as a high-risk population in case they got infected by COVID-19. People are very concerned not only about the COVID-19 disease itself but also about the economic impact of the pandemic. Now, we need to continue investigating the mid- and long-term psychological impact of the pandemic.
JA: What are some ways understanding Spain's COVID-19 situation can help us live more resiliently?
RRR, HGH, SC: We would say that, in order to be resilient, it is important to be informed. Information at this point in the pandemic can come in two ways. First, people should get high-quality information about the security measures to avoid being infected, as well as about the procedure to follow if a person gets infected. This will give people the reassurance that they are doing everything they can to handle the situation. Second, communicate the impact COVID-19 is having on people, which will help others see they are not the only ones feeling sad, nervous, and generally down because of this situation. Understanding and accepting that it is normal to feel these uncomfortable emotions at this time will most likely relieve some of the stress many people are reporting.
Other variables related to better mental health—and thus, to higher resilience—in our study were teleworking (instead of working on-site or temporarily or permanently losing the job due to the COVID-19 crisis) and having a good financial situation. We believe that is very important to point out that many of the actions leading to better mental health and wellbeing are social and economic, not merely individual. This is very important: Although we do our best to stay resilient in the face of adversities, not everything depends on our individual effort.
JA: What are some ways people can cultivate resilience amidst this pandemic?
RRR, HGH, SC: In our study, we found some variables associated with better mental health outcomes, and so, to higher resilience. A very important one, as suggested above, is being correctly informed, but not dedicating too much time to getting information: It is better to select a trustworthy source of information and dedicate some time every day (only once and for a short time) to get informed, given that it helps reduce uncertainty and fear. Besides, getting involved during the confinement in leisure activities such as physical activity or reading was also associated with better outcomes.
Additionally, it is crucial to know ourselves and to practice self-care and self-compassion. This can include staying active, connecting with your loved ones (still respecting all the security measures), and dedicating enough time to rest and to engage in activities that are rewarding and pleasant.
JA: Any advice for how we might use what you have learned to support a friend or loved one struggling with a difficult life situation?
RRR, HGH, SC: Sadly, there is no magic formula that works in all difficult life situations and for everybody. It is always important to consider each situation. However, there are some protective factors that help. One of the most important is having an adequate social support network and being able to ask for help if needed. Sharing your concerns with someone does not make your problems disappear, but can make you feel you are not alone, which is very important. Thus, if you have to support a friend who is having a difficult time, just asking them how they are doing, and whether there is anything you can do to make them feel better will actually be a good way of supporting them.
JA: What are you currently working on that you might like to share about?
RRR, HGH, SC: In the last three weeks, we have reached out to the participants of the study we are referring to in this interview and over 700 have completed the questionnaires a second time, so that we could evaluate their current psychological state. This is important because we want to know how people are feeling now that the first peak of the pandemic is over, and we are in a completely new and different situation of “new normality.” Within the next months, they will be contacted again at least twice so that we can follow the evolution of their mental health.
Additionally, we are working in a different study analyzing the psychological impact of the pandemic on the frontline workers. This study includes health care providers, media professionals, grocery store workers, and protective service workers. All of them have been working very intensely during the past few months. Thus, we are concerned about their mental health and would like to know how they are feeling. In this study, our colleague Nereida Bueno, from Universidad Pontificia Comillas, is also one of the authors. We have been recently awarded a funded research project by Comillas Pontifical University. This support will help us to continue advancing in our studies.
Rocío Rodríguez-Rey, Helena Garrido-Hernansaiz & Silvia Collado (2020). Psychological Impact and Associated Factors During the Initial Stage of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Among the General Population in Spain. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01540