The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many individuals experiencing increased symptoms of anxiety. We predict that this increase may be underpinned by pandemic-related worry (PRW), characterised by repetitive negative thinking about pandemic-specific outcomes; and that this relationship is mediated through reduced attentional capacity required to regulate negative affect.
We developed a novel scale to measure the contents of PRW in an initial sample of 255 participants, and explored its relationship with cognitive functioning and negative affect in a sample of 382 UK-based university students, whilst controlling for recalled pre-pandemic trait anxiety.
A five-factor model of PRW was identified, with factors reflecting worry about decline in quality of life (QoL) and probability of infection correlating with attention and memory-related errors. Importantly, attention-related errors partially mediated the positive relationship between PRW and negative affect, even when controlling for pre-pandemic trait anxiety.
PRW’s relationship with negative affect was partially mediated through attentional function, consistent with models of anxiety and attentional control. In UK-based students PRW may be predominantly focused on the decline in QoL; therefore, interventions targeting worry about the decline in QoL caused by COVID-19 are especially important in this population in the wake of the pandemic.