The COVID-19 pandemic has caused what might be called a “secondary pandemic” of global anxiety, write Peter T. Coleman, Professor of Psychology and Education and Director of the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (MD-ICCCR) at Teachers College; and Anthea Chan, a research associate at MD-ICCCR, in the “State of the Planet” blog of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

“Anxiety, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing,” write Coleman and Chan. “In fact, it is a normal and healthy physical-emotional reaction to stressful or otherwise worrisome events.” But the prolonged anxiety that many people are experiencing while staying primarily at home with spouses, partners, families and roommates, “can have quite serious consequences,” and people with an “underlying anxiety disorder” are particularly at risk.

Peter Coleman

Peter T. Coleman, Professor of Psychology & Education and Director of TC’s Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (MD-ICCCR(Photo: TC Archives)

Coleman and Chan cite research by the late Morton Deutsch, TC social psychologist, professor and founder of MD-ICCCR, showing that romantic partners tend to respond to anxiety “in one or more of the following directions”: they either avoid conflict or seek it out, or they become “hard and unyielding or mushy and unassertive.” They over-intellectualize or become overly emotional, become rigid and controlling or loose and disorganized, escalate the problem or minimize it, or become overly revealing or “stonewalling and concealing.”

To help people become more aware of how they tend to respond to conflict and anxiety, the ICCCR developed a new survey called CARS (the Conflict Anxiety Response Scale) which helps generate an “individualized feedback profile” containing scores on the six “derailer” dimensions outlined above, compared to the average responses of others who have taken the survey. ICCCR recently launched a free online version of the CARS for the public at this website.

“This data can offer you some new insight into your general conflict response tendencies,” Coleman and Chan write. “We will not publish this data, although we may analyze and explore it for insights anonymously in the aggregate.”

Peter Coleman has written and been quoted extensively in the news media about conflict resolution during the pandemic. Read A Voice for Our Times as well as a recent piece in The Hill.