U of R/UBC research finds the positive in the COVID-19 pandemic

News Release Release Date: May 26, 2021 10:00 a.m.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Regina and the University of British Columbia found 77 per cent of participants reported moderate to high personal growth with respect to appreciation for healthcare workers, life, friends and family, and self-reliance, relative to COVID-19.

The article Real versus illusory personal growth in response to COVID-19 pandemic stressors, published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, describes a study of 893 adults from Canada and the United States with high levels of COVID related stress.  

“While there is considerable evidence of wide-spread emotional distress related to the current pandemic, including a specific adjustment disorder called COVID Stress Syndrome, it is possible for some people to experience positive personal change as a result of prolonged exposure to stressful events,” said corresponding author Dr. Gordon Asmundson with the University of Regina Department of Psychology. “Positive personal growth, also known as post-traumatic growth or PTG, refers to the positive transformative power of suffering and is essentially finding the silver lining in a stressful situation.”

The most common types of growth in response to COVID-19 were better appreciation for healthcare workers, having greater appreciation for the value of one’s own life, developing stronger appreciation for friends and family, better appreciating each day, changing priorities about what is important in life, and greater feelings of self-reliance.

Growing evidence indicates that some reports of PTG may reflect dysfunctional attempts, such as avoidant or defensive coping, to deal with stressful events resulting in heightened distress. Therefore the study also examined whether the PTG was real or illusory (dysfunctional). Thirty two per cent of the sample showed high real growth (characterized by little disability and stable symptoms over time). However, seventeen per cent of the sample exhibited high illusory growth (characterized by high disability and worsening symptoms).    

“Our research identified a significant proportion of COVID-19 related PTG reflected ineffectual pandemic-related coping as opposed to true growth,” said Asmundson. “This suggests that the high prevalence of self-reported PTG related to COVID-19 is an overrepresentation of actual growth and is more likely a combination of ineffectual coping (illusory) and real personal growth.

“Distinguishing those who experience illusory versus real personal growth will allow us to direct mental health services to those most in need of assistance.”

This research was supported by funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the University of Regina.

Dr. Gordon Asmundson is available for interviews. Please contact Mindy Ellis at 306-581-4541 or mindy.ellis@uregina.ca to make arrangements.

About the University of Regina

The University of Regina—with campuses located on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 territories, the ancestral lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dakota, Lakota and Nakoda nations and the homeland of the Métis—is a comprehensive, mid-sized university that traces its roots back to the creation of Regina College in 1911. Today, more than 16,600 students study within the University's 10 faculties, 25 academic departments/schools, 18 research centres and institutes, and three federated colleges (Campion College, First Nations University of Canada, and Luther College). The University of Regina has an established reputation for excellence and innovative programs that lead to undergraduate, master, and doctoral degrees. The University of Regina was named the Research University of the Year in 2020 (undergraduate category) by Research Infosource. 


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