The recent COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many individuals. Adult attachment theory can be used to understand how people coped with the pandemic, and how social work can support those who suffered from increased levels of anxiety and depression.

Attachment theory is a framework that indicates the different ways individuals’ bond and communicate with others. Starting from the initial bonding between the primary caregiver and the child, if this connection is unsettled, it can affect psychological and emotional development, leading to issues with bonding with others in adulthood (Bowlby, 1982).

Table 1. Characteristics and Coping Strategies of Adult Attachments.



Secure Attachment

Insecure Attachment

Avoidant Attachment


Higher Self-Esteem

Seek Closeness

Social Support

Healthy Coping Skills

An overwhelming sense of helplessness

Lack of sense of support

Interpret reality as unpredictable and untrustworthy.

Avoid emotional closeness.

Uncomfortable with close relationships

Stress Situation

Confident the environment will help cope.

Optimistic of outcome

Hypersensitivity to a potential threat

Inability to regulate emotional state

Reduce responsiveness.

Deny negative feelings/memories.

Confident in outcome when mildly stressful

Unregulated and non-adaptive when highly stressful

Social work involves understanding different factors in an individual’s life that may hinder them from achieving quality of life such as Insecure Attachment and lack of healthy coping techniques. During the pandemic, insecure individuals may be afraid to reach out to their partner for support (often the only person accessible) due to their sense of lack of support (Table 1). Providing social workers with training on how to help develop healthy coping strategies provides a multifaceted skill that will help individuals long-term, in different situations of life.

The pandemic was an unexpected public health crisis that disturbed individuals’ work and social life. Government restrictions to compact the spread of the virus included social distancing, cancellation of important and large-scale events and bans of gatherings. All of these are similar to unhealthy coping mechanisms (isolation instead of talking to others about their struggles) so it is important to understand to which extent these external coping measurements affected individuals.

Vowels et al. (2022) conducted two studies that help answer some questions regarding adult attachment and coping with the pandemic. Study 1 included a longitudinal design from the general population that was cohabiting with a partner (half of the participants had dependent children). They found that individuals with higher anxious attachment experienced higher levels of anxiety and depression during the initial stages of COVID-19 and these did not decrease with time, compared to those with lower levels of anxious attachment who experienced a reduction over time. This could be explained due to anxiously attached individuals' lack of the ability to regulate emotions by themselves, requiring more emotional support which may not be available due to restriction of services during the pandemic, or lack of adequate availability from their partner as we discussed above. Study 2 included data before and during the pandemic from couples only. It found that individuals with higher anxious attachment experienced higher levels of anxiety and depression during the pandemic when considering their anxiety and depression scores before the pandemic, compared to those with lower anxious attachment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an approved treatment that teaches coping skills to manage stress provoked by thoughts, feelings, and beliefs (NICE, 2013).. Social workers are critical support for those struggling with mental health due to job instability, family responsibilities, and lack of a supportive network. Therefore, it is beneficial to train social workers in approved treatments such as CBT to make it accessible to those struggling.


Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and Loss: Attachment. Chatto & Windus.

NICE. (2013, May 22). Treatments for adults | Information for the public | Social anxiety disorder: recognition, assessment and treatment | Guidance | NICE.

Vowels, L. M., Carnelley, K. B., & Stanton, S. C. E. (2022). Attachment anxiety predicts worse mental health outcomes during COVID-19: Evidence from two studies. Personality and Individual Differences, 185, 111256.