Benefit finding in the COVID-19 pandemic: College students’ positive coping strategies

Main Article Content

Rachel August
Adam Dapkewicz


COVID-19 pandemic, benefit finding, adaptive coping, reframing, positive psychology, college students


The ability of college students to cope effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing concern which could have implications for a generation of students’ health and well-being. Although adaptive coping styles have been explored with reference to other large-scale crises, little is known from an empirical standpoint about whether college students are engaging in such coping strategies during the pandemic. The current study focuses on meaning-focused coping, a coping style often seen in response to significant trauma or adversity, and in particular the process of benefit finding. Qualitative data were collected from a sample of 63 college students who were living under county-issued shelter-in-place orders for seven weeks during the pandemic in an academic semester. Benefit finding was a common strategy expressed by students during that time. They identified several self-related benefits including learning to be grateful, unexpected personal growth, and new clarity about the future. They also described various societal-related benefits of the pandemic, including people acting selflessly, focusing on what matters, developing creative solutions and teamwork, and also noted improvements in the natural environment. The self-related benefits had a particularly potent impact, as those who reported them were also less likely to express fear, anxiety, or stress. The results suggest that benefit finding is an important coping strategy during the pandemic; moreover, it seems helpful to continue exploring such positive models of adaptation as students navigate the pandemic over time.


Download data is not yet available.
Abstract 1871 | PDF Downloads 1432


Altheide, D. L, & Johnson, J. M. (1994). Criteria for assessing interpretive validity in qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research, (pp. 485-499). Sage.
Anderson, G. (2020, October 15). A generation defined by the pandemic. Inside Higher Ed.
Arslan, G. (2020). Loneliness, college belongingness, subjective vitality, and psychological adjustment during coronavirus pandemic: Development of the college belongingness questionnaire. Journal of Positive School Psychology: https://journalppw .com/index.php/JPPW/article/view/240
Arslan, G., Yildirim, M., Karatas, Z., Kabasakal, Z., & Kilinc, M. (2020). Meaningful living to promote complete mental health among university students in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. icles/PMC7609355/
Aucejo, E. M., French, J. F., Araya, M. P. U., & Zafar, B. (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 on student experiences and expectations: Evidence from a survey. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 27392. https://www.nber .org/papers/w27392
Bailey, T. C., Eng, W., Frisch, M. B., & Snyder, C. R. (2007). Hope and optimism as related to life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2(3), 168–175. 760701409546
Beck, A. T. (1979). Cognitive therapy and emotional disorders. Meridian. ils/cognitivetherapy00aaro/mode/2up
Burke, J., & Arslan, G. (2020). Positive education and school psychology during COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Positive School Psychology, 4(2), 137-139.
Cole, R., Hayes, B., Jones, D., & Shah, S. (2013). Coping strategies used by school staff after a crisis: A research note. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 62(8), 472-481. 2012.719335
Common Data Set (2019). 2019-2020 Report.
Diehl, K., Jansen, C., Ishchanova, K., Hilger-Kolb, J. (2018). Loneliness at universities: Determinants of emotional and social loneliness among students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(9), 1865.
Elder, G. (1974). Children of the great depression: Social change in life experience. University of Chicago Press.
Everly, G. G., & Lating, J. M. (2002). A clinical guide to the treatment of human stress response (2e). New York, NY: Kluwer/Plenum.
Felix, E. D., Dowdy, E., & Green, J. G. (2018). University student voices on healing and recovery following tragedy. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 10(1), 76–86.
Folkman, S. (2008). The case for positive emotions in the stress process. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 21(1), 3-14. 701740457
Folkman, S., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2007). Positive affect and meaning-focused coping during significant psychological stress. In M. Hewstone, H. A. W. Schut, J. B. F. De Wit, K. Van Den Bos, & M. S. Stroebe (Eds.), The Scope of Social Psychology: Theory and Applications (p. 193–208). Psychology Press.
Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319. MC3156001/
Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crises? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 365-376. 37/0022-3514.84.2.365
Gaffney, D. A. (2006). Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 62, 1001–1016. https://doi.o rg/10.1002/jclp.20285
Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Aldine.
Golato, A. (2017). Naturally occurring data. In A. Baron, Y. Gu, and G. Steen (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Pragmatics (pp. 21-26). Routledge.
Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994). Competing paradigms in qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 105–117). Sage.
Helgeson, V. S., Reynolds, K. A., & Tomich, P. L. (2006). A meta-analytic review of benefit finding and growth. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(5), 797–816. 6. 037/0022-006X.74.5.797
Katz, J. (1983). A theory of qualitative methodology: The social science system of analytic fieldwork. In R. M Emerson (Ed.), Contemporary Field Research, (pp. 127-148). Boston: Little, Brown.
Kristoffersen, M., & Pham, E. (2020, June 13). ‘Is it okay if we hug?’ Here’s a guide for dating during the coronavirus pandemic. The Sacramento Bee.
Lades, L. K., Laffen, K., Daly, M., & Delaney, L. (2020). Daily emotional well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. British Journal of Health Psychology, 25, 902–911. 1/bjhp.12450
Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.
Lee, S. J., & Ward, K. P. (2020). Mental health, relationships, and coping during the coronavirus pandemic. Parenting in Context Research Lab.
Madill, A., Jordan, A., & Shirley, C. (2000). Objectivity and reliability in qualitative analysis: Realist, contextualist and radical constructionist epistemologies. British Journal of Psychology, 91, 1–20.
Martin, P. (2020) The effect of a virus on adult development. Journal of Adult Development, 27, 81–82. -1
McCarty, D., & Altemose, J. R. (2010). The voices of Mexican women left behind: Responses to their challenges. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, 8, 284–300. 5562948.2010.501281
Office of Institutional Research (2017a). Office of institutional research, effectiveness, and planning summary of 2016-17 NSSE data report.
Office of Institutional Research (2017b). Fact book, fall 2017, psychology at Sacramento state.
Pan H. (2020): A glimpse of university students’ family life amidst the COVID-19 Virus. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 25(6-7), 594-597. 10.10 80/15325024.2020.1750194
Patel, V. (2020). Covid-19 is a pivotal moment for struggling students. Can colleges step up? Chronicle of Higher Education, 66(27).
Pattani, A. (2020, October 14). Sleepless nights, hair loss and cracked teeth: Pandemic stress takes its toll. NPR.
Poulin, M. J., Silver, R. C., Gil-Rivas, V., Holman, E. A., & McIntosh, D. N. (2009). Finding social benefits after a collective trauma: Perceiving societal changes and well-being following 9/11. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 22(2), 81–90.
Reid, D. (2018, February 12). CSU study shows students' food, housing needs abound. Sacramento State News. articles/2018/2/12/csu-study-reveals-student-hunger,-homelessness-still-problem.shtml
Sattler, D. N., Preston, A., Kaiser, C. F., Olivera, V. E., Valdez, J., & Schlueter, S. (2002). Hurricane Georges: A cross-national study examining preparedness, resource loss, and psychological distress in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the United States. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15, 339–350.
Shakespeare-Finch, J., Bowen-Salter, H., Cashin, M., Badawi, A., Wells, R., Rosenbaum, S. & Steel, Z. (2020). COVID-19: An Australian perspective. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 25(8), 662-672, https://10.1080/15325024.2020.1780748
Shanahan, L., Steinhoff, A., Bechtiger, L., Murray, A. L., Nivette, A., Hepp, U., Ribeaud, D., & Eisner, M. (2020). Emotional distress in young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence of risk and resilience from a longitudinal cohort study. Psychological Medicine. S003329172000241X
Taylor, S. T., & Bogdan, R. (1998). Introduction to methods in qualitative research: A guidebook and resource. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Trougakos, J. P., Chawla, N., & McCarthy, J. M. (2020, September 24). Working in a pandemic: Exploring the impact of COVID-19 health anxiety on work, family, and health outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.
Zacher, H., & Rudolph, C. W. (2020). Individual differences and changes in subjective wellbeing during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. p0000702
Zhao, Y., An, Y., Tan, X., & Li, X. (2020): Mental health and its influencing factors among self-isolating ordinary citizens during the beginning epidemic of COVID-19. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 25(6-7), 580-593.