Study: ‘Reappraisal’ can ease anxiety, depression amid COVID-19 pandemic

A recent study suggests that adopting a new perspective about the COVID-19 pandemic can lift a person out of anxiety and negative emotions brought on by the global crisis. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has increased negative emotions and decreased positive emotions globally," the study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, said. "Left unchecked, these emotional changes might have a wide array of adverse impacts."

Researchers pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a negative impact on people’s mental health including "sleeping less, consuming more alcohol or other drugs or substances, having trouble concentrating because their mind is occupied by COVID-19, and having more fights with their partner or loved ones, some escalating to domestic violence."

In an effort to decrease negative emotions, researchers surveyed more than 27,000 participants from 87 countries to test the effectiveness of reappraisal— an emotion-regulation strategy that modifies how one thinks about a particular situation. Researchers collected responses from May 2020 to October 2020.

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The study’s authors noted that there are two methods of reappraisal— reconstrual and repurposing. Reconstrual involves changing the way a situation impacts you, such as washing your hands or socially distancing to avoid a COVID-19 infection. Repurposing involves a person focusing more on a positive outcome, such as how the COVID-19 pandemic can highlight the need for social connections or determine what really matters in life. 

Participants were asked the gauge their emotions before looking at COVID-19 related photos. After applying reappraisal, they were asked again about their emotions after looking at the photos.

Results showed that reappraisal — in either form — decreased negative emotions and increased positive emotions.

Researchers believe their study could help people cope with the pandemic around the world. They suggested reappraisal can be implemented through "a variety of media and communication mechanisms, such as advertising campaigns, speeches, courses, apps and mobile games."

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"Essential workers, nurses and doctors, students, patients and many other populations whose work and life are highly affected by the pandemic could potentially benefit from reappraisal interventions," the study said but noted that more research is needed from those groups facing distinct challenges during the pandemic. 

The study’s authors did note their limitations with their experiment, saying many of their participants were younger women with internet access. They also noted that participants were shown limited photos related the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the researchers said they believe reappraisal is a cost-effective mental health tool that can help many people keep their spirits high during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We hope this study will inform efforts to create scalable interventions for use around the world to build resilience during the pandemic and beyond," the study’s authors said. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles.