How Social Support Can be an Antidote to Stress During the COVID Pandemic

Message from Tessa Roseboom, Ph.D.

In order to inspire people in the Netherlands to find new ways to support young families in these challenging times, Roseboom wrote this message at the request of the Dutch Ministry of Health. This is the English version:

The current pandemic affects everyone worldwide. The changes and uncertainty that the crisis brings with it cause a lot of stress. Stress can have negative effects on health. Especially during early life, when most of the development takes place, stress leaves lifelong traces. Stress gets under the skin and becomes "baked" into the brain. Early life stress affects the way the DNA is expressed and thus has a lasting impact on the child's behavior, learning ability and health. We know this from research in people who had to deal with extreme stress from previous crises during the first 1000 days of their lives, such as the flu pandemic of 1918, famines, natural disasters and terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Fortunately, scientific research also brings a hopeful message.

We can limit the consequences of stress by providing social support and good care. Many of the negative effects of stress seem to occur especially when there is no safety net, no partner, family member, friend or (care) professional who offers a listening ear, or a helping hand. More and more research shows that social support buffers the effects of stress. If a child grows up in an environment with domestic violence and there is nobody to talk about it, it can be seen in the connections in the child’s brain. If there was someone who provides support, the consequences were much less serious and the child developed much better. Similar results were found in a study of women who experienced a natural disaster during pregnancy. The women and their children were especially affected by the stress when obstetric care was no longer provided. When women were able to maintain contact with their midwife despite the disaster, they felt better, had fewer complaints after birth, and that had lasting positive effects on their children in the long term.

It is inspiring to see how many creative ways are being found to allow remote care to continue, to provide additional support, to keep in touch and establish contact lines, and other heart-warming initiatives aim to support each other. The creativity unleashed in Corona times is inspiring and hopeful.

Not only fear and stress are contagious. So is solidarity and creativity. We can make a difference by supporting each other. Connection and contact are the antidote to stress. 

When you share knowledge, you multiply it - just like love. The more we share our innovative ideas about ways to support others, the more impact we can have and the more children can get a good start. This is one of the ways in which we can contribute to a better start and a better future for all.

Tessa Roseboom, Ph.D.
May 2020