June 18, 2021Print | PDF
Rebekah Woodburn, an undergraduate student in Wilfrid Laurier University’s departments of Psychology and Youth and Children’s Studies, dedicated the final year of her degree to investigating the relationship between coping strategies and well-being among undergraduate students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Woodburn focused her research project for PS490, a directed studies course, on determining what coping strategies undergraduate students used to deal with stressors caused by the pandemic while in school. She also wanted to find out whether the coping strategies used by students were considered healthy or unhealthy.
“I wanted to do this because, as a student, it can be hard to focus on yourself and it can be easy to prioritize school at the expense of mental and physical health,” says Woodburn. “I also recognized that I tried a lot of different coping mechanisms in the early months of the pandemic and maintaining motivation was difficult.”
Woodburn’s study, supervised by Department of Psychology Associate Professor Judy Eaton, hypothesized that many undergraduate students were facing slight to significant levels of anxiety and were using ineffective or unhealthy coping strategies to improve their emotional well-being. Woodburn surveyed nearly 200 Laurier students using her own survey design in March 2021.
The relationship between students’ emotional well-being and their financial anxiety was the most significant finding of the study. Woodburn found that the disruption to students’ work schedules, the intermittent closure of industries based on public health recommendations and the availability of work during the pandemic all contributed to anxiety that had an impact on the overall well-being of many respondents.
The results of her study suggest that while school and living expenses may not have changed, working and living situations for many have changed dramatically, which has produced a “snowball effect.” Woodburn can relate – she has been working in her role at a local bakery when she wouldn’t normally during the past year to make up for the periods of time during the summer when the bakery was closed.
“It has been enlightening for me because I realize that I am going through similar things and I am not alone in my feelings,” says Woodburn. “Now we need to think about what we can do at the university to assist students knowing which stressors are most prevalent.”
The results of her study suggest that while school and living expenses may not have changed, working and living situations for many have changed dramatically, which has produced a “snowball effect.”
Financial anxiety can manifest in unhealthy coping strategies. However, Woodburn also noted a common series of positive coping strategies students gravitated toward.
Directed studies students spend two terms gaining hands-on research experience, starting with proposing an original research question, designing a study to test their hypothesis and then analyzing and reporting on their data.
“I felt that Rebekah’s project was really important and had the potential to help us better understand how students were really doing during the pandemic,” says Eaton. “I was also confident that she could handle the challenges of conducting this research during a pandemic.”
Eaton says her motivation to continue supervising students in the directed studies course – which she has done for 15 years – is equal parts student-focused and selfish.
“It's fun to help students realize that all of those methods and theory courses that we made them take are actually really useful when you apply them to real-life problems,” says Eaton. “My reasons are also kind of selfish. I get to learn a lot from the questions and projects students have explored, such as gossip in the workplace, revenge and forgiveness, colouring as stress relief and, of course, Rebekah's study on coping during a pandemic.”
Woodburn will graduate on June 22 and has her sights set on master’s studies in the near future. She would also like to explore publication and conference presentation options and is planning to make her research report available to university departments supporting student well-being as a way to give back to the student community that made her research possible.
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