In this study, we demonstrated the associations between emotional intelligence, psychological capital, coping style and self-rated health in college students in China during the period of COVID-19 pandemic. We found all three variables were significantly positively associated with self-rated health, and there was a statistically significant three-way interaction. The results suggest that college students who had high emotional intelligence, psychological capital and coping style scores had better health conditions than their peers with low ones. To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the effect of emotional intelligence, psychological capital and coping style on college student health during the pandemic.
Emotional intelligence is an important determinant in an individual’s life success, and affects a person's mental health and social status. The stronger the individual's ability to regulate emotion is, the more helpful it is for the person to relieve stress and stabilize his/her emotional state . A recent study demonstrated that the emotional intelligence workshops and seminars could improve academic engagement and performance, and reduce academic burnout in pharmacy students during the lockdown and quarantine. Individuals with positive psychological capital score would show a more determined attitude in the face of difficulties, and believe that they have abilities and more resources to use to overcome difficulties and achieve success when facing challenges. Lebares and colleagues reported that high psychological resilience was significantly positively associated with a low risk of emotional exhaustion-related burnout and low job performance. In consistence with this principal, our study shows that at the same level of emotional intelligence, college students with a high psychological capital score had better self-rated health state than those with low ones.
Coping style refers to the cognitive and behavioral styles that individuals take to deal with the frustrations and difficulties when they face in daily life. The choice of coping styles, task-oriented, emotion-oriented and avoidance-oriented, determines the consequent effect of stress events on individuals’ health . Individuals taking task-oriented coping will actively find a solution to solve the stress problems by such as learning new skills or obtaining more information to manage it, consequently eliminating the stress. Emotion-oriented coping involves emotional response to the perception of stress, alleviating the stressor-associated unpleasant stressful feeling. Avoidance-oriented coping instead involves activities and cognition to avoid the stressful situations, always accompanying with distraction and social diversion. Repeated or long-term avoidance or distancing from a stressful situation can result in a detrimental consequence to the individual. A previous study demonstrated that the positive coping styles could promote individual’s mental health with a positive attitude, and reduce psychological harm. When an individual has more psychological capitals during the grow-up, it is easier for him/her to take positive coping styles to find solutions with more positive optimism when facing challenges, promoting the individual's health. In this study, we found that the coping style was a major effect on self-rated health with a statistically significant three-way interaction. Taking a positive coping style is important in maintaining good health when they face a stressful situation, and it is a more active strategy even at the same levels of emotional intelligence and psychological capital.
In this study, we also found that sex, having sibling or not, birthplace and online surfing time were associated with emotional intelligence, psychological capital and coping style. Previous studies have shown that women had a higher emotional intelligence than men in the nursing profession[35, 36]. However, we did not find a significant difference in emotional intelligence in college students. This discrepancy is most likely duo to the difference in social experience. Undergraduate Students, particularly in China, have much less experience in society in comparison to nurses or other professionals. Male college students have a relatively more social relation, and more resources to use. Thus, when they face challenges and difficulties, they will be more active with courage and optimism to solve the problems in comparison to their female peers. The college students from only-one child family (no siblings) usually have a higher emotional intelligence and psychological capital score, since they probably start earlier to play together with peers from other families, learning mutual and social relationship through the interaction. Similarly, the students from urban area usually have more skills to identify and manage their own’s emotions and may affect others as necessary, since their family incomes are relatively higher with more opportunity to expose themselves to different cultures in urban than in rural area. In addition, although the internet emergency facilitates the access to obtain knowledge and information, internet also provides a virtual village for users, allowing online interactions behind screen but with isolating themselves from others. Internet addiction makes college students insufficient personal communication with peers, thereby leading to mental health problem.
There was a significantly positive correlation among the variables of college students’ emotional intelligence, psychological capital, and coping styles as expected. The findings suggest that college students with a high emotional intelligence have more resources and adopt a positive coping style, since they have a strong ability to perceive, evaluate, understand, express their own emotions and influence others’ . When they have more psychological capitals to use, they will take more positive coping styles with optimism to face difficulties. Thus, better health status is maintained.
Some limitations exist in this study. This survey is a cross-sectional study, and it is difficult to make causal inference from the association between the factors we investigated and self-rated health. Secondly, the sample size is relatively small, and the survey was conducted in one college only, bias may exist and the participants may not well represent the whole population of college students. However, the findings warrant further studies with a relatively large sample size. Longitudinal or intervention studies can be carried out
In summary, this study demonstrated the effects of emotional intelligence, psychological capital and coping style on health in college students in China during the period of COVID-19 pandemic. We found that coping style was a major factor positively associating with health. The findings provide knowledge for our educational administrators how to improve and maintain college students’ health, keeping them mentally healthy during the period of COVID-19 pandemic.