Learning about COVID-19 can reduce pandemic stress

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The more people knew about COVID-19, the less pandemic-related stress they had, according to a new study from North Carolina State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. The study also found that making plans to reduce stress was also effective for older adults, but not for adults in their 40s or younger.

For the study, researchers surveyed 515 adults from across the United States. The adults ranged in age from 20 and 79 years old. The cohort of study participants had an average age of just under 40 years old, and 46 of them were more than 60 years old. The surveys were conducted between March 20 and April 19, 2020.

One part of the survey was a 29-item quiz designed to assess how much study participants knew about COVID-19. Coupled with other elements of the survey, this let researchers assess whether an understanding of COVID-19 made people feel more stress or less.

The researchers went into the study thinking older adults would likely experience more stress related to COVID-19, because the disease was portrayed as particularly dangerous to seniors. But they found that pandemic-related stress levels were the same for all age groups.

However, older adults also had an advantage, pro-active coping. The use of proactive coping, or making plans to reduce the likelihood of stress, reduced stress in adults over the age of 52. It had no effect for younger adults, according to the study.

"These results suggest that everyone can benefit from staying engaged with factual information that will increase knowledge about COVID-19," said Shevaun Neupert, PhD, co-author of the study and a professor of psychology, in a statement. "In addition, older adults who are able to use proactive coping, such as trying to prepare for adverse events, could decrease their pandemic stress."

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