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Media for Coping During COVID-19 Social Distancing: Stress, Anxiety, and Psychological Well-Being

The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused anxiety and stress in most people, but college students specifically have had to learn to cope with uncertainty and upheaval from their normal routine. This emotional rollercoaster has caused an increase in general media consumption as those effected by the pandemic seek ways to cope or escape the daily turmoil.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Advertising Assistant Professor Benjamin K. Johnson and colleagues found that college students are consuming fun, lighthearted stories to deal with their social distancing related stress, and deeply engaging, personally challenging stories to reign in their social distancing-related anxiety. Also, the researchers found that the more anxiety a student experiences, generally, the more media they consume to combat their weariness.

The study also found that avoiding the pandemic through media consumption did not significantly improve mental health, but using humorous content as a coping mechanism did benefit college students’ general mental health. Students using purposeful media also experienced more personal flourishing than those only seeking pleasurable content.

The researchers also evaluated the characteristics or traits students relied on (resiliency, hope, and optimism) when coping with pandemic-related stress and anxiety in terms of the role they played in their media consumption and underlying mental health. Students exhibiting resilience and optimism were less likely to use media to cope than those students that were more hopeful.

Johnson and his colleagues suggested that future research should focus on a longer period of social distancing related stress and anxiety than the first two months of the global pandemic. Plus, college students from around the world should be evaluated regarding their media consumption for coping to compare to American students. Other coping techniques should also be compared to media consumption as influencing college students’ mental health during the quarantine.

Practically, it appears that purposeful media and humorous media have the potential to benefit emotions, mental health, and an individual’s flourishing. Escapist and avoidant media use is not as helpful, and can even be counterproductive when a person is stressed or anxious.

Although videos, photos, podcasts, music, books, and all forms of media have greatly aided college students in grappling with social distancing and the inability to have face-to-face classes, media consumption, according to the study, is not a one size fits all solution.

The original article, Media for Coping During COVID-19 Social Distancing: Stress, Anxiety, and Psychological Well-Being, was published in Frontiers in Psychology on Dec. 18, 2020.

Authors: Allison L. Eden, Benjamin K. Johnson, Leonard Reinecke and Sarah M. Grady.

This summary was written by Dana Hackley, Ph.D.






Posted: December 22, 2020
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