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Resilience and personality as predictors of the biological stress load during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Germany

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Engert,  Veronika
Institute of Psychosocial Medicine and Psychotherapy, Jena University Hospital, Germany;
Research Group Social Stress and Family Health, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Engert, V., Blasberg, J. U., Köhne, S., Strauss, B., & Rosendahl, J. (2021). Resilience and personality as predictors of the biological stress load during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Germany. Translational Psychiatry, 11: 443. doi:10.1038/s41398-021-01569-3.


Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-41C4-0
Abstract
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, pandemic-specific stressors have potentiated the-already severe-stress load across the world. However, stress is more than an adverse state, and chronic exposure is causally involved in the development of mental and physical disease. We ask the question whether resilience and the Big Five personality traits predict the biological stress response to the first lockdown in Germany. In a prospective, longitudinal, observational study, N = 80 adult volunteers completed an internet-based survey prior to the first Covid-19-related fatality in Germany (T0), during the first lockdown period (T1), and during the subsequent period of contact restrictions (T2). Hair strands for the assessment of systemic cortisol and cortisone levels were collected at T2. Higher neuroticism predicted higher hair cortisol, cortisone and subjective stress levels. Higher extraversion predicted higher hair cortisone levels. Resilience showed no effects on subjective or physiological stress markers. Our study provides longitudinal evidence that neuroticism and extraversion have predictive utility for the accumulation of biological stress over the course of the pandemic. While in pre-pandemic times individuals high in neuroticism are typically at risk for worse health outcomes, extraverted individuals tend to be protected. We conclude that, in the pandemic context, we cannot simply generalize from pre-pandemic knowledge. Neurotic individuals may currently suffer due to their general emotional lability. Extraverted individuals may primarily be socially stressed. Individualized stress management programs need to be developed, and offered in a lockdown-friendly format, to minimize the stress burden caused by Covid-19 or future pandemics and to protect the most severely affected individuals from the development of stress-associated disease.