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Psychological hibernation as stress coping mechanism in extreme cold

Human activity in Antarctica has increased sharply in recent years. In particular during the winter months, people are exposed to long periods of isolation and confinement and an extreme physical environment that poses risks to health, well-being and performance. The pattern of results of a study in which Prof. Fons Van de Vijver of the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences took part, could indicate that participants during Antarctic over-wintering enter a state of psychological hibernation as a stress coping mechanism.

The study was published in Frontiers in Psychology (quoted in Newsweek) aimed to gain a better understanding of processes contributing to psychological resilience in this context.

Specifically, the study examined how the use of coping strategies changed over time, and the extent to which changes coincided with alterations in mood and sleep. Two crews (N = 27) spending approximately 10 months at the Concordia station completed the Utrecht Coping List, the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), and a structured sleep diary at regular intervals (x 9). The results showed that several variables reached a minimum value during the midwinter period, which corresponded to the third quarter of the expedition. The effect was particularly noticeable for coping strategies (i.e., active problem solving, palliative reactions, avoidance, and comforting cognitions).