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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.
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