Potential Positives Amidst a Major Tragedy

Anxiety about infection, concern for vulnerable family members, and stress from disrupted routines may have profound implications for everyday psychological functioning.

By Anthony Mancini, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychology, Pace University

father facetiming with his family
father facetiming with his family

With more than 882,068 cases and 44,136 deaths worldwide (as of this writing), the coronavirus pandemic has exacted a staggering toll on human life. It has also exacted a psychological toll. Anxiety about infection, concern for vulnerable family members, and stress from disrupted routines have profound implications for everyday psychological functioning. Social isolation, a necessity for containing the virus, can exacerbate these anxieties. Inactivity from remaining at home can as well. Worse, many people have lost their livelihoods and face uncertain futures, dwindling retirement savings, and difficulties supporting their families, while others are forced to work under dangerous conditions. All of this is a potent recipe for emotional distress.

Although these risks are real and the prognosis potentially grim, the long-term psychological consequences of the pandemic are not at all clear. As my own research has found, acute stress can have surprisingly beneficial consequences on psychological functioning. It stimulates cooperation, trust, and affiliation. It can bind people together in common purpose. It can make us sensitive to others in ways we weren’t before. It can even directly improve psychological functioning.

There is already evidence of an uptick in social interaction, and never before have alternatives to in-person interaction been more important. Social media activity has risen by 50% since the pandemic, according to a recent report. People are in closer contact with friends and relatives, checking in by phone, text, or video chat. All around us are examples of heroism and selflessness, which can generate feelings of elevation, a potent positive emotion. The pandemic may stitch us all into a larger fabric of humanity, one that transcends national borders. All of this is reason for hope in the midst of tragedy.

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Since 1906, Pace University has educated thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions.

Since 1906, Pace University has educated thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions.

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