• Yaprak Bahar

Coping With Existential Anxiety Through Social Support In Times Of COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated: Nov 12

My master thesis was about the effects of COVID-19, focusing on existential anxiety, social support seeking, attachment and self-esteem. Here is the summary of my findings:

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for many people around the world. In the absence of a vaccine, the most pervasive strategy for slowing down the contagion has been social distancing. In order to mitigate the negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness, promoting social connectedness has been recommended as the most vital mental resilience strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic (1). In two studies, I examined the mechanisms behind social support seeking when people are reminded of death and social isolation in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first study showed that when individuals experience higher existential anxiety, they report a lower ability to cope with the challenges through social support. Particularly, people who have insecure attachment styles and lower self-esteem experience more existential anxiety; thus, they would benefit from social connections more when they face an existential threat. Nevertheless, they also have less belief in their capability to cope through social support.

In the second study, I experimentally manipulated fear of death and social isolation, representing the current challenges the pandemic caused. As predicted, when people were primed with death related to the pandemic, they reported the highest levels of existential anxiety, followed by the social isolation prime and control conditions.

One novel insight this study has provided is that existential anxiety, which is a transdiagnostic factor in psychological disorders (2), hinders seeking social support. Individuals with high existential anxiety who would greatly benefit from having social support are the ones who are less like to seek support from others.

Notably, the study lends further support to previous findings that existential anxiety is higher among people who have low self-esteem. Koole and colleagues (3) demonstrated the significance of physical contact for dealing with existential concerns among people with low self-esteem. In the current situation of the pandemic, this finding requires attention. COVID-19 has introduced major complications with social support since direct physical contact has been limited. Thus, extended periods of limited physical contact during the pandemic might accelerate existential concerns and psychological disturbances among people with low self-esteem.

To conclude, the COVID-19 pandemic as a considerable existential threat that amplified people's fear of death and loneliness. Social support is an antidote of the negative impacts of the pandemic on mental and physical health. People with low self-esteem or insecure attachment are at higher risk of experiencing more existential anxiety, and they also are less likely to seek social support. Therefore, as a society, we should strive to increase the accessibility of social support.

1. Vinkers, C. H., van Amelsvoort, T., Bisson, J. I., Branchi, I., Cryan, J. F., Domschke, K., …van der Wee, N. J. A. (2020). Stress resilience during the coronavirus pandemic. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 35, 12–16.

2. Iverach, L., Menzies, R. G., & Menzies, R. E. (2014). Death anxiety and its role in psychopathology: Reviewing the status of a transdiagnostic construct. Clinical Psychology Review, 34(7), 580–593.

3.Koole, S. L., Tjew A Sin, M., & Schneider, I. K. (2013). Embodied Terror Management. Psychological Science, 25(1), 30–37.

© 2018 Yaprak Bahar