Positive thinking can boost mental well-being even during a crisis

  • Date

    Wed 5 Aug 20

Wijnand Van Tilburg

Our mental well-being during the COVID-19 restrictions could be improved by positive thinking a new Essex study suggests.

Previous research has shown that to thrive people need to feel competent, have choices in their lives, and stay connected to others.

But these basic psychological needs may be challenged during COVID-19 and there are concerns this will take a toll on mental health, leading to people feeling lonely, bored, irritable or depressed.

Psychologists set out to discover whether COVID-19 challenges our psychological needs and leads to worsening mental health, and if so, what can be done to counteract it.

Dr Wijnand Van Tilburg, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, worked with Dr Katarzyna Cantarero, visiting researcher at Essex, and Dr Ewelina Smoktunowicz, both from the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland. 

“In the first study we found that challenges to basic psychological needs during COVID-19 were related to lower mental health. Those who were able to maintain contact with friends or family through the internet or on the phone, and those who were able to continue working normally could benefit from higher mental health,” said Dr Cantarero, who led the research.

They went on to assess whether encouraging people to feel more positively about their situation could make a difference. Using online surveys, one group of participants wrote about times when, despite the restrictions, they felt they could choose what to do, they could achieve their goals or they felt connected to others. Those who had been encouraged to think positively reported increased mental well-being as compared to the control group.

“Our research suggests that simple and short interventions are a promising tool to increase mental well-being during a pandemic. The intervention we used did not require physical presence or specialized high-tech equipment, which makes it low-maintenance, cheap and easy to implement. 

“Hopefully the results of these studies will be of use not only during the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, but can be helpful in bolstering individuals’ well-being beyond this crisis,” said Dr Van Tilburg, an expert on boredom who is currently developing an anti-boredom manual for an online magazine.

The research has been published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.