Pandemic obligations, challenges and optimism: the latest in mental health
From the impacts of obligations to the science of optimism, the pandemic taught us a lot about ourselves and each other. Here’s the latest findings and news for a healthier mind, body and life.
The strain of “feeling obligated”
There are lots of pressures that come out of the isolation and social distancing that we have been experiencing in response to COVID-19, and one psychological pitfall to watch out for may be a sense of obligation. Researchers wanted to see whether a sense of obligation, such as the need to check on parents, run errands for an elderly neighbour or even help out a friend might impact on the relationship. They found that there is a line beyond which obligation transforms into burden and that can damage the relationship and lead to depressive symptoms. According to the researchers, friendships are viewed as low-investment, fun relationships that make you feel good. Obligation can put strain on friendships, whereas it tends not to do so with parents or partners. There are no “answers” in this research, but it is a warning of something to watch for in these times.
Source: International Journal of Behavioural Development
Words of support
In uncertain times, emotional support from others is very important. However, how much comfort your words offer friends and family depends on the words you choose. In a new study of almost 500 adults, researchers found that social support does alleviate emotional distress, but how that support is delivered matters. If a person is feeling distress telling them what to feel with phrases like “Don’t worry about it” or “Just forget about it” won’t help. Instead, what distressed people need is for you to encourage them to talk about their own feelings and come to their own conclusions. A successful approach recognises the distressed person’s feelings and explores why they feel that way. The kind of language they recommend includes, “I’m sorry you are going through this, I’m worried about how you must be feeling” or “It’s understandable that you are stressed out since you really care about this.”
Source: Journal of Communication
Couples coping with challenge
The COVID-19 pandemic will result in financial strains not seen since the Great Depression. The reality is that many families will be dealing with increased financial pressures, and a new study has looked at how couples can weather such a crisis. At the time of the GFC this researcher looked at the same issue, but at the time examined mostly white middle class or upper class couples. In the recent study the focus was on unmarried, low-income African American couples expecting their first child together. There was a common finding from both studies. Results showed that the relationships which did best were those where the partners remembered to practise relationship maintenance behaviours such as respecting one another, being there for one another and showing love and affection to one another. Doing these things won’t eradicate the financial stress but they will make it easier to cope and possibly may lead to the relationships being stronger.
Source: Journal of Family and Economic Issues
Screens and kids
Any parent will know that with home isolation children can be spending a lot more time on screens. The good news is that this screen time may not be all bad. For a new study, researchers compared teacher and parent evaluations of children who started kindergarten in 1998 (six years before Facebook launched) with evaluations for kids who started kindergarten in 2010. The children were all followed until fifth grade. The results showed that both sets of children scored similarly on interpersonal skills such as the ability to form and maintain friendships, as well as getting on with people who are different. In fact, not only did social skills stay the same on every comparison, in some cases the 2010 cohort did better. There is always a panic over the effects of new technology, but as far as social skills go, the concerns seem unfounded.
Source: American Journal of Sociology
Did you know?
Happy partner, healthy life
Research has found that having an optimistic partner will probably reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive decline as you grow old together. It’s because maintaining a healthy weight and being fit reduce your risk for these things. Optimistic partners are more likely to encourage exercise, eat healthily and remind you to take any medications. It’s yet another reminder — pessimism is a pauper and optimism is free.
Source: Journal of Personality