About 83,000 COVID-19 patients were confirmed in China up to May 2020.
Amid the well-documented threats to physical health, the effects of this public health crisis - and the varied efforts to contain its spread - have altered individuals’ “normal” daily functioning. These impacts on social, psychological, and emotional well-being remain relatively unexplored – in particular, the ways in which Chinese men and women experience and respond to potential behavioral stressors. Our study investigated sex differences in psychological stress, emotional reactions, and behavioral responses to COVID-19 and related threats among Chinese residents.
In late February (2020), an anonymous online questionnaire was disseminated via WeChat, a popular social media platform in China. The cross-sectional study utilized a non-probabilistic “snowball” or convenience sampling of residents from various provinces and regions of China. Basic demographic characteristics (e.g., age and gender) – along with residential living arrangements and conditions – were measured along with psychological stress and emotional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three thousand eighty-eight questionnaires were returned: 1749 females (56.6%) and 1339 males (43.4%). The mean stress level,as measured by a visual analog scale, was 3.4 (SD = 2.4) - but differed significantly by sex. Besides sex, factors positively associated with stress included: age (< 45 years), employment (unsteady income, unemployed), risk of infection (exposureto COVID-19, completed medical observation), difficulties encountered (diseases, work/study, financial, mental), and related behaviors (higher desire for COVID-19 knowledge, more time concerning on the COVID-19 outbreak). “Protective” factors included frequent contact with colleagues, calmness of mood comparing with the pre-pandemic, and psychological resilience. Males and females also differed significantly in adapting to current living/working, conditions, responding to run a fever, and needing psychological support services.
The self-reported stress of Chinese residents related to the COVID-19 pandemic was significantly related to sex, age, employment, resilience and coping styles. Future responses to such public health threats may wish to provide sex- and/or age-appropriate supports for psychological health and emotional well-being to those at greatest risk of experiencing stress.