COVID-19: Psychological flexibility, coping, mental health, and wellbeing in the UK during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly altered the daily lives of many people across the globe, both through the direct interpersonal cost of the disease, and the governmental restrictions imposed to mitigate its spread and impact. The UK has been particularly affected and has one of the highest mortality rates in Europe. In this paper, we examine the impact of COVID-19 on psychological health and well-being in the UK during a period of ‘lockdown’ (15th–21st May 2020) and the specific role of Psychological Flexibility as a potential mitigating process.

We observed clinically high levels of distress in our sample (N = 555). However, psychological flexibility was significantly and positively associated with greater wellbeing, and inversely related to anxiety, depression, and COVID-19-related distress. Avoidant coping behaviour was positively associated with all indices of distress and negatively associated with wellbeing, while engagement in approach coping only demonstrated weaker associations with outcomes of interest. No relationship between adherence to government guidelines and psychological flexibility was found.

In planned regression models, psychological flexibility demonstrated incremental predictive validity for all distress and wellbeing outcomes (over and above both demographic characteristics and COVID-19-specific coping responses). Furthermore, psychological flexibility and COVID-19 outcomes were only part-mediated by coping responses to COVID-19, supporting the position that psychological flexibility can be understood as an overarching response style that is distinct from established conceptualisations of coping. We conclude that psychological flexibility represents a promising candidate process for understanding and predicting how an individual may be affected by, and cope with, both the acute and longer-term challenges of the pandemic.

University of Lincoln, College of Social Science research

Dave Dawson, University of Lincoln, College of Social Science

Nima Moghaddam, University of Lincoln, College of Social Science