A study on the mood of the population during the COVID-19 crisis reveals their ability to adapt and the importance of tolerance to frustration

The study, developed by two researchers from the Universitat Jaume I and the Universidad de Murcia, analyses data from all over Spain since the first day of confinement collected through a web questionnaire.Carlos Suso

Evaluating the evolution of the Spanish population’s state of mind during the coronavirus crisis in order to analyse the most effective strategies for adaptation and the aggravating factors is the main objective of the study being carried out by researchers Carlos Suso Ribera, assistant doctoral lecturer at the Universitat Jaume I, and Ramón Martín Brufau, associate lecturer at the University of Murcia and attached to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit of the Murcia Health Service.

The analysis, called «Evolución del estado de ánimo durante la crisis del coronavirus (COVID-19)», is based on data collected through a web questionnaire in which the state of mind and emotions of the population during the confinement are checked daily for factors such as fatigue, irritability, anxiety, sadness or energy, as well as the behaviours they adopt in this situation with respect to physical activity, exposure to sunlight, schedules and routines, or interaction with other people, among others. Demographic or socio-economic factors such as work status or income level are also taken into account to determine which profiles are most emotionally vulnerable during confinement.

Thanks to this continuous record of responses, which is still underway, the study presents a representative image of the entire Spanish geography in terms of the evolution of the crisis, information of great value when it comes to dealing with the psychological state of the population more effectively by mental health teams and assessing the influence of the strategies adopted at an individual level.

It should be noted that the study, which is anonymous and voluntary, has data recorded since the first day of the state of alarm, with nearly 3,000 responses at the start of the confinement and a daily assessment of about 500 people, although this has declined progressively over the weeks. Participation has been mainly female, with a proportion of 70-30%, although with a lower representation of older people due to the digital divide. Likewise, children have not been analysed either due to data protection reasons.

The results of the analysis show the population’s capacity to adapt to this situation, with a tendency to stabilise as the weeks go by, and indicate that tolerance to frustration is one of the main keys to well-being, with a much greater impact than other factors such as the economic level or those related to the environment. The importance of carrying out behaviours that pursue specific objectives and are associated with values has also been detected, in other words, acts that are not carried out simply to mitigate unpleasant sensations.

«Initially, the news of confinement was harsh and had a significant impact on the levels of depression, irritability or tiredness. In addition, we have observed that there have been occasional moments when it worsened within the confinement itself, especially coinciding with the announcements of the extension of the state of alarm”, explains Carlos Suso. However, he points out that these levels have been stabilising over the weeks and are now returning to pre-crisis levels with the new phase of gradual deconfinement.

With regard to the profiles most affected by the situation, the researchers highlight the impact on young adults (aged between 18 and 30), as well as on women in the first days of quarantine. «One of the most surprising findings is that the young adult population has endured this situation worse, possibly because of the interruption of many of their life projects or the lack of psychological resources, as specialists are still working on them», says the UJI researcher. In this sense, Carlos Suso emphasises the importance of paying more attention to this segment of the population, although he also highlights the great capacity for adaptation that they have shown with the evolution of confinement.

From a gender perspective, the analysis shows a higher level of emotional distress in women at the beginning of the confinement, although this has since levelled out. «Our hypothesis is that when the state of alarm began it was the women who were making the greatest effort, taking over the house, taking care of the children and adapting to a new situation, and that affected them, but as the confinement has progressed the situation has adjusted and improved,» says Carlos Suso.

The study also asked participants about the conditions of their environment and their overall level of income. As for people living alone, the UJI researcher explains that «they have not had a worse time at any point in their evolution, perhaps because there are resources that may have made it easier for them to feel better, such as social networks, and because of their ability to be alone, which may have benefited them. In contrast, higher rates of depression and anxiety have been detected in the first days of confinement in people who live together and without children, although with a tendency towards balancing out. Similarly, concern about the economic future in households with fewer resources was more apparent in the initial phase, but has gradually levelled out.

Despite all these conditioning factors, the researchers stress that, by far, of all the factors influencing people’s emotional state, the most decisive is tolerance to frustration, i.e. adopting a resilient attitude and understanding that difficulties are part of life. In this sense, they advise defining purposes according to values and avoiding short-term behaviours that can generate damage.

Furthermore, as a result of the data obtained at the beginning of the confinement, the researchers have also drawn up a list of eight pieces of advice related to the variables that most affect mood. The recommendations can be summarised as promoting good sleep hygiene, using the Internet to interact with friends and family but not passively, informing oneself with moderation, engaging in physical activity, exposing oneself to sunlight, not resorting to food when experiencing emotional distress, allowing oneself to feel bad, and paying special attention to young adults.

Link to the questionnaire: www.cutt.ly/coronavirus-diario