The more you know, the less you stress

Survey respondents who scored better on a COVID-19 knowledge quiz were more likely to report lower feelings of stress about the pandemic.

Emma Jones 3 minute read August 12, 2020
Developing proactive coping skills can help mitigate the stress felt during the pandemic.

Developing proactive coping skills can help mitigate the stress felt during the pandemic. julkirio / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A study completed by the North Carolina State University (NC State) and the Georgia Institute of Technology finds that higher factual knowledge about COVID-19 is correlated with lower stress about the pandemic. This study also found that adults aged 50 and over had a better ability to proactively manage stress to moderate the increased anxiety felt about being vulnerable to the virus.

“We found that knowledge is power,” Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State and study co-author, explained to Newswise. “The more factual information people knew about COVID-19, the less stress they had. That was true across age groups.”

Between March 20 and April 19, 2020, researchers issued a survey (in English only) and collected data from 515 U.S. respondents aged 18 and up. The survey also included a 29-question quiz on COVID-19, designed to assess the respondent’s knowledge of the pandemic.

Other correlations found include that older adults were more likely to cover their mouth and nose when sneezing, avoid small gatherings, and use disinfectant on surfaces. Younger adults were more likely to wear a mask in public.

More knowledge, less stress

Survey data reveals that having more accurate knowledge of COVID-19, regardless of age, was correlated with experiencing less stress about the virus.

“Knowledge reduces uncertainty, and uncertainty can be very stressful,” Neupert says. “Although speculative, it is likely that knowledge about this new virus reduced uncertainty, which in turn reduced feelings of pandemic stress.”

Older adults scored better on the COVID knowledge quiz and also endorsed more proactive approaches to staying safe from the pandemic and its effects. This finding suggests that older adults may be better at proactively seeking out information on the virus from quality sources.

Older adults better at proactive coping

Overall, older adults experience more stress in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, likely due to an increased vulnerability to the effects of the virus. However, use of proactive coping mechanisms helped adults over the age of 50 manage their stress more effectively than younger respondents.

Proactive coping is planning ahead for possible scenarios to reduce stress. Examples include having a plan on what needs to be done if you do start showing symptoms of COVID-19 or reaching out to friends and family to talk about concerns as they arise — not once they turn into a problem.

This finding complements a previous study released by Edward Jones this summer, which found that, despite the greater health risks COVID-19 poses to older adults, adults aged 56 and over are more likely to report they are coping with the pandemic well than younger generations. The Edward Jones study pointed to greater financial stability and more life experience, allowing older adults greater faith that they will be able to stay resilient through the challenges the pandemic poses.

It is important to note that in the absence of these mitigating factors – not being financially stable or not having developed proactive coping mechanisms — older adults do feel greater stress and anxiety about the pandemic.

“The interactions between age and proactive coping and age and anxiety about developing COVID-19 highlight the notion that there is a diversity of experiences within older adults,” the study reads. “Not all older adults respond the same way to the same stressors.

“Helping people, especially older adults, who have high anxiety about developing COVID-19 gain more knowledge about the pandemic in a non-threatening way may help lower the stress they experience during this time.”

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