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Having healthy coping skills can help consumers manage pandemic-related mental health struggles

Researchers say there are tangible steps consumers can take to reduce anxiety

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected consumers’ mental health in countless ways, and it can be difficult to find healthy and effective ways to cope with daily stressors. 

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Penn State has identified several ways for consumers to take control of their mental health and feel a bit of relief in the midst of the pandemic. 

“Things like keeping a consistent schedule, reminding yourself that things will get better, finding activities to distract yourself, and taking care of others who need help are all helpful,” said researcher Erina MacGeorge. “Additionally, adhering to the national recommendations for protecting oneself from COVID-19, like hand-washing, social distancing and masking, was also associated with better mental health.” 

Finding what works

For the study, over 440 participants completed surveys about their mental health at three points during the early months of the pandemic: one at the end of April, one in early May, and one at the end of May. Participants reported on any anxiety or depression symptoms they were experiencing, what they were doing to deal with pandemic-related stress, and the measures they were taking to protect against infection. 

The researchers learned several important things about mental health during the pandemic. For starters, how consumers spend their time -- and who they spend it with -- played an integral role in mental health outcomes. They explained that it’s important for consumers to have a solid support system that feels encouraging and helpful, rather than draining and stressful. They said this can go a long way toward alleviating some concerns. 

They also discovered that specific populations, including young people and those with chronic health conditions, were more likely to struggle with their mental health -- especially in the earliest points of the pandemic. 

The researchers also explained that taking actions designed to slow the transmission of COVID-19 can also help consumers feel more in control and reduce some of the worry and anxiety. 

“Sometimes we need to take a break from thinking about how we feel and do something to alleviate the threat and make us feel a lot better about our situation in life,” said researcher Jessica Myrick. “COVID-related messages that emphasize that even small actions are worthwhile might have doubly the positive effect of getting people to take small actions, like washing their hands more often, but also alleviate some mental strain, too.” 

As the pandemic continues to affect people across the country, the researchers hope that consumers can find some comfort in these strategies and work to prioritize their mental health during these uncertain times. 

“As individuals, we can help bolster our own mental health by protecting ourselves from COVID-19 as much as possible -- like with social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing -- by seeking support when we need it, and choosing activities that keep us moving forward, such as looking for safe ways to have fun and help others.” 

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