Risk and Protective Factors in the Development of COVID-19 Stress Syndrome in College Students

Document Type


Degree Name

Specialist in School Psychology (SSP)


Psychology and Special Education

Date of Award

Spring 2022


A new pattern of psychopathology has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic: COVID-19 Stress Syndrome (CSS). COVID-19 Stress Syndrome is a set of commonly co-occurring symptoms that include 1) fears about COVID-19 dangerousness and contamination, 2) fears about economic consequences, 3) xenophobia, 4) checking/reassurance seeking behaviors, and 5) symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previous studies have demonstrated premorbid anxiety disorders or mood disorders as predictors of developing CSS. Other studies have evaluated the role that Optimism Bias plays in safety behaviors (e.g., social-distancing) during the pandemic, but no studies have examined the role of Optimism Bias in CSS development, nor is there research evaluating how Perceived Control, a known cognitive resilience factor, is associated with CSS. The purpose of the current study was to examine how anxiety and depression, Optimism Bias, and Perceived Control acted as risk or protective factors against CSS. To examine the role these constructs play in CSS, we administered an online survey that included the Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21), the COVID-19 Stress Scale (CSS-Scale), the Optimization in Primary and Secondary Control-Multiscale Questionnaire (OPS-Scales), and Wise and colleagues’ (2020) Optimism Bias questionnaire to undergraduate students (N = 499). Pearson’s correlation coefficients revealed significant positive correlations between scores on the CSS-Scale and anxiety and depression. There were also significant negative correlations between Optimism Bias and anxiety, depression, and CSS; however, Optimism Bias was only a partial mediator of the relationship between anxiety and depression and CSS. Primary perceived control had statistically significant negative correlations with anxiety and depression but not CSS. Secondary control negatively correlated with anxiety, depression, and CSS, but was not a significant mediator in the relationship between these variables. There were no significant differences in the rates of CSS in those who had used Primary Control strategies compared to those who used Secondary Control strategies. These results suggest that anxiety and depression may serve as risk factors for CSS, while cognitive strategies such as Optimism Bias and Perceived Control may serve as protective factors, although how these variables act as protective factors remains unclear.


Sean Lauderdale

Subject Categories

Education | Educational Psychology