COVID-19 related negative emotions and emotional suppression are associated with greater risk perceptions among emergency nurses: A cross-sectional study

Int J Nurs Stud Adv. 2023 Dec;5:100111. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnsa.2022.100111. Epub 2022 Nov 30.


Background: As the COVID-19 pandemic began, frontline nurses experienced many emotions as they faced risks relevant to both patients (e.g., making errors resulting in patient harm) and themselves (e.g., becoming infected with COVID-19). Although emotions are often neglected in the patient safety literature, research in affective science suggests that emotions may significantly impact nurses' perceptions of risk, which can have downstream consequences. Further, the use of chronic emotion regulation strategies that are known to differ in adaptability and effectiveness (i.e., emotional suppression, reappraisal) can impact risk perceptions.

Objective: To investigate the relationship between nurses' emotional experiences in response to the pandemic and their estimates of how likely they would be to experience adverse outcomes related to both patients and themselves within the next six months. Additionally, we investigated the extent to which the use of suppression and reappraisal processes to manage emotions are associated with these risk perceptions.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Setting: Online survey distributed via email to emergency nurses at eight hospitals in the northeastern United States during fall 2020.

Participants: 132 emergency nurses (M age = 37.05; 81.1% Female; 89.4% White).

Methods: Nurses reported the extent to which they experienced a variety of positive (e.g., hope, optimism) and negative (e.g., fear, sadness) emotions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reported their perceptions of risk to both patients and themselves. Nurses also completed the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire, a measure of chronic tendencies to engage in emotional suppression and reappraisal. Immediately prior to providing data for this study, nurses completed an unrelated decision-making study.

Results: Nurses' negative emotions in response to COVID-19 were associated with greater perceptions of both patient safety risks (b = 0.31, p < .001) and personal risks (b = 0.34, p < .001). The relationships between positive emotions and risk perceptions were not statistically significant (all p values > 0.66). Greater chronic tendencies to suppress emotions uniquely predicted greater perceptions of patient safety risks (b = 2.91, p = .036) and personal risks (b = 2.87, p = .040) among nurses; however, no statistically significant relationships with reappraisal emerged (all p values > 0.16).

Conclusions: Understanding factors that influence perceptions of risk are important, given that these perceptions can motivate behaviours that may adversely impact patient safety. Such an understanding is essential to inform the development of interventions to mitigate threats to patient safety that emerge from nurses' negative emotional experiences and their use of different emotion regulation strategies.

Tweetable abstract: Covid-related negative emotions and emotional suppression are associated with greater patient and personal risk perceptions among emergency nurses @lindamisbell @Nathan_Huff_1.

Keywords: Attitudes; COVID-19; Emergency department; Emotion; Nurses; Patient safety; Risk judgements.