Stress and anxiety related to COVID-19 is significantly lower among people who know more facts about the disease, according to a new study from North Carolina State University. The researchers also found that older adults benefit from proactively planning to reduce stress.
“COVID-19 is a new disease – it’s not something that people worried about before,” said study co-author Professor Shevaun Neupert. “So we wanted to see how people were responding to, and coping with, this new source of stress.”
The researchers surveyed 515 adults across the United States between the ages of 20 and 79, with an average age of just under 40. The surveys were conducted from March 20 to April 19, 2020
One portion of the survey consisted of a test that was l designed to measure how much the study participants knew about COVID-19. When combined with other aspects of the survey, the test results reflected whether an educated understanding of COVID-19 made people feel more stress or less.
“We found that knowledge is power,” said Professor Neupert. “The more factual information people knew about COVID-19, the less stress they had. That was true across age groups.”
“Knowledge reduces uncertainty, and uncertainty can be very stressful. Although speculative, it is likely that knowledge about this new virus reduced uncertainty, which in turn reduced feelings of pandemic stress.”
Considering that the disease is known to be particularly dangerous for seniors, the researchers expected to find that older adults experience more stress related to COVID-19. However, the analysis showed that stress levels were the same for all age groups.
“The strongest predictor of stress was concern about getting COVID-19, which isn’t surprising,” said Professor Neupert. “And the older people were, the more pronounced this effect was.”
On the other hand, older adults had an advantage over younger individuals. Seniors were found to be the only age group to benefit from proactive coping – or making plans to reduce the likelihood of stress.
Proactive coping was found to reduce stress levels in adults over the age of 52, yet had no effect for younger adults.
“These results suggest that everyone can benefit from staying engaged with factual information that will increase knowledge about COVID-19,” said Professor Neupert. “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 and Social Sciences.