A new study published in the Journal of Health Psychology looked at a longitudinal assessment of COVID-19 fear and psychological wellbeing in the United Kingdom.
“Our study examined how fear of the COVID-19 virus impacted psychological wellbeing in a UK population at two different timepoints during the pandemic,” study author Martyn Quigley told us. “The first timepoint took place when the number of COVID-19 related deaths and hospitalizations were high and the number of those who were vaccinated were low. The second timepoint took place when the number of deaths and hospitalizations were considerably lower, and most of the population were vaccinated.”
The research team anticipated that fear of the virus would have an impact on psychological wellbeing, particularly at the first timepoint when things were particularly bleak, but they were unsure as to the extent of the impact on different aspects of wellbeing at two very different timepoints during the pandemic.
“As a research group, we have an interest in the effects of fear, anxiety, and avoidance on mental health,” Quigley told us. “During the pandemic, we therefore felt it was important to undertake research which could provide some insight into the impact of fear of the virus on psychological wellbeing.”
To test their theory, researchers administered an online survey containing a range of validated measures that assessed peoples’ levels of COVID-19 fear, alcohol use, anxiety, depression, worry, loneliness, sleep quality and problems coping with uncertainty at two different timepoints during the pandemic. They also collected socio-demographic details (e.g., age, ethnicity) of participants to examine whether they predicted levels of COVID-19 fear. Importantly, the same participants completed the survey at the two different timepoints.
“At the first timepoint, when daily death rates and hospitalizations were at their highest during the pandemic in the UK, COVID-19 fear predicted higher levels of anxiety, depression, worry, loneliness, sleep difficulties and problems coping with uncertainty,” Quigley told us. “At the second point, when daily death rates and hospitalizations had dropped considerably, and many participants had received two vaccinations, levels of COVID-19 fear had decreased as expected.”
However, fear of the virus still predicted higher levels of worry, sleep difficulties and problems in dealing with uncertain situations. The impact of COVID-19 fear therefore evolved, impacting different aspects of wellbeing among the same sample of participants at different timepoints.
“Whilst not necessarily surprising, what is particularly notable is that COVID-19 fear continued to have an impact on people’s wellbeing,” Quigley told us, “specifically levels of worry, sleep difficulties and problems coping with uncertainty when circumstances had appeared to considerably improve, thus demonstrating the long-term impact of the pandemic on peoples’ psychological wellbeing.”
The results of the study show how the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular COVID-19 fear, can continue to impact on different aspects of psychological wellbeing even when circumstances have improved. This suggests that for some people fear of the virus might well take some time to overcome.