The role of meaning in life in psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic

Lea Jasmin Seidel*, Judith K. Daniels, Brian D. Ostafin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
79 Downloads (Pure)


Background/Objective: Meaning in life may function as a protective factor in the context of potentially traumatic experiences, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We investigated the associations between meaning and psychological distress (i.e., depression, anxiety, COVID-19-related PTSD) prospectively and cross-sectionally. We hypothesized that meaning inversely predicts peri-pandemic distress and that meaning moderates the association between being negatively affected by the pandemic and distress. We additionally explored cross-sectional associations between meaning subcomponents and distress and a meaning violations perspective.
Methods: Undergraduate students (N = 109) completed questionnaires before (October 2019 to March 2020; meaning, anxiety) and during the pandemic (April to June 2020; meaning, meaning subcomponents, depression, anxiety, PTSD).
Results: Correcting for family-wise errors, meaning prospectively predicted less depression and anxiety, but not PTSD. Correcting for family-wise errors, peri-pandemic meaning was consistently related with peri-pandemic distress. Meaning did not moderate the link between being affected by the pandemic and distress. The meaning subcomponent comprehension was most strongly related with distress and a meaning violations perspective was partly supported.
Conclusion: Meaning emerged as a significant correlate of peri-pandemic distress. Current findings should be replicated longitudinally and experimentally to establish their robustness and to examine the causal influence of meaning on distress.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-82
Number of pages16
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
Issue number1
Early online date3-Sept-2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Meaning in life
  • psychological distress
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • PTSD
  • COVID-19

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