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Shelving long-term goals during pandemic good for mental health, study shows

New research demonstrates the benefits of disengaging more fully from long-term goals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research demonstrates the benefits of disengaging more fully from goals during a pandemic.

Putting aside long-term goals during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in better short-term mental well-being, Canadian researchers have found.

“Our research highlights that being able to let go of goals, particularly during COVID, is actually a critical part of staying mentally healthy,” said Abigail Scholer, a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Psychology and Canada Research Chair in Motivated Social Cognition.

According to the study, prior research had already demonstrated how “goal disengagement” resulted in effective self-regulation and hence better mental health, since unattainable goals lead to stress.

And so, pursuing unattainable, or “frozen,” goals during a period in which there were many restrictions appeared to lead to worse mental health outcomes, the study concluded.

The survey studied 226 participants who reported on their “psychological distress and life satisfaction” and were asked questions about normally progressing goals as well as COVID-frozen goals.

In a statement, Candice Hubley, lead author and a PhD candidate in psychology at Waterloo, said that by quitting unattainable goals and redirecting efforts to alternative goals, individuals are setting themselves up for a healthier relationship with their goals and better psychological well-being.

The study concluded: “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of millions of people around the world, creating constraints that block goal pursuit. In our study, participants indicated that 28% of their goals — almost one-third — were frozen by the pandemic. In these difficult times, we can ruminate about the things we cannot do, or we can loosen our grip and disengage more fully.

“The current research demonstrates the benefits of disengaging more fully: relinquishing rumination towards COVID-frozen goals can support well-being.”