The Psychological Impact of Threat and Lockdowns During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Exacerbating Factors and Mitigating Actions

Valerie van Mulukom, Barbara Muzzulini, Bastiaan Rutjens, Caspar van Lissa, Miguel Farias

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    21 Citations (Scopus)
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    In spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. The threat the pandemic poses as well as associated lockdown measures created challenging times for many. This study aimed to investigate the individual and social factors associated with low mental health, particularly perceived threat and lockdown measures, and factors associated with psychological well-being, particularly sense of control. An online survey was completed by participants (N = 8,229) recruited from 79 countries. In line with pre-registered hypotheses, participants showed elevated levels of anxiety and depression worldwide. This poor mental health was predicted by perceived threat. The effect of threat on depression was further moderated by social isolation, but there was no effect of sense of control. Sense of control was low overall, and was predicted negatively by maladaptive coping, but positively by adaptive coping and the perception that the government is dealing with the outbreak. Social isolation increased with quarantine duration, but was mitigated by frequent communication with close ones. Engaging in individual actions to avoid contracting the virus was associated with higher anxiety, except when done professionally. We suggest that early lockdown of the pandemic may have had detrimental psychological effects, which may be alleviated by individual actions such as maintaining frequent social contact and adaptive coping, and by governmental actions which demonstrate support in a public health crisis. Citizens and governments can work together to adapt better to restrictive but necessary measures during the current and future pandemics.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1318–1329
    Number of pages12
    JournalTranslational Behavioral Medicine
    Issue number7
    Early online date21 Jun 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

    Bibliographical note

    This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Translational Behavioral Medicine, following peer review. The version of record van Mulukom, V, Muzzulini, B, Rutjens, B, van Lissa, C & Farias, M 2021, 'The Psychological Impact of Threat and Lockdowns During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Exacerbating Factors and Mitigating Actions', Translational Behavioral Medicine, vol. 11, no. 7, pp. 1318–1329 is available online at:

    Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.


    • COVID-19
    • Government action
    • Mental health
    • Quarantine
    • Sense of control
    • Social isolation

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Applied Psychology
    • Behavioral Neuroscience


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