Association for Psychological Science

APS Backgrounder Series: Psychology and COVID-19

Remaining Resilient During a Pandemic

Human behavior is one of the most important factors dictating the severity of pandemics for both the spread of the disease and the psychological impacts it triggers, such as anxiety, isolation, and uncertainty. Through an ongoing series of backgrounders, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) is exploring many of the psychological factors that can help the public understand and collectively combat the spread of COVID-19. Each backgrounder features the assessments, research, and recommendations of a renowned subject expert in the field of psychological science. This content has not undergone separate peer review and is provided as a service to the public during this time of pandemic.

Expert commentary from APS Fellow George A. Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, who is responsible for introducing the idea of resilience to the study of loss and trauma. He is known as a pioneering researcher in the field of bereavement and trauma.

What does psychological science say about the human quality of resilience?

Resilience is one of many possible outcomes to life challenges. We consider people to be resilient when they are able to maintain stable mental health despite being exposed to a serious stressor. This resilience to stress can be part of a person’s intrinsic nature, but it can also come from external factors, including support groups and social resources.

How does resilience relate to epidemics?

Generally, in the case of an epidemic, resilience is about dealing with the ongoing stress and distress in order to keep them at a minimum during a time of crisis. This is especially true for people who fall ill. In these cases, resilience is being able to maintain a trajectory of good mental health—keeping spirits up and minimizing depression, worry, and anxiety.

How does resilience relate specifically to COVID-19, considering the course of events to date?

As our nation and the world deal with COVID-19, the key psychological objective for most people is to keep stress at a minimum. Everyone is adapting to the new reality, which includes the fear of viral spread and contagion, self-quarantine, and supply shortages. More seriously, some are coping with illness and fear of death. To overcome the stresses of these situations and remain resilient throughout, it is important to use the tools we already have at our disposal, including:

  • Staying optimistic
  • Relying on the support of others
  • Bonding with those close to us
  • Keeping informed but not overindulging in media consumption
  • Distracting oneself
  • Finding ways to laugh and have fun through things like watching movies and reading
  • Most especially, finding ways to minimize isolation with joint family activities, and keeping in touch with friends and colleagues by phone, video, email.

People should understand that there is no magic bullet. Research has shown that no single factor determines resilience for a population. It is therefore up to each person to try different ways to cope to see what works best for them.

What are the most relevant psychological science findings the public should know and understand?

  1. We can cope with this. My research (and the research of others) has shown repeatedly that the majority of humans cope well and are resilient to just about any adversity.
  2. There is no single best way to cope for everyone. Often, we see popular articles about the 3 or 5 or 7 keys to resilience. Research has shown many different factors predict resilience, but the effects of all of these factors are small because they don’t always work or they don’t work for everyone.
  3. Research also shows that we need to be flexible and adapt. This means paying attention to what is happening to us and being nimble so we can adjust to what the situation is calling for. Each person should try different ways of coping and adapting to see what works best for them.

What is the one message people should know that psychological science teaches us?

This is not easy, but we can do it. Human beings have shown abundant psychological resilience in the face of just about any adversity imaginable.

Are there any published articles that are particularly insightful on these topics?

Bonanno, G. A., Brewin, C. R., Kaniasty, K., & La Greca, A. M. (2010). Weighing the costs of disaster: Consequences, risks, and resilience in individuals, families, and communities. Psychological Science in the Public Interest11(1), 1–49. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100610387086

Bonanno, G. A., Westphal, M., & Mancini, A. D. (2011). Resilience to loss and potential trauma. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology7, 511-535. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032210-104526

Bonanno, G. A., Ho, S. A. Y. M. Y., Chan, J. C. K., Kwong, R. S. Y., Cheung, C. K. Y., Wong, C. P. Y., & Wong, V. C. W. (2008). Psychological resilience and dysfunction among hospitalized survivors of the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong: A latent class approach. Health Psychology27(5), 659–667. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-6133.27.5.659

Bonanno, G. A., & Burton, C. L. (2013). Regulatory Flexibility: An Individual Differences Perspective on Coping and Emotion Regulation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(6), 591–612. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691613504116 

Galatzer-Levy, I. R., Huang, S. H., & Bonanno, G. A. (2018). Trajectories of resilience and dysfunction following potential trauma: A review and statistical evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review63, 41–55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2018.05.008

APS is the leading international organization dedicated to advancing scientific psychology across disciplinary and geographic borders. Our members study some of life’s biggest questions and help solve some of society’s most difficult problems. More than 35,000 leading psychological scientists, academics, clinicians, researchers, educators, administrators, and students from more than 80 countries are APS.  Led by a drive to better understand and improve the human condition, our members study all facets of behavior, from neurons to neighborhoods. Further, a key part of APS’s mission is to promote the integration of the full range of scientific perspectives across our diverse field, and with other scientific disciplines.




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Newswise: Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19: Your Mental Health
Released: 25-Nov-2020 2:15 PM EST
Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19: Your Mental Health
Cedars-Sinai

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaped more than half a year of our lives, canceling plans, upending livelihoods and causing feelings of grief, stress and anxiety. And Cedars-Sinai mental health experts say the pandemic could be shaping our mental health well into the future.

Released: 25-Nov-2020 12:45 PM EST
SARS-CoV-2 mutations do not appear to increase transmissibility
University College London

None of the mutations currently documented in the SARS-CoV-2 virus appear to increase its transmissibility in humans, according to a study led by UCL researchers.

Newswise: COVID-19 vaccine candidate tested preclinically at UAB nears first clinical test in people
Released: 25-Nov-2020 11:05 AM EST
COVID-19 vaccine candidate tested preclinically at UAB nears first clinical test in people
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Maryland-based Altimmune Inc., a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company, has submitted an Investigational New Drug, or IND, application to the United States Food and Drug Administration to commence a Phase 1 clinical study of its single-dose intranasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AdCOVID.

Released: 25-Nov-2020 11:05 AM EST
BIDMC researchers reveal how genetic variations are linked to COVID-19 disease severity
Beth Israel Lahey Health

New research BIDMC-led sheds light on the genetic risk factors that make individuals more or less susceptible to severe COVID-19.

Newswise: blog-pandemic-scenario-planning-lg-feature2.jpg
Released: 25-Nov-2020 11:05 AM EST
Pandemic Ups Game on Scenario Planning in The Arts
Wallace Foundation

Researcher/Author of new toolkit and report seeks to help arts and culture organizations add scenario planning to their strategic toolbox

Released: 25-Nov-2020 10:30 AM EST
Young people's anxiety levels doubled during first COVID-19 lockdown, says study
University of Bristol

The number of young people with anxiety doubled from 13 per cent to 24 per cent, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown 1, according to new research from the University of Bristol.

Newswise: 249837_web.jpg
Released: 25-Nov-2020 10:20 AM EST
Tracking COVID-19 trends in hard-hit states
Louisiana State University

Currently, there are over 10 million confirmed cases and more than 240,000 casualties attributed to COVID-19 in the U.S.

Released: 25-Nov-2020 9:55 AM EST
More Health Systems Join National #MaskUp Campaign
Cleveland Clinic

Many more health systems are joining the national #MaskUp campaign encouraging Americans to stop the spread of COVID-19 by following safety guidelines. Over just a few days, another 19 health systems with hundreds of hospitals united with 100 health systems nationwide with hospitals numbering in the thousands. The public service campaign is critical to the health and well-being of all Americans. It is a plea from healthcare professionals everywhere: wear a mask and follow other precautions to save lives and help get our country back on its feet.

Newswise: delaterre_jpeg.jpg
Released: 25-Nov-2020 7:35 AM EST
Warwick scientists design model to predict cellular drug targets against Covid-19
University of Warwick

The covid-19 virus, like all viruses relies on their host for reproduction

Newswise: COVID’s Collateral Damage: Germicidal Lamps May Damage Corneas
Released: 24-Nov-2020 5:15 PM EST
COVID’s Collateral Damage: Germicidal Lamps May Damage Corneas
University of Miami Health System, Miller School of Medicine

In a paper published in the journalOcular Immunology and Inflammation, physicians from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine reported that several patients using germicidal lamps in an attempt to sanitize against the coronavirus, developed painful inflammation of the cornea, a condition called photokeratitis.


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