Sunday, August 12, 2018

Stressful Thinking
Trying to think about the positive is better than trying not to think about the negative
When experiencing stress, many people try to keep the thoughts that are bothering them out of their mind. This form of mental control is called thought suppression. Unfortunately, thought suppression can backfire under certain circumstances and actually make unwanted thoughts more apparent and bothersome than they otherwise would have been. Thought suppression will often backfire, for example, if people have too much on their mind or get tired of trying to suppress the unwanted thoughts. Researchers at The University of Texas at San Antonio recently published a set of studies that investigated an alternative form of mental control, concentrating on desirable thoughts.
What was the research about?
Across three studies, undergraduate students completed tasks that involved unscrambling sentences. Each scrambled sentence could be made into either a positive or negative statement. Some participants used thought suppression, in that they were told to avoid forming negative statements. Other participants concentrated on desirable thoughts, in that they were told to only form positive statements.
In one of the studies, some of the participants also tried to remember a six-digit number so that they would have a lot on their mind during the unscrambling task. In another one of the studies, the participants unscrambled sentences a second time. While doing it the second time, they created both positive and negative statements, whichever came to mind first, to see whether the form of mental control that they used backfired.
As in previous research, thought suppression tended to backfire. Attempts to concentrate on desirable thoughts, however, did not tend to backfire. Clearly, concentrating on desirable thoughts is a better strategy. Trying to keep unwanted thoughts out of one's mind is less likely to work and may actually make things worse.
Why should it matter to me?
People who are stressed out by thoughts they cannot seem to get out of their mind may want to consider trying to concentrate on desirable thoughts.
Source: Wenzlaff, R. M., & Bates, D. E. (2000). The relative efficacy of concentration and suppression strategies of mental control. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1200-1212.


Monday, August 6, 2018

PMS-Related Stress
Calcium supplements can relieve stress associated with PMS
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a source of stress for many women. Symptoms of PMS include fatigue, irritability, abnormal bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, and depression. For some women, exercise and a healthy diet are enough to take care of the problem. In severe cases, prescription drugs can be helpful (e.g., Prozac, Xanax, oral contraceptives). Lifestyle changes or prescription drugs are not an entirely satisfactory solution for all women, though. Another option is to take dietary supplements. Numerous dietary supplements have been advocated for this purpose, but there is little scientific evidence to support claims regarding their effectiveness. Accordingly, a researcher at SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare recently reviewed the literature to find out which dietary supplements are backed by solid scientific evidence.
What was the research about?
So far, the beneficial effects of only one dietary supplement have received strong scientific support. Calcium, when taken at a dose of 1000 to 1200 milligrams per day, can substantially decrease many of the symptoms associated with PMS. Magnesium, vitamin E, and carbohydrate supplements may also be of some benefit, but the research findings are not as clear as they are for calcium supplements. There is not convincing evidence that vitamin B6, primrose oil, or herbal supplements are helpful. In fact, vitamin B6 in excess of 100 milligrams per day can be harmful and some herbal supplements should not be taken by women who may become pregnant or who are taking prescription drugs to treat severe PMS.
Why should it matter to me?
Women who experience stress as a result of PMS may want to consider taking calcium supplements.
Source: Bendich, A. (2000). The potential for dietary supplements to reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 19, 3-12.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Looming Maladaptive Style
The way people think can make them vulnerable to anxiety
Some people are more vulnerable to anxiety than others are. One personal characteristic that makes people more vulnerable is having a looming maladaptive style. People with a looming maladaptive style tend to perceive potential threats as rapidly mounting, escalating, or approaching. Such a person might falsely believe that his or her significant other is about to end their relationship, for example. As part of a series of studies, researchers at George Mason University recently explored why people with a looming maladaptive style are especially vulnerable to anxiety.
What was the research about?
Across two studies, undergraduate students were presented with threatening words and pictures. The participants indicated their level of anxiety along with other information related to their reactions to the threatening words and pictures. They also responded to a questionnaire designed to measure the extent to which they have a looming maladaptive style.
The findings confirmed that people with a looming maladaptive style tend to be especially vulnerable to anxiety. Moreover, the present research provided an answer to the question of why a looming maladaptive style makes people more vulnerable to anxiety. They tend to be more vulnerable to anxiety because their tendency to perceive potential threats as rapidly mounting, escalating, or approaching makes them think in ways that are stressful. Specifically, they pay extra attention to the threatening aspects of what they encounter and they more easily remember the threatening aspects of what they encounter.
Why should it matter to me?
People who have difficulties with anxiety might have a looming maladaptive style, and if they do, may want to pay closer attention to whether the way in which they think about potential threats is contributing to their anxiety.
Source: Riskind, J. H., Williams, N. L., Gessner, T. L., Chrosniak, L. D., & Cortina, J. M. (2000). The looming maladaptive style: Anxiety, danger, and schematic processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 837-852.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Perceptions of Physical Fitness                                                            
Believing one is physically fit is associated with feeling stress free
Most health conscious people today probably are aware that regular moderate exercise has many mental and physical health benefits, such as lower levels of stress. Recent research seems to suggest believing that one is physically fit may also be important. Unfortunately, the studies on which these conclusions are based have some problems that make clear interpretations impossible. Researchers at Santa Clara University and the Stanford University School of Medicine recently published the findings from a study aimed at clearing up the issue.
What was the research about?
Seventy-two faculty and staff of various ages were recruited from Santa Clara University to participate in the study. The participants engaged in two stressful tasks. One involved giving a brief speech, and the other involved reading the names of colors printed with ink that was a different color (e.g., the word red printed in green ink). Before, during, and after the stressful tasks, blood pressure and pulse rate were recorded and the participants responded to a questionnaire measuring calmness. The participants also responded to questionnaires measuring anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and perceived physical fitness and engaged in a treadmill activity that was used to measure actual physical fitness. Sex, height, and weight also were recorded.
The results showed that perceived physical fitness was associated with changes in systolic blood pressure and calmness throughout the course of the stress tasks, even after taking into account other factors that were associated (i.e., actual physical fitness, gender, height, and weight). Additionally, higher levels of perceived, but not actual, physical fitness were associated with less anxiety, less depression, and higher self-esteem. Thus, both actual and perceived physical fitness are important for stress relief.
Why should it matter to me?
People who are trying to manage their stress should not only work on becoming physically fit but also may want to consider thinking about whether they actually believe that they are physically fit.
Source: Plante, T. G., Caputo, D., Chizmar, L. (2000). Perceived fitness and responses to laboratory induced stress. International Journal of Stress Management, 7, 61-73.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Money!
Placing a lot of importance on money for the wrong reasons may be harmful
Some people place a great deal of importance on money. Other people do not seem to care too much about it. Regarding stress, and well-being in general, who is worse off? Although studies have shown that placing a relatively high degree of importance on money can be negatively associated with well-being, they have not really considered the motives people have for making money. Researchers from the University of Maryland recently published a study addressing this issue.
What was the research about?
Across two studies, 266 business students and 145 entrepreneurs responded to questionnaires measuring motives for making money, the relative importance of money or financial goals (compared to other goals), and well-being. The results suggest that placing a relatively high degree of importance on money may not necessarily lead to less well-being. The motives people have for making money seem to account for the negative association between the relative importance of money and well-being. Specifically, the results suggest that placing a relatively high degree of importance on money is negatively associated with well-being for people who want to make money to show off, seek power, or overcome self-doubt but not for people who do not want to make money for these reasons.
Why should it matter to me?
People who place a relatively high degree of importance on money may want to stop and think about why they want to make money because it may have a negative impact on their well-being.
Source: Srivastava A., Locke, E. A., & Bartol, K. M. (2001). Money and subjective well-being: It's not the money, it's the motives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 959-971. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Stress and Long-Term Thinking
Stress can make you more likely to base decisions on short-term, instead of long-term, consequences.
Sometimes in our lives we are forced to make choices that have good immediate consequences but bad long-term consequences.  For example, if you continuously stay up late to work on projects at the last minute you finish the projects on time (a good immediate consequence) but suffer from sleep deprivation over time (a bad long-term consequence).  Or you may sit in an uncomfortable chair at work all day and avoid taking stretch breaks to get more work done, only to feel very stiff and sore at the end of the week.  When under stress are we more likely to make decisions based on their immediate or long-term consequences?  A researcher from Harvard University explored how stress affects the way people make decisions with positive short-term but negative long-term consequences.
What was the research about?
Across two studies, 32 Harvard University students viewed a slide show that they controlled.  To simulate a sense of stress and negative emotion, some participants viewed very aversive pictures during the slide show.  Other participants only saw neutral pictures during the slide show.  Participants were told they would receive a certain amount of money for each slide they viewed during the 10-minute slide show.  Thus the more slides they advanced through the more money they would make.  Participants advanced to the next slide by pushing one of two buttons on a control box.  One button represented “good immediate but bad long-term consequences” because it allowed participants to quickly advance the next slide, but it also slowed down the advance of later slides.  The other button represented “bad immediate but good long-term consequences” because it slowed down the advance of the next slide but sped up the advance of later slides.  Results showed that participants who were stressed by viewing the aversive slides, earned less money than participants who viewed the neutral slides.  The stressed participant’s also chose the “good immediate but bad long-term consequences” button on the control box much more than the non-stressed participants.  The second study found the same results comparing a group of students who reported high stress levels because of upcoming exams to a group who had low stress levels.
Why should it matter to me?
We all get stressed at times and may make decisions we end up regretting down the road.  To help avoid making these kinds of decisions under stress, people need to take time to think through the long-term consequences of their choices instead of exclusively focusing on short-term consequences.  This may help reduce stress levels in the long run, even if it does not immediately impact them.
Source: Gray, J. (1999) A bias toward short-term thinking in threat-related negative emotional states. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 65-75. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Don’t Choke!
When the pressure is on, focusing too much on what you’re doing can cause you to choke.
At times we have all been under high pressure to perform.  Sometimes we succeed and other times we fail or “choke” under the pressure.  Why do we choke?  Some researchers think we choke because the pressure distracts us from focusing on what we are doing.  Other researchers believe we choke because the pressure causes us to focus too much on what we are doing instead of “just doing it” without thinking too much.  To try and figure out which explanation is correct, researchers from Arizona State University recently conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
The experiment had people practice putting a golf ball as close to a target spot as possible.  After participants finished practicing, the experimenters put them all under high pressure by offering them double experiment credit if they performed very well on their next 10 putts.  While they took their 10 putts, some participants were told to count backwards from 100 to keep them distracted.  Results showed that participants who were distracted actually did better than those who were not distracted.  The distraction helped because it kept them from focusing too much on what they were doing and overanalyzing their putting.
Why should it matter to me?
When you are under pressure to perform well, try not to think too much about what you are doing, or that may cause you to choke.  One thing you might try is distracting yourself, which should free you to go ahead and “just do it” instead of nervously overanalyzing your performance.
Source: Lewis, Brian P., & Linder, Darwyn E. (1997). Thinking about choking?  Processes and Paradoxical Performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 937-944.