Few studies have examined factors that might explain or affect the relationship between psychological flexibility and university students’ COVID-19 burnout. The present study tested a moderated mediation model with perceived COVID-19 stress as the mediator and social support, a moderator, among 2377 Chinese college students. After controlling for gender, age, family location, and year of study (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors), psychological flexibility was significantly associated with COVID-19 burnout, and this link was mediated by perceived COVID-19 stress. Social support buffered the adverse effects of perceived COVID-19 stress on psychological flexibility, as well as the correlation between perceived COVID-19 stress and burnout.
1.1. Psychological flexibility and COVID-19 burnout
According to statistics published by the World Health Organization (World Health Organization, 2021), globally, as of September 7, 2021, there have been 221,134,742 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,574, 089 deaths. Continuously influenced by the risk of the pandemic of COVID-19, people around the world have the potential to experience tremendous burnout due to some changes in daily life, such as uncertainty related to the COVID-19 and the duration of staying at home (Yildirim & Solmaz, 2020).
Burnout is a prolonged state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion (Malach-Pines, 2005; Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). Under this definition, COVID-19 burnout can refer to a prolonged state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Different than Maslach et al. (2001)s definition of burnout, which is limited to the work environment, our definition of COVID-19 burnout looks at the exhaustion of general public (Yildirim & Solmaz, 2020). Researches have showed that burnout is positively associated with distress symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, stress during the COVID-19 pandemic (Alkhamees et al., 2021; Sung et al., 2020; Talaee et al., 2020). Considering these adverse effects, a better understanding of the protective factors and related mechanisms for COVID-19 burnout is thus necessary to enlighten prevention and intervention efforts. Of the factors restraining the emergence of COVID-19 burnout, psychological flexibility has been one of the examined protective factors. Therefore, in this study, we focus on the pathway from psychological flexibility to COVID-19 burnout and the potential mechanisms underlying this pathway.
In conclusion, this research sought to explore the underlying mechanisms influencing COVID-19 burnout among Chinese college students. The findings indicate a negative relationship between psychological flexibility and COVID-19 burnout of Chinese college students. Moreover, there is a mediating role of perceived COVID-19 stress in this relationship. Additionally, social support moderated the whole indirect relationship (psychological flexibility → perceived COVID-19 stress → COVID-19 burnout). These findings provide a theoretical model or insight to understand how psychological flexibility will influence the mental health of university students. In addition, these findings may be examined in other groups and future research can apply this moderated mediation model to a variety of work or learning contexts, not just limited to the epidemic context.