Worry, Avoidance, and Coping During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Comprehensive Network Analysis

Authored By: Steven Taylor, Caeleigh A. Landry, Michelle M. Paluszek, Geoffrey S. Rachor, and Gordon J. G. Asmundson

Research conducted since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that there are many different psychological responses to the pandemic (e.g., beliefs, feelings, behaviours). Most studies have looked at only one or a few of these psychological responses, which does not allow researchers to identify psychological responses that are most central, or how these responses are related to one another. Identifying psychological responses and their relationships to one another is important, as it may guide clinicians and policymakers in deciding which psychological responses to focus on changing in order to improve mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants were 3,075 American and Canadian adults who completed an online survey in May, 2020. Participants answered questions about various psychological responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including COVID Stress and COVID Disregard Syndromes, avoidance behaviours (e.g., avoiding going to the supermarket, avoiding healthcare workers), COVID-19-related conspiracy theory beliefs (e.g., COVID-19 was deliberately manufactured), health behaviours (e.g., compulsive checking and reassurance seeking), helping others during the pandemic, and hesitancy towards getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

The authors identified three core psychological responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that were each associated with several other psychological responses. The first core response—worry about the dangerousness of COVID-19—was linked with other pandemic-related worries, fears, and avoidance. Second, the belief that the threat of COVID-19 has been exaggerated was a core response associated with disregard for social distancing, poor hand hygiene, and vaccination hesitancy. The third core response, COVID-19-related compulsive checking and reassurance-seeking (e.g., monitoring symptoms, seeking reassurance) was related to self-protective behaviours such as panic buying and using personal protective equipment. Overall, the results show that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many different but related psychological responses, most central of which are worrying about the dangerousness of COVID-19, believing that the threat of COVID-19 is exaggerated, and compulsive checking and reassurance seeking.

Lay Summary written by Kelsey D. Vig. Edited by Geoffrey S. Rachor

Read Full Publication