1,000 people needed for NUIG study on adult coping mechanisms during COVID

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New research being conducted by NUI Galway’s School of Psychology will explore how childhood experiences affect adult wellbeing during the pandemic, and what helps people cope in the current climate.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on both people’s lives and wellbeing, with recent research showing rising rates of psychological distress globally.

The pandemic may be particularly difficult for people who have experienced adverse childhood events, as these events often cause people to develop an over-active fear system that is set at a higher resting level than others and which may have never switched off since childhood.

Children and adults develop coping mechanisms to help them stay safe, for example, a child may stay quiet if the person whom they are afraid of is also their primary caregiver or parent.

This might mean they learn to not seek help from available support systems as an adult.

This study is particularly interested in exploring adult wellbeing and outcomes of those who have experienced emotional abuse during childhood.

Two important aspects being, a person’s ability to be gentle or compassionate with themselves rather than judgemental and self-attacking, and helping people to manage any feelings of guilt or shame, commonly experienced by those with a history of adverse childhood events. These questions are a key part of the research.

The study is being conducted by Hilary Groarke, a Clinical Psychologist in Training, with her supervisor and trauma researcher, Dr Jonathan Egan, a Chartered Health and Clinical Psychologist from the School of Psychology at NUI Galway.

“It is critical that we identify factors that contribute to people’s recovery or obstacles that can block recovery following difficult childhood experiences and what empowers people to live a fulfilling life, particularly during a period of such disconnection, uncertainty and disillusionment,” said Hilary Groarke.

The researchers hope that the study will help deliver a better understanding of how to support people’s recovery during periods of heightened distress and disconnection in order to inform the development of adapted forms of therapeutic treatments that work under ever-changing life circumstances.

“Our recent peer-reviewed article from 2017 suggests that being able to reach out and learning to speak about feelings may reduce the number of people reporting to their GP with physical complaints,” said Dr Jonathan Egan.

“It is frightening for many however, to start to learn to move towards relational closeness, when staying away from it was probably a clever thing to do as a child, particularly if your carers were not in a place to be the most effective parents at the time.

“In the 2017 study, those who felt less integrated and fully present had twice the levels of anxiety, depression and worries about their physical health. That was back in a time when we were not living in a pandemic.

“A pandemic raises all fear levels, it opens doors to the past which before we could keep closed; for many, these doors are now blown open and the nights are long and the days are dead.

“There is little to distract us from aches and pains, from internal tape recordings of voices we heard a long time ago in our distant past; ‘you are not good enough’ ‘you are stupid’, ‘you are too much’, or just the absence of voices, the sense of not being cherished, cared about; ‘I am invisible’.”

The research team are seeking at least 1,000 individuals who are aged over 18 years old to participate by completing a 15-20 minute online questionnaire, which asks questions about childhood experiences, relationship styles and current wellbeing.

To participate, visit https://nuigalwaybusiness.fra1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0NBtv556OuNn5Ah