The Moderating Effects of Reported Pre-Pandemic Social Anxiety, Symptom Impairment, and Current Stressors on Mental Health and Affiliative Adjustment During the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic
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It has been well-established within existing literature that individuals with social anxiety fear negative evaluation and exposure of self-perceived flaws to others. However, the unique impacts of pre-existing social anxiety on well-being and interpersonal outcomes within the stressful context of the pandemic are currently unknown. On the one hand, preventive measures and social norms introduced by COVID-19 (e.g., mask-wearing, physical distancing, increased reliance on digital communication) may lower social threat perceptions for individuals with high pre-pandemic levels of social anxiety by offering more opportunities to control their self-presentation. Alternatively, distancing and use of preventive measures may exacerbate social anxiety symptoms by forming barriers to meaningful social connection and increasing loneliness. After reviewing relevant literatures to develop hypotheses for the present study, we conducted an online study of 488 North American community participants, which was completed during the first wave of the pandemic in May 2020. We used multiple linear regression to analyze whether retrospective reports of pre-pandemic social anxiety symptoms predicted current coronavirus anxiety, loneliness, fears of negative evaluation, use of preventive measures, and affiliative outcomes, and whether pre-pandemic functional impairment and recent COVID-related stressors moderated these relations. Results highlighted the negative effects of pre-pandemic social anxiety on current mental health functioning, especially for participants with higher pre-pandemic functional impairment and greater exposure to COVID-related stressors. Although participants with higher pre-pandemic social anxiety reported currently feeling lonelier and more fearful of negative evaluation, they also endorsed greater efforts to affiliate with others. Thus, socially anxious individuals may have heightened desire for social support within the isolating context of the pandemic, in which COVID-related social restrictions enable greater avoidance of social evaluation but may also mask the enduring impairment associated with pre-pandemic social anxiety.
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Jolie TK Ho (2021). The Moderating Effects of Reported Pre-Pandemic Social Anxiety, Symptom Impairment, and Current Stressors on Mental Health and Affiliative Adjustment During the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17190