The first published results from the Play2Cope project reports that engaging in leisure activities during COVID-19 supported stress reduction and enhanced wellbeing.  The Play2Cope project is a collaboration between the Health, Environment, and Leisure (HEAL) research lab led by Xiangyou (Sharon) Shen, assistant professor (visiting) in the department of forest ecosystems and society, and colleagues in Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

These results, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, are the first investigation of U.S. adults’ overall leisure engagement and its association with mental health amidst the major disruptions and sustained stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants reported general increases in home-based traditional leisure and digital/online activities and decreases in physical and nature-based activities. The most popular outdoor activities were walking and gardening. A very small proportion of people started a new favorite leisure activity during COVID-19 and most people continued or fell back on activities they had engaged in before the pandemic.

The results suggest that engaging in leisure activities during times of prolonged, heightened stress could be a way to cope with stress. Failing to maintain or make adaptive changes to one’s leisure engagement was associated with a higher risk of developing depressive symptoms. The study also revealed that the positive aspect of mental health was primarily predicted by people’s own evaluation of their leisure engagement relative to a desired level, and less by the actual level of leisure activities.

Shen X, MacDonald M, Logan SW, Parkinson C, Gorrell L, Hatfield BE. Leisure Engagement during COVID-19 and Its Association with Mental Health and Wellbeing in U.S. Adults. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022; 19(3):1081.

This study was supported by the Hallie E. Ford Center Team Science Seed Grant from the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children & Families, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University.

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