2. Materials and Methods
This was an ex post facto and transversal study and employed a convenience sample of participating students. Participants were asked to complete a series of self-report scales. The data were analyzed using correlation and multiple regression statistics. The study was conducted between April and May 2020.
The initial sample group comprised 202 students. The final sample comprised 180 teenagers who provided, in writing in the corresponding box, their consent to participate in the study. The data were excluded for those who had not completed each questionnaire and those who were part-time students and had special educational needs (SEN). We worked with an incidental balanced sample by gender. It was carried out using G*power 3.1 software (version 3.1, Institut für Experimentelle Psychologie, Düsseldorf, Germany). This proved that a sample size of 151 students was needed to provide a confidence interval of 95%, with a power of 95%, assuming a bilateral significance level (α) of 0.05. This study protocol was approved by the Ethics Committee.
Fears of COVID-19. The FCV-19S is a seven-item unidimensional scale with a five-point scale response format of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) that assesses fears of COVID-19 among the general population [99
]. It has adequate psychometric properties. This measure showed a suitable internal validity (Cronbach’s alpha of 0.85) for our sample. An example of an item of the scale is “I am very afraid of the coronavirus (COVID-19).” The scale has been internationally confirmed [5
To assess stress with COVID-19, we employed a modified version of Cohen et al.’s Perceived Stress Scale related to COVID-19 (EPP-10-C) [100
] that comprises 10 items assessed on a five-point Likert scale: never, almost never, occasionally, almost always, and always. Its cutoff point, ≥25, shows high perceived stress related to COVID-19 during the past seven days. A Cronbach’s α of 0.83 was found in this study. An example of an item from this scale is “I have felt nervous or stressed about the epidemic.”
To measure technological stress (technostress) [101
], this study used an abbreviated scale consisting of 11 items assessed on a five-point Likert-scale where 1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Disagree, 3 = Neither Disagree nor Agree, 4 = Agree, 5 = Strongly Agree. It consists of three dimensions: technological overload (four items), techno-invasion (three items), and techno-complexity (four items). In the present sample, Cronbach’s alpha was 0.91 for the techno-overload dimension (e.g., “I am forced by technology to work much faster”); 0.87 for techno-invasion (e.g., “I spend less time with my family due to technology”), and 0.93 for techno-complexity (e.g., “I need a long time to understand and use new technologies”). Cronbach’s alpha for the instrument was 0.88.
Resilience Scale. The scale provided by [102
] has been used in this study. This scale has 14 items based on the Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The instrument has two factors. The first factor, personal competence, consists of one item; and the second factor, acceptance of oneself and life, consists of three items. For the current sample, Cronbach’s alpha was measured as 0.81. An example of an item for the personal competence factor in this instrument is “I feel proud of the things I have achieved” and an example for acceptance of oneself and life is, “In general, I take things calmly.”
The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) [104
] measures global self-esteem. This instrument includes items whose answers are rated on a Likert scale that ranges from 1 to 4 where 1 = Strongly disagree and 4 = Strongly agree. This scale has been widely administered (e.g., [105
]). Cronbach’s alpha for internal consistency or reliability in this study was 0.86. An example of an item for this instrument is, “I’m convinced that I have good qualities.”
The Inventory of Coping Strategies adapted by Cano [106
] has been a practical model in understanding how people handle the stressors in their lives. With a focus on coping strategies, two complementary (not opposing) concepts were developed on how individuals manage stressors: one related to coping styles and the other to coping strategies themselves. This method was developed from the Coping Modes Scale, and we made an improvement to this scale.
The adaptation is due to the limitations of instruments available in Spanish; the original inventory comprising 72 items was modified into 40 items. Through this method, two types of information were collected: qualitative, in which the individual talks about the stressful situation; and quantitative, which is a measure of the frequency of the use of certain coping strategies and the level of perceived effectiveness in coping, according to a Likert scale. Consequently, both narratives and scores were obtained.
The items that constituted the scale include “I blamed myself” and “I spent some time alone.” The items were scored on a scale from 0 to 4, where 0 is “Not at all” and 4 is “Totally.” This instrument demonstrated adequate psychometric properties of reliability and validity. The scale demonstrated an internal consistency of 0.67 for the cognitive approach coping strategy, 0.66 for the behavioral approach coping strategy, 0.58 for the cognitive avoidance coping strategy, and 0.57 for the behavioral avoidance coping strategy.
While applying the questionnaires, we ensured the anonymity and confidentiality of participants. They were informed that they could leave the study at any time without any explanation. We obtained the informed consent of the participants. The average time to complete the questionnaires was about 19 min.
After obtaining the data, we performed a statistical analysis, using an ex post facto design. The analysis was carried out with the computerized statistical package SPSS 22.0. An exploration (descriptive statistics and Kolmogorov–Smirnov normality tests) of the study variables and the fulfillment of the assumptions of normality and non-collinearity for Pearson’s correlation were performed.
The analyses of the relationships between the quantitative variables were carried out using Pearson’s correlation analysis and linear regression to itself as descriptive analysis, as well as Pearson’s correlation between the variables. Finally, the Student t-test was applied to independent samples to analyze statistically significant differences between students according to gender.
2.5. Data Analysis
The SPSS version 22 software package (IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, USA) was employed for data analyses. The descriptive analysis was estimated, and the normal distribution of variables was examined using the Kolmogorov–Smirnov test. A scatter diagram was used to examine compliance with the assumptions of linearity and homoscedasticity. Pearson’s correlation examined the association between fear of COVID-19, stress with COVID-19, technological stress related to COVID-19, and resilience, self-esteem, and coping strategies.
Normality of residuals, homogeneity of variance for residuals, and linearity of data were analyzed to complete the multiple linear regression analyses. A p < 0.05 was used as the significance level. Multiple linear regression analyses were conducted to define the relationships between fear of COVID-19, stress with COVID-19, technological stress associated with COVID-19, resilience, self-esteem, and coping strategies.
Descriptive Statistics of the Study Variables
The final sample comprised 180 individuals who had completed all the questionnaires. Of the 180 students, 61.00% were women, and 39.00% were men, most of whom were single and aged 18–24 years, with an average age of 20.76. In terms of marital status, 59.2% were single, and 36% had a partner. Regarding the number of people living in the family home, 43.2% of the cases had four people living in the family house; 15.2% had two, 15.2% had three. The majority had a medium socioeconomic status.
shows the results of all the tests applied: the maximum and minimum scores of each test and the average of the values obtained from the answers of the participants, with their corresponding standard deviation (descriptive statistics).
The mean score obtained for the fear of COVID-19 variable was 14.90. The scores on this scale can vary from 7 to 35 points; the higher the score, the greater the students’ fear of COVID-19.
The scores for the variable resilience regarding the pandemic situation were low in this group of university students, considering that the maximum range of the score is 98 points. The mean scores for the personal competence and acceptance of oneself and life factors were 61.61 and 14.75, respectively.
The mean score for the stress with COVID-19 variable for this group of students was 30.96. Considering that the cut-off point, ≥25, shows high perceived stress related to COVID-19, this sample demonstrated high perceived stress levels.
The existence of technological stress was also present, especially in the dimensions of technological overload and techno-invasion where averages of 12.55 and 10.11 were observed, respectively.
The coping strategies most frequently used by the students to deal with the pandemic-related stress were emotional expression with an average score of 21.36, problem solving with an average of 19.84, and cognitive restructuring with an average of 17.03.
displays the analysis of the differences among the fear of COVID-19, resilience, stress with COVID-19, technological stress, self-esteem, and coping strategies according to gender.
The variable with the greatest difference between genders was the fear of Covid-19 and stress with COVID-19, with a higher score in both variables in the case of women (Table 2
). Regarding coping strategies, we also found statistically significant differences according to gender. Specifically, the emotional expression strategy was used, on average, more by women than by men during the Covid-19 pandemic.
shows the correlations among the variables: fear of COVID-19, resilience, stress with COVID-19, technological stress, self-esteem, and Coping strategies.
We found statistically significant associations between the variables of fear of COVID-19, stress with COVID-19, technological stress (total), technological overload (technological stress), and techno-complexity (technological stress). We also found inverse relationships between the fear of COVID-19 in students and the use of the coping strategy cognitive restructuring.
The variable resilience, comprising personal competence and acceptance of oneself and life, was found to be positively correlated with the coping strategy problem solving.
We found statistically significant associations between stress with COVID-19 and technological stress (both in its total score and in its three dimensions, namely, technological overload, techno-invasion, and techno-complexity.)
Technological stress (Technological overload and techno-invasion) was found to be negatively correlated with a greater use of the coping strategy problem solving. Likewise, the technological overload dimension was also found to be negatively correlated with the coping strategy emotional expression, and the techno-complexity dimension was found to be negatively correlated with cognitive restructuring.
The personal competence (Resilience) and acceptance of oneself and life (Resilience) were significantly related to the dependent variable, predicting 24.0% of the total variance (R2
= 0.240, F(2267) = 2.267, p
< 0.001) of the problem-solving strategy (Table 4
This study investigated the correlations between fear of COVID-19, stress with COVID-19, technological stress associated with COVID-19, resilience, self-esteem, and coping strategies among undergraduate university students. Indeed, students and women have suffered the most psychological impact due to the confinement generated by the pandemic [4
The results in the present sample showed high levels of daily stress, technological stress with different dimensions, and fear of COVID-19 in this pandemic situation. These data are consistent with those obtained in previous studies that assess how pandemics, such as COVID-19, heighten levels of stress, fear, and strong emotions that exceed normal levels of intensity and frequency [1
] in people who sometimes do not perceive themselves as capable of sufficient resilience to cope with those feelings [6
]. In fact, the scores obtained in the self-perceived resilience variable in the present sample can be considered rather low when coping with the situations generated by the pandemic. Moreover, the study sample comprised young university students who are in an age group adapting to the university environment, who, like other cultures facing this pandemic situation, may experience more fear [110
], and become more vulnerable to information overload and unreliable opinions on social media [6
Likewise, we found inverse relationships between the students’ fear of COVID-19 and the use of the coping strategy, cognitive restructuring. The importance of training for coping strategies to deal with fear and stress, such as the cognitive restructuring strategy, has been pointed out by professional schools of psychology and in different research studies, especially in primary and secondary education [1
]. Although studies on this subject are still scarce in our context, in research conducted with Chinese citizens aged 18 and older, fewer mental health problems were reported by those who were less exposed to the media and who more frequently use cognitive re-evaluation and pro-social cognitive coping strategies [111
Indeed, cognitive restructuring was the third most frequently used strategy by the students in our study sample, to face fears, daily stress, and technological stress associated with confinement and other situations generated by the pandemic.
In this study, the obtained mean score for the resilience variable with two factors was low compared with that obtained in an earlier study [112
]; this may be because it was an evaluation carried out in a special pandemic situation. The variable resilience, comprising personal competence and acceptance of oneself and life, positively correlates with the problem solving coping strategy, which has been the most used by the students of the present sample, followed by the emotional expression strategy. Other research [1
] has also shown the importance of adequate regulation of emotions and recommended taking a positive problem-solving attitude and generating pleasant emotions, either in person or through shared actions using networks and ICT. Our study has found correlations between resilience and the productive or functional problem-solving strategy; likewise, other research [98
] has found that psychological resilience negatively correlates with depression, anxiety, and somatization scores. Thus, resilience is a highly relevant variable that should be encouraged in psychological intervention programs, especially in the public health emergency situations caused by the pandemic. Other studies conducted in other cultures such as China also show the importance of identifying the Chinese cultural beliefs towards the necessity of regulating emotions and the use of positive coping strategies to actively solve problems [58
], and how active coping strategies based on social support are significantly correlated with a decrease in levels of psychological distress [114
Other data from a study performed in the United States and Italy have also shown that the higher the anger contagion, the higher the level of tension, and the higher the joy contagion, the higher the predicted reduction of stress [115
]. Furthermore, in another study, lower levels of positive emotions were identified in cases of self-isolation, and coping strategies focused on negative emotions and mental disengagement are associated with higher levels of pandemic anxiety, with a weak association between active and problem-oriented coping strategies and anxiety levels [116
]. The study did not consider dysfunctional coping strategies, neither acceptance nor emotion-focused coping strategies unrelated to the deterioration of general well-being; however, it does consider the use of mental disengagement and substance use and denial, which were associated with lower well-being, namely lower levels of life satisfaction.
In our study, the data have also shown statistically significant associations between the variables of stress with COVID-19 and technological stress in both its total score and three dimensions: Technological overload, techno-invasion, and techno-complexity. Technological stress (Technological overload and techno-invasion) was found to be negatively correlated with higher use of the problem solving coping strategy; technological overload was also found to be negatively correlated with the emotional expression coping strategy, and techno-complexity was found to be negatively correlated with cognitive restructuring. Similarly, another study reported positive relationships between workload, techno-stressors, work-family conflict, and behavioral stress [22
]. While the technological dimension has negative aspects such as work overload and information saturation through ICT [22
], it is also worth mentioning the possibilities offered by ICT, networks, and media when their use is pedagogically appropriate and when they are used to keep people virtually connected with their contacts and support through video calls, chats, etc. Likewise, as it is reluctantly suggested in some studies, it is necessary to encourage research that considers the use of ICTs based on the neuroeducation approach, especially in the current pandemic situation [21
], which could decrease psychological distress [118
]. Furthermore, the Internet has differential effects; while it can connect people with resources and social support networks, it also allows the development of an information-seeking strategy that reinforces the constant checking of negative information and is associated with a greater presence of negative symptoms. Other studies [120
] pointed out that the COVID 19 pandemic has further increased students’ reliance on technology, which could generate more stress, uncertainty, overload, and complexities. In another study in university students, [122
] found differences in the causes and effects of stress between men and women, with both sexes using computers as one of the most frequent coping strategies.
Consistent with the findings of our study, it has been observed that excessive use of social networks can have a greater psychological impact; people who use social networks less show a higher level of impact, which is understood as a higher level of emotional distress [34
]. The role of the Internet in these pandemic situations needs further examination, as some studies have shown a greater presence of mental health problems in people who use the Internet for longer periods of time continually searching for health information [32
As in other studies [24
], numerous psychoeducational implications can be derived from this type of study, such as those related to a more effective evaluation of the pandemic’s effects on people’s health, to develop psychological interventions that can reduce its impact on the creation of psychological and academic support programs to make people feel safer with a more empathetic communication system, the direct participation of the most vulnerable people, and more effective and accurate information and communication through the appropriate use of social networks and the media. Such use could contribute, among other aspects, to a more adaptive expression and emotional management in this pandemic situation. Moreover, as stated in other research (e.g., [84
]), active, problem-focused coping, and positive coping strategies such as seeking social support, positive thinking, and problem solving should be encouraged, with the role of the media being fundamental in this respect [124
Future studies should evaluate the impact of educational initiatives considering the resilience and self-esteem of and coping strategies used by university students. Further research should be multi-centered. A longitudinal study should be designed to assess how the variables investigated in this research can change as participants get older, and multi-level analysis could be performed by adding other study variables such as academic performance. This exercise’s priority is a basic evaluation of the scores obtained in the first courses in which the students present more anxiety, fear, and academic stress [125
], to guide them and design intervention programs to face the changes generated in this situation. We are promoting a program that contributes to the improvement of the use of more productive and effective coping strategies, resilience, and self-esteem as protective factors that contribute to reducing levels of fear, stress with COVID-19, and technological stress.
These findings might inform practical interventions that have a significant social impact. As a direction for future research, we call for further analysis based on students’ class background, extracurricular work to earn their living, and how the pandemic affected their (and their families’) education, work, and financial status. Future research needs to delve into the role that gender socialization might play in influencing coping skills. It should also continue examining gender-based differences in resilience and self-esteem. In this study, the female participants perceived themselves as “incapable of sufficient resilience,” yet they reported higher self-esteem levels. This suggests the need to investigate how self-esteem affects coping strategies and perceptions of resilience for different genders. It is possible that because women are socialized from an early age to take on more responsibilities—that is, caring for children and the home in addition to earning wages—they have a higher capacity to endure and persevere, with the concomitant increase in stress and anxiety. Anxiety is known to cloud perception, so high anxiety levels might cause some women to fail to recognize their own resilience.
We intend to use these results to address stress-related problems beyond those caused by the pandemic, helping generate greater self-knowledge among university students. People need to assess their own fear, stress, and anxiety levels to adopt coping mechanisms and experience resilience. We intend to organize workshops to boost participants’ self-knowledge so they can identify symptoms/behaviors that require coping mechanisms. The workshops will evaluate participants’ stress and train them to use effective, productive coping strategies for daily stress. We will use an educational innovation project and tutorial action in the university environment. Inducing a positive appreciation of innovation [29
] can help prevent techno-distress.
Given our present situation, future events are also likely to prompt fear, anxiety, and stress. Therefore, this innovation project could promote evaluations, academic sessions, and tutorial action to prevent academic and daily stress, improve self-esteem, and teach more effective and satisfactory coping strategies. Likewise, in coherence with the multidimensional model of Gratz and Roemer [67
] that is defended in this study, guidelines could be provided to improve emotional regulation and social and psychological well-being among university students. The Academic Guidance Unit should design training actions and materials to guide students, provide them with tools to face technological stress, and help prevent overload and computational fatigue by improving perceived self-efficacy, time management, and task planning with adequate and satisfactory use of ICT.
Intervention programs that promote effective coping strategies against daily stress (e.g., active solution-oriented and positive attitude instead of keeping the problem to oneself) should be designed to ensure adequate emotional adjustment. In that sense, there is an increasing interest in developing programs of education for emotional regulation, educational coaching, etc. that emphasize the importance of designing activities that contribute to the acquisition of socioemotional competencies and that pay increasing attention to the emotional dimension [76
] and to stress management by promoting mindfulness [1
]. Universities need to increase social support and offer services and programs that maximize protective factors and minimize risk factors [127
]. Our study has also shown that contexts, such as education, must contribute to the promotion of social networks, technology, and Internet services to curb the effects of both the pandemic and the info-demic [128
This study may be limited by the application of only self-report measures, and there is a need for a longitudinal study to see how scores change in different courses as well as in other degrees and centers. Moreover, student participants voluntarily took part in this study and they were not randomly selected. Therefore, the generalization of the results may be limited, and the data should be considered with due caution.