Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Interaction Quality and Stress in Marriages

Researchers in Germany recently examined how the quality of interactions in couples is related to the stress the couples experience in their marriages. One aspect of stress that they focused on was the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, after marital interactions. Higher levels of cortisol indicate higher levels of stress. Other researchers have found that people tend to show more physiological signs of stress after marital conflicts, but the results associated with cortisol levels have been inconsistent. An explanation that was offered in the present investigation is that whether cortisol levels rise after a marital conflict depends on the quality of interactions between the couples.

Eighty couples were videotaped discussing a marital conflict and subsequently grouped according to their interaction style. In the negative interaction group, both partners exhibited negative behaviors around 40% of the time. In the positive interaction group, both partners exhibited negative behaviors around 20% of the time. In the asymmetric interaction group, one partner was positive and one was negative. Examples of negative verbal behaviors include criticizing, negative solutions, justification, and disagreement. Examples of positive verbal behaviors include self-disclosure, positive solutions, acceptance of others, and agreement. During the sessions, saliva samples were taken to determine cortisol levels. The participants also filled out a variety of questionnaires.

Overall, men had higher cortisol levels in anticipation of the marital conflict and women had higher cortisol levels in response to the conflict. The couples in the positive interaction group but not those in the negative interaction group showed the expected increase in cortisol levels in response to the marital conflict. Women in the asymmetric group also showed the expected increase.

The researchers offered a reason for why the couples in the negative interaction group did not show the expected increase in cortisol levels in response to the marital conflict. The researcher argued that because those couples have had many unresolved conflicts from fruitless discussions in the past and probably have grown accustom to such conflict, the marital conflict seemed like a chronic source of stress, any given instance of which not necessarily warranting an extra increase in cortisol.

Consequently, these results support the idea that marital conflicts do result in increased stress, unless the couples are so used to such conflicts that they see them as the norm.

Source: Fehm-Wolfsdorf, G., Groth, T., Kaiser, A., Hahlweg, K. (1999). Cortisol responses to marital conflict depend on marital interaction quality. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 6, 207-227.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Predicting Emotional Distress

For many years, researchers have looked at many aspects of the self and how well they can predict emotional distress. One aspect of the self is ego-strength, for example. Freud used this term to refer to how well people could defend them selves psychologically against certain types of threats. The psychological literature in this area has gotten very muddled and confusing. It is unclear which aspect of the self is which and which if any are important by themselves or together. Researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently conducted a study help solve this problem.

Using questionnaire measures and complex statistical analyses, they were able to determine that two classes of aspects of the self are important when predicting emotional distress. They referred to these two classes as elasticity and permeability. Elasticity refers to people's ability to be resourceful and "bounce back" from setbacks. Permeability refers to the degree to which people hold back (i.e., less permeable) or give in to impulses (i.e., more permeable). Essentially, people who are more elastic tend to be less agitated (e.g., less anxious, less nervous, less worried) and less dejected (e.g., less sad, less disappointed, less dissatisfied). People who are more permeable tend to be less dejected, but this is partially because people who are more permeable are also more elastic. When the influence of elasticity is taken into consideration, being more permeable actually is related to being more dejected.

Source: Gramzow, R. H., Sedikides, C., Panter, A. T., & Insko, C. A. (2000). Aspects of self-regulation and self-structure as predictors of perceived emotional distress. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 188-205.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Regular Exercise Is Associated With Greater Psychological Well-Being

Most people are aware that regular exercise is a good thing. Health experts recommend regular exercise as a part of a healthy lifestyle. Research has shown that it has many physiological benefits. 
Does regular exercise also have psychological benefits? The answer to this question is not very clear. Some studies have found evidence suggesting that exercise can reduce depression, anxiety, and anger and can improve one's mood. Other studies, however, have shown that exercise does not seem to have any positive psychological consequences. To remedy the inconsistencies among these studies, a group of researchers in Sweden and Finland recently conducted a study on the relation between exercise and psychological well-being.

One of the features that places the present study a step above of the rest is that the researchers documented more than whether or not participants exercised. Instead, they looked at how frequently participants engaged in exercise that lasted at least 20 to 30 minutes and was strenuous enough to make them at least slightly lose their breath and perspire. Unlike other studies, the researchers also did not restrict the focus of their investigation to the relation between exercise and negative emotions. 
They also examined the relation between exercise and positive emotions.

The participants in the present study consisted of 3,403 people in Finland ranging from 25 to 64 years of age. They responded to several questionnaires and received a medical examination at their local health care center.

Exercise was clearly related to psychological well-being. Participants who exercised at least two to three times a week (the minimum amount of exercise that is generally recommended) experienced less depression, anger, hostility, and stress than did those who exercised less than two times a week or not at all. These same participants also felt a stronger sense of confidence in the belief that life in general is comprehensible, manageable, and meaningful and felt more connected to the groups of people with which they associate (e.g., family, associations).

Basically, the message is that people who exercise regularly not only tend to be healthier physically but healthier psychologically as well. It is important to note, however, that the present study did not actually test whether regular exercise causes psychological benefits but merely whether the two tend to be associated with each other.

Source: Hassmén, P., Koivula, N., & Uutela, A. (2000). Physical exercise and psychological well-being: A population study in Finland. Preventive Medicine, 30, 17-25.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The recent APA "Stress Survey" told us what we already know:

-Roughly 75% of people accept stress as a fact of life, it can make you sick, and they are aware of strategies they can incorporate into their lives that will help them manage stress.

-An equal number experienced mental and physical symptoms in the last month as a result of stress.
-Most people attack stress with negative behaviors like smoking,drinking, or eating and sedentary reading or listening to music, although healthier, do not utilize the body's ability to burn off stress.

-The desire to "feel better" is the number one motivator for people to change, yet only 1/3 said they would "probably" change if confronted with a chronic condition as result of stress.

See http://www.apa.org/releases/stressproblem.html for summary of the study.
Basically, what we have here is the number one contributor to people's health outcome being totally understood and recognized, but people are not willing to modify behavior, which takes effort and perseverance, to reduce and manage their stress to cure or prevent these inevitable problems from occurring.

Why is this? Probably because behavior change is so hard to do and bad behaviors are so easy, available, and relatively cheap. They help you escape and "feel good" temporarily. Exercising, eating right, and practicing cognitive change and relaxation exercises takes too much time, effort, and has a delayed gratification effect. The "magic pill" does not exist and never will.
IBM just announced they will pay $150 to each of their 128,000 employees who sign up a child to take a 12 week on-line exercise/diet course. This is a "pain avoidance" strategy since they can save hundreds of millions in health insurance claims if these people change their behavior.

The future lies with the people who can make the tough transition to a regular stress management regimen. They will not only feel better, but will look better, and their bodies will last longer and function better.

When do we start? Come see us at http://www.stress-less.com/.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Visualizing Stress

Mental Simulation can facilitate coping responses to stress

Several studies have demonstrated that putting stressful events into words, by talking about them or writing about them, can help people deal with them and can lead to better health and well-being. 

Building upon these findings, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently explored the role of mental simulation. They predicted that visualizing a stressful event and the emotions surrounding it (i.e., mental simulation) would result in an increase in the use of both problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies. Problem-focused coping involves confronting stressful events directly, and emotion-focused coping involves regulating the emotions aroused by stressful events.

The participants in this study identified an ongoing stressful event in their lives and completed a variety of questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study. Compared to participants in other groups in the study, the participants who visualized a stressful event and the emotions surrounding it were happier and used more problem- and emotion-focused coping.

The benefits of mental simulation appear to be limited, however, to ongoing stressful events that people have some control over and traumatic events that take place in the past.

Source: Rivkin, I. D., & Taylor, S. E. (1999). The effects of mental simulation on coping with controllable stressful events. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1451-1462.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Personality and Daily Stress

The relation between personality and the day-to-day experience of stress is not well understood. In an attempt to shed some light on this issue, researchers at the University of Delaware and the University of Connecticut Health Center conducted a study to investigate the role of neuroticism, a personality trait, in daily stress. Neuroticism is the general tendency to feel negatively. Based on research in which neuroticism was found to be associated with major life events, the researchers in this study expected to find a corresponding association between neuroticism and daily functioning.
A total of 197 participants completed questionnaires at the end of each day over a period of 2 weeks. 

They also completed questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study. The questionnaires measured neuroticism, mood, stress, appraisal, and coping. The results showed that people who were high in neuroticism experienced more stressors in their interactions with others, perceived daily events more negatively, and made bad choices about which coping strategies to use.

This research helps explain why people who are high in neuroticism tend to feel so negatively. People who are high in neuroticism tend to experience more stress. It is unclear from this research, however, whether having higher levels of neuroticism causes people to experience more daily stress or whether more daily stress causes people to have higher levels of neuroticism.

Source: Gunthert, K. C., Cohen, L. H., & Armeli, S. (1999). The role of neuroticism in daily stress and coping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1087-1100.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Migraine and Tension-Type Headaches

Frustration and bright lights can lead to head pain

People often have quite a bit of difficulty trying to identify the causes of their headaches. When something happens before a person gets a headache, he or she does not know whether it was something that triggered the headache or whether the headache would have occurred anyway. One way to find out whether potential triggers really do cause headaches is to conduct an experiment. Negative affect and visual disturbances are two potential triggers that were recently examined in an experiment by researchers in Australia.
Negative affect is a term used to describe negative emotions or feelings, such as anxiety, anger, and depression. Visual disturbances refer to things like the flicker of lights, the glare from lights, and eyestrain.

The researchers in the present study recruited 75 participants of various ages who had a long history of frequent migraine or tension-type headaches. They also recruited 15 participants who did not to serve as a control group, so the results of participants with the aforementioned history of headaches could be compared to the results of participants without such a history. Across several sessions, the participants engaged in a number of activities, including trying to solve frustrating word puzzles (i.e., negative affect) and staring at something on a computer screen while bright flashing lights created glares on it (i.e., visual disturbances). While engaging in these tasks, physiological measurements were taken. They also completed some questionnaires. Additionally, between sessions, the participants kept a headache diary, in which they rated the intensity of any headaches they experienced 4 times per day.

The results of the study indicated that both negative affect and visual disturbances can trigger headaches, regardless of whether people tend to get migraine or tension-type headaches or whether they believe they are triggers for them. Visual disturbances also led to negative affect, however, so it was unclear form the findings whether visual disturbances actually can trigger headaches directly or must exert their influence indirectly through negative affect. The findings that were based on the diary information demonstrated that these two triggers had their strongest influence on the intensity of subsequent headaches 48 to 72 hours afterward.

Source: Martin, P. R., & Teoh, H.-J. (1999). Efffects of visual stimuli and a stressor on head pain. Headache, 39, 705-715.