Monday, October 15, 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.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Progressive Relaxation vs. Classical Music
Progressive relaxation is more relaxing
When people are stressed, they have many options for reducing the stress they are experiencing. A number of stress management techniques (e.g., progressive relaxation) or other means (e.g., classical music) can be used. A researcher at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences recently investigated whether actual stress management techniques are any better at relieving stress than are other approaches to relaxation.
What was the research about?
Sixty participants ranging from 18 to 59 years of age were recruited from the community. Each participant was assigned to one of four conditions after engaging in a stressful activity. To make participants stressed, they were given 15 minutes and asked to prepare a 5-minute speech about their personal faults or undesirable habits that was to be videotaped after the 15 minutes had passed. In the progressive relaxation condition, participants engaged in progressive relaxation, which is a stress management technique that involves tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups one at a time. In the classical music condition, participants listened to a segment of Sonata in D major for Two Pianos by W. A. Mozart. In the attention control condition, participants listened to stories on audiotape and wrote down as much as they could remember afterwards. In the silence control condition, participants waited silently. Before, during, and after the speech-writing task, measures of attention, relaxation, and heart rate were obtained.
The results demonstrated that progressive relaxation led to more relaxation than did classical music, attention, or silence. All for conditions did lead to a lower heart rate, though. It appears as though there is something special about stress management techniques that make them more effective than other, less formal, attempts at stress reduction. Classical music, for example, did lead to more relaxation than did attention or silence, but it only served as a distraction from the stressor. Progressive relaxation not only provided a distraction but also assisted with receptivity, which is another component of relaxation.
Why should it matter to me?
People should be aware that some approaches to relaxation and stress reduction in general are more effective than others are.
Source: Scheufele, P. M. (2000). Effects of progressive relaxation and classical music on measurement of attention, relaxation, and stress responses. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23, 207-228.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Ethnicity-Related Sources of Stress
People encounter many stressful events in their lives. Unfortunately, ethnic minorities have additional sources of stress related to being in an ethnic minority group. Several researchers at New Jersey colleges and universities recently reviewed the research findings on ethnicity-related sources of stress.
What was the research about?
In particular, they described ethnicity-related sources of stress stemming from discrimination, stereotypes, and conformity pressure.
Ethnic discrimination involves unfair treatment that a person attributes to his or her ethnicity. At lest five types of ethnic discrimination occur: (a) insults and ethnic slurs; (b) shunning; (c) actions that express negative evaluations; (d) denial of equal treatment or access; and (e) actual or threatened harm. Ethnic discrimination is a source of stress because members of ethnic minority groups can become stressed about the ever-present possibility of being discriminating against. Ethnic minorities need to decide whether ethnic discrimination will occur in situations they encounter, decide whether to become part of these situations or avoid them, and prepare for the possibility of being discriminated against.
Two ethnicity-related sources of stress are stereotype threat and stereotype-confirmation concern. Stereotype threat is the condition of being at risk of appearing to confirm a negative stereotype about a group to which one belongs. Stereotype-confirmation concern is the long-term or recurring experience of stereotype threat. Worrying about acting in ways that others would expect based on stereotypes about one’s ethnic minority group can be stressful.
Own-group conformity pressure is the experience of being pressured or held back by one’s ethnic group’s expectations specifying appropriate or inappropriate behavior for the group. Some African Americans who do well in school, for example, get ridiculed by their peers about “acting white.”
Ethnicity-related sources of stress are real. Research has shown that they are related to negative mental and bodily declines in health
Why should it matter to me?
Member of ethnic minority groups may want to look at discrimination, stereotypes, and conformity pressure as possible reasons for the stress they experience and focus on them when trying to mange their stress.
Source: Contrada, R. J., Ashmore, R. D., Gary, M. L., Coups, E., Egeth, J. D., Sewell, A., Ewell, K., Goyal, T. M., Chasse, V. (2000). Ethnicity-related sources of stress and their effects on well-being. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 136-139.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Stress Susceptibility in Adolescence
Stressful events often become more disruptive for people while they are adolescents. In fact, people tend to feel worse and to be more depressed during adolescence than they do at younger or older ages. Although it may seem like these differences are in some way due to puberty, current research findings suggest otherwise. A researcher at the Department of Psychology and Center for Developmental Psychobiology at Binghamton University recently described the relevance of changes that occur in the brain during adolescence.
What was the research about?
A number of changes go on in the brain during adolescence. Regarding stress susceptibility, the most relevant changes occur in the prefrontal cortex and the limbic brain regions. In these two areas, the increases and decreases in brain activity caused by certain types of chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, may be at least partially responsible for the higher rate of sensation seeking, risk taking, and drug use among adolescents.
Why should it matter to me?
People in their adolescence should be aware of their vulnerability to stress and that they may feel drawn toward sensation seeking, risk taking, and drug use. In this way, they can try to avoid some of the negative consequences that sometimes accompany such activities.
Source: Spear, L. P. (2000). Neurobehavioral changes in adolescence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 111-114.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Positive Emotions During Stress
Although people generally do not feel good when they are stressed, some positive emotions can and do occur during stressful periods in people’s lives. Researchers at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco recently published a review of research that shed some light on what people can do to experience positive emotions during stress.
What was the research about?
Specifically, they demonstrated that positive emotions can occur during stress and discussed three types of coping that are associated with positive emotions during stress.
The first type of coping they covered was positive reappraisal, which involves focusing on the positive rather than the negative aspects of events. Positive reappraisal can be accomplished by finding opportunities for personal growth, noticing actual personal growth, and realizing how one’s own actions can benefit other people. Through positive appraisal, people can change the meaning of situations in a way that allows them to experience positive emotions. 
The second type of coping they covered was problem-focused coping, which involves thinking and behaving in ways that allow people to attack the underlying cause of their stress. This form of coping is effective when people can establish some amount of control over stressful situations.
The third type of coping they covered was the creation of positive events, which involves taking a mental “time-out” by thinking positively about ordinary events. Examples include savoring a compliment one received in passing and taking a moment to admire a beautiful sunset. Such time-outs give people a short break from ongoing stress.
Why should it matter to me?
If people want to take advantage of the positive emotions that are possible when they are stressed, they may want to consider using positive reappraisal, problem-focused coping, and the creation of positive events.
Source: Folkman, S., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2000). Stress, positive emotions, and coping. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 115-118.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Autogenic Training
Through autogenic training, people can learn how to enter a state of passive relaxation that allows them to gain control over bodily processes involved in stressful experiences that are normally not under conscious control. People can learn how to regulate blood circulation, for example. When people are trying to deal with stress, they often feel anxious, depressed, or both. Researchers from the University of Bologna in Italy recently reported the results from a study investigating the usefulness of autogenic training in alleviating such negative feelings.
What was the research about?
One hundred and thirty-four people who were already seeking treatment for minor psychological problems, such as those related to anxiety and depression, participated in the study. Over a three-month period, some participated in an autogenic training program and some were put on a waiting list (and began the program afterward). All participants responded to questionnaires about their mood before, during, and after the three-month period.
The results of the study showed that participants who participated in the autogenic training program tended to have improved moods over the course of the study but that participants on the waiting list did not. Thus, autogenic training can help people deal with feelings of anxiety and depression associated with stress.
Why should it matter to me?
People who are feeling anxious or depressed from stressful events in their lives can use autogenic training to learn how to alleviate these feelings.
Source: Farnè, M. A., & Gnugnoli, D. (2000). Effects of autogenic training on emotional distress. Stress Medicine, 16, 259-261.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Exercise Intensity
How hard should people exercise?
Most people are aware that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically. Experts have recommended that people exercise at certain intensity levels to receive the most benefit from doing it. What if people are allowed to choose the intensity level of their exercise by themselves? Researchers at the University of Wales recently reported the results from a study aimed at finding an answer to this question.
What was the research about?
Twenty-six physically fit undergraduate students participated in the study. Some were told to exercise at a specified intensity level that was believed to be highly effective. The rest were told to exercise only as hard as they wanted to. All the participants exercised for a period of 20 minutes, indicated their levels of well-being, distress, interest, fatigue, and intensity every 5 minutes.
Although participants who chose their own intensity level and those who did not tended to report the same levels of well-being, distress, and fatigue, participants who chose their own intensity level actually exercised harder and were more interested in doing it. Thus, people seem to benefit the most mentally and physically when they exercise at their preferred level of intensity, at least among those who are physically fit.
Why should it matter to me?
People who have trouble motivating themselves to exercise may become more interested in doing it and actually exercise harder if they let themselves exercise only as hard as they want to instead of worrying about trying to exercise at some specified level of intensity.
Source: Parfitt, G., Rose, E. A., Markland, D. (2000). The Effect of prescribed and preferred intensity exercise on psychological affect and the influence of baseline measures of affect. Journal of Health Psychology, 5, 231-240.