HARNESSING TECHNOLOGY FOR POSITIVE COPING
Social support is beneficial to many during times of stress, including collective trauma. Prior research supports the use of videoconferencing for alleviating depression and loneliness and improving social support. Meta‐analytic findings indicate that positive, high quality social interactions, social support and social connectedness that occur online are all negatively correlated with symptoms of depression and anxiety. As such, during times of physical distancing, people may find it helpful to use videoconferencing services to schedule ‘happy hours’ with co‐workers and friends, celebrate holidays and life milestones with loved ones, maintain business meetings and continue educational pursuits using online platforms. Online platforms also provide avenues for individuals to stay engaged with their previous communities (such as houses of worship, fitness studios and community centers) through streaming live services, as well as to seek out and make new connections. There are also a plethora of mobile apps related to health and fitness focussing on meditation, exercise, nutrition and so on, many of which have been associated with improved health in users.
Schedule flexibility associated with telecommuting may have positive impacts on personal and family life and may even result in increased life satisfaction over time. As working from home continues while restrictions toggle, reduced commute times may reduce stress associated with time spent in traffic and provide people with more time to spend with loved ones or engaged with hobbies, exercise or other leisure pursuits. Leveraging technology such as online calendars to schedule a daily routine consisting of time for work, exercise, family time, chores and leisure may be helpful. This may help carve out time for an at‐home workout, dinner, spending time with spouse or children, watching an enjoyable movie or reading a book, or videoconferencing with friends or family members. Such activities may be essential for effective coping, particularly during COVID‐19. For example, research conducted on a convenience sample of 604 Irish adults during COVID‐19 restrictions found that activities including exercising, walking, gardening and pursuing hobbies were ranked as most enjoyable and were positively associated with positive affect.
Finally, technology may also be one avenue to administer and ultimately expand physical and mental health services, improving outreach and reducing health disparities. Both telephone‐delivered interventions and video teleconference interventions have been found to be beneficial for addressing mental health conditions including posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Those with mental health ailments may benefit from engaging in online peer‐to‐peer support. Moreover, prior work has indicated telehealth as a way to distribute mental health resources more widely throughout society (e.g., rural areas), helping to reduce health disparities. As such, the COVID‐19 outbreak could serve as a key inflection point to continue to increase availability in hard‐to‐reach and lower income communities.
COVID‐19 related research has proliferated during 2020, with federal agencies including National Institute of Health awarding billions of dollars in funding to study COVID‐19. This provides an exciting opportunity for scholars to conduct high‐quality research on the positive and negative health effects of technology, to be utilized as society continues to grapple with the ongoing threat of COVID‐19 and beyond the pandemic. As noted by others, much of the research on digital technology and social media’s effects on physical and mental health has been plagued by a lack of methodological rigour, inconsistent findings and small effects. Recommendations for research on technology during COVID‐19 include the use of representative, probability‐based samples (rather than convenience or snowball sampling that has defined the extant research), longitudinal designs, and a nuanced conceptualization and assessment of media content.