Understanding the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures: an empirical model of stress

Wissmath, Bartholomäus; Mast, Fred W.; Kraus, Fabian; Weibel, David (2021). Understanding the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures: an empirical model of stress. PLoS ONE, 16(7), e0254883. Public Library of Science 10.1371/journal.pone.0254883

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Epidemics such as COVID-19 and corresponding containment measures are assumed to cause psychological stress. In a survey during the lockdown in Switzerland (n = 1565), we found substantially increased levels of stress in the population. In particular, individuals who did not agree with the containment measures, as well as those who saw nothing positive in the crisis, experienced high levels of stress. In contrast, individuals who are part of a risk group or who are working in healthcare or in essential shops experienced similar stress lev-els as the general public. The psychological mechanisms that determine stress, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures, are not yet clear. Thus, we conducted a path analysis to gain a deeper understanding of the psychological mechanisms that lead to stress. Experiencing fear of the disease is a key driver for being worried. Our model fur-ther shows that worries about the individual, social, and economic consequences of the cri-sis, strongly boost stress. The infection rate in the canton (i.e., state) of residence also contributes to stress. Positive thinking and perceived social, organizational, and govern-mental support mitigate worries and stress. Our findings indicate that containment mea-sures increase worries and stress, especially for those who feel that these measures either are not sufficient or go too far. Thus, highlighting positive aspects of the crisis and convinc-ing people of the effectiveness and necessity of mitigation measures can, not only promote compliance, but also reduce stress. Our model suggests that people who feel protected by the authorities have fewer worries, which can, in turn, limit the negative impact of the crisis on mental health.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Cognitive Psychology, Perception and Methodology

UniBE Contributor:

Wissmath, Bartholomäus, Mast, Fred, Weibel, David


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology




Public Library of Science




David Weibel

Date Deposited:

30 Sep 2021 14:19

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:53

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:






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