Ottawa

Most singles coping under pandemic rules, researchers find

When Carleton University researcher Cheryl Harasymchuk first heard about social-distancing protocols early on in the pandemic, she immediately thought of all the single people living alone, and the toll the public health measures might take on them.

While some admit to overindulging, most finding ways to connect with others

While public health measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been isolating for some, researchers at Carleton University found most single people have been remarkably resilient. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

When Carleton University researcher Cheryl Harasymchuk first heard about social-distancing protocols early on in the pandemic, she immediately thought of all the single people living alone, and the toll the public health measures might take on them.

At the heart of relationship science is the concept that humans are social animals, the psychology professor said, with an innate need to belong. 

"The social-distancing restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic potentially threatened this need," Harasymchuk told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "Particularly for single people living alone."

During the spring and summer months, her small research team studied how these bachelors and bachelorettes coped with the constraints, in hopes of identifying the psychological factors that make people resilient to social isolation. 

Overindulging

Not all single people are dealing with the stress of isolation the same way, Harasymchuk said. Some use negative coping strategies such as excessive drinking, eating or video gaming, while others use more positive strategies. 

Approximately two-thirds of participants said they overindulged at some point over the six-week study period, and also indicated these behaviours negatively affected other parts of their lives. Moreover, once they started, those who overindulged had a hard time stopping.  

Carleton University professors Cheryl Harasymchuk, pictured above, and Nassim Tabri, alongside graduate student Atara Lonn, have been researching the psychological factors contributing to resilience during the pandemic. (Submitted by Cheryl Harasymchuk)

But they also reported feeling greater satisfaction the more they sought contact and support from friends online. 

The satisfaction was greater still when those virtual encounters involved engaging with friends in a playful or fun way, such as holding a dress-up night over Zoom or an online bake-off.

Most singles 'quite resilient'

"It wasn't just about the emotional support that was important in times of needs," Harasymchuk said. "It was also about meeting the other needs related to fun and positivity."

The extroverts of the sample group were more likely to reach out to friends, while others were more likely to turn to those negative coping strategies.

A Carleton researcher is looking into the psychological effects of physical distancing while single...and how single people are coping to the pandemic. 6:29

Although not everyone is doing OK during the pandemic, Harasymchuk said the average single person surveyed has proven quite resilient over the past year.

"The main message that I'd like to put [out there] is that people can manage for this period of time," she said. 

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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