A normal research day for Theresa Pauly might involve visits to study participants across the lower mainland. Working in the Health and Adult Development Lab, which focuses on the links between social relationships and health, personal contact is an extremely important part of research.
“We work a lot with older adults, particularly couples, so we still advertise via newspaper or posters at community centres and do study visits in person. It’s great to meet with participants for a few hours. Even if most of the study protocol requires completing electronic surveys, face to face interactions provide a lot of insight into participants’ thinking.”
But the arrival of COVID19, and with it social distancing, has changed the normal research routine.
However, the change in circumstances has also offered a unique new opportunity to study social interactions and health, and so the THRIVE study was born. Tracking Health and Relationships in Varying Everyday contexts is led by Professor Christiane Hoppmann and aims to understand people’s thoughts, behaviours and feelings during the social distancing required by Covid.
Anyone over the age of 18 and living in Canada can participate. “If you sign up, we’ll ask you to complete a 45 to 90-minute online questionnaire about your background, personality, social relationships, attitudes, and wellbeing. Then, for ten days, we will ask you to complete two 5 to 10-minute questionnaires per day: one in the morning and one in the evening about your thoughts and how you are feeling, your everyday activities and social interactions.
“The results of our study will help us understand how people can maintain their wellbeing and social connectedness in times of social distancing. We expressly chose THRIVE as a title for the study because we want to convey the message that there are positive opportunities to develop new methods of social interaction even at this difficult time.”
There is certainly plenty of evidence that healthy social relationships are extremely important to good health.
“We know humans are social beings, we have a need to belong and that poor social relationships are poor for our health. Studies show that poor social relationships have a similar negative effect on health to smoking or alcohol consumption
COVID has created a unique context to help us understand how to manage isolation, what can help us make the best of the situation. Gratitude for the positive changes we can see like a view of the mountains untouched by pollution, more focus on creativity, new ways to connect with friends and family. While we all hope that the changes required by COVID will be short lived the resources that we find useful can be applied to help people that struggle with isolation.”
As someone who understands and researches the links between social interactions and health what advice does Theresa have for adapting to life in isolation?
“I enjoy alone time so the initial change wasn’t too bad. The most helpful thing I’ve found is to have a regular schedule. I still build my day as I did before COVID with scheduled work and leisure time and a daily walk for half an hour at lunchtime. I also try hard to set up social interactions each day, even if it is just a quick phone call. One thing I have tried with other grad students which works well is to have everyone in a Zoom meeting but to work independently. It gives you the feeling of working in a team and you can check in when you need to. I also can’t be watching Netflix all day because somebody knows!”
Thankfully despite the disruption to her work Theresa has been prevented from graduating on time: “In June I’ll be defending my thesis. I’ve heard stories from friends in Europe of thesis defences being delayed indefinitely, so I’m really grateful that UBC have been so organised. I just hope that there will enough normality to allow me to hit the ground running on my postdoc in Switzerland this September.”
More information about the study
Sign up for the study: