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

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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
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3-Sep-2022


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

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