The Toll of Feeling Older: Subjective Age Moderates the Associations between Anxiety Sensitivity and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression during COVID-19 Pandemic

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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2021 May 8:gbab082. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbab082. Online ahead of print.


OBJECTIVES: The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing stressor that may have detrimental effects on mental health. Theoretical and empirical literature implies that individuals who are characterized by catastrophic appraisals of somatic cues, a tendency known as anxiety sensitivity, as well as by older subjective age, might be particularly vulnerable to depression and anxiety during the pandemic. Furthermore, subjective age might moderate the relations between anxiety sensitivity with depression and anxiety symptoms. Yet, research to date has not explored the contribution of both anxiety sensitivity and subjective age in explaining distress following stress in general, nor in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

METHOD: Filling this gap, a convenience sample of 828 participants, (Mage = 43.98, SD = 14.06), filled questionnaires measuring background variables, COVID-19 related stressors, anxiety sensitivity, subjective age, and anxiety and depression symptoms during the pandemic.

RESULTS: Positive associations were found between anxiety sensitivity and subjective age, on the one hand, and anxiety and depression symptoms, on the other. Furthermore, subjective age moderated the associations between anxiety sensitivity with depression and anxiety symptoms. Although higher levels of anxiety sensitivity were related to depression and anxiety during the pandemic, these associations were stronger among participants with an older subjective age.

DISCUSSION: The findings are consistent with theories that view subjective age as an intra-individual construct involved in modulating important mental health outcomes in the context of coping with stress.

PMID:33963759 | DOI:10.1093/geronb/gbab082