Thursday, May 23, 2019

Trauma and Health

Writing about the perceived benefits of trauma

After experiencing a traumatic event, simply taking the time to write about it can have health benefits, such as less frequent health problems, improved immune system functioning, and better adjustment. Researchers at Southern Methodist University recently explored a related idea. They conducted a study to see whether writing about the perceived benefits of traumatic events, instead of writing about the actual traumatic events, also could have health benefits.

In the study, 118 undergraduate students wrote for 20 minutes each day for 3 days. In particular, they wrote about a traumatic event, the perceived benefits of a traumatic event, both, or neither. They also responded to some questionnaires. Additionally, after getting the necessary permission from the participants, the researchers examined the health center records for each participant.

Just like in other research on this topic, the results demonstrated that writing about trauma could lead to health benefits. The results also demonstrated that writing about the perceived benefits of trauma could lead to health benefits. These findings are important because, compared to writing about trauma, writing about the perceived benefits of traumatic events may provide a less upsetting but effective way to benefit from writing after experiencing a traumatic event.

Source: King, L. A., & Miner, K. N. (2000). Writing about the perceived benefits of traumatic events: Implications for physical health. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 220-230.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Stress in the Workplace

Are some people more affected by it than others are?

Some people are better than others are at being able to tell whether their body is running at a faster or slower pace. For example, some people are better than others are at noticing how fast their heart is beating. These types of differences among people are referred to as individual differences in autonomic feedback. Researchers at Ohio State University and Erasmus University recently investigated whether such differences are important for people who work in stressful work environments.

Surveys were sent to salespeople at 23 Dutch manufacturing, servicing, or wholesaling companies. A total of 194 surveys were returned and used in the study.

The findings confirmed the expectations of the researchers. Individual differences in autonomic feedback did matter for people who worked in stressful workplaces. Those who were more able to notice autonomic feedback experienced more burnout, demonstrated poorer performance on certain types of job performance, and expressed more negative job attitudes than did those who were less able to notice autonomic feedback. Furthermore, the more that the workplace was stressful, the more that individual differences in autonomic feedback mattered.

In other words, for a variety of reasons, people who work in stressful environments seem to be better off if they are not very good at noticing autonomic feedback.

Source: Klein, D. J., & Verbeke, W. (1999). Autonomic feedback in stressful environments: How do individual differences in autonomic feedback relate to burnout, job performance, and job attitudes in salespeople? Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 911-924.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Depression and Lack of Social Support

The role of community involvement

Many studies have identified a link between depression and lack of social support, not having support available from other people, when people are trying to deal with stress. Researchers at Duke University and the University of Albany, State University of New York recently explored what makes up this link.

What was the research about?
The researchers proposed a model to describe the association between depression and lack of social support in times of stress. They found that the model was supported by statistical tests. In particular, they found that social support could be thought of in terms of its structure and function. The structure of social support is made up of people's involvement in community activities, the number of people they tend to come into contact with, and whether or not people have spouses or intimate partners. The function of social support is considered in terms of the degree to which people believe they are receiving support compared to how much support they actually do receive, the degree to which the support they receive helps solve problems compared to how much support serves to make them feel better, and the degree to which support is available for people whenever they need it compared to it only being available during crises.
In general, the model shows that more involvement in community activities leads to more contact with other people and more intimate relationships, which in turn, lead to less depression. The conditions in which this process takes place, however, depend on the three ways in which the model indicates that the function of social support can differ.

Why should it matter to me?
The findings from this study suggest that, if people increase their involvement in community activities such as becoming more involved with volunteer organizations, they may be less vulnerable to depression. Involvement in community activities seems to promote other more person-to-person forms of social support that can reduce the risk of depression in response to stress.

Source: Xiaolanye, N. L., & Ensel, W. M. (1999). Social support and depressed mood: A structural analysis. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 40, 344-359.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Coping With Stress

Why are some women more vulnerable to depression?

When dealing with something stressful, people can cope in a variety of different ways. A common distinction between coping styles is approach vs. avoidance. Approach copinginvolves forms of coping in which people actually try to do something about the problem, such as behaviors like seeking guidance and support and thoughts involving logical problem solving. Avoidance coping involves forms of coping in which people do not really do anything about the problem, such as behaviors like yelling and screaming and thoughts involving denial of the problem.
Research has shown that women tend to be more vulnerable to depression and that society tends to socialize women to be more passive. Consequently, because cognitive avoidance coping (i.e., the type of avoidance coping involving thoughts) is the most passive coping style, women may be more vulnerable to depression because they rely more on cognitive avoidance coping. Researchers at the University of Texas and Florida State University recently explored this issue.

What was the research about?
One hundred and seventy-nine undergraduate students completed questionnaires measuring coping styles, stress, depression, and anxiety on two separate occasions that were 3 weeks apart. They found that higher levels of stress predicted more anxiety and depression among women who used more cognitive avoidance coping than among women who used other forms of coping more. This effect was not found for men.

Why should it matter to me?
Women who rely on cognitive avoidance coping may be able to handle stress better and avoid negative consequences like anxiety and depression if they try to use other types of coping styles more. For example, instead of trying to pretend that problems don't exist, such women might be better off if they try to seek guidance and support from others.

Source: Blalock, J. A., & Joiner, T. E., Jr. (2000). Interaction of cognitive avoidance coping and stress in predicting depression/anxiety. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 24, 47-65.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Talking About Stress

How does talking about stress sometimes reduce it?

Simply talking about stress can sometimes be beneficial. The reasons why this happens, however, are not so clear. Researchers at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, the University of Texas, and Carnegie Mellon University recently offered an explanation.

What was the research about?
Two hundred and fifty-six undergraduate students participated in a two-part study. During the first session, participants watched a calming nature video followed by a distressing video about the Holocaust. After watching the videos, they were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: not talking, talking by themselves about the distressing video, talking with someone pretending to be another participant who reacted similarly to the distressing video, or talking with someone pretending to be another participant who reacted differently to the distressing video. They also responded to a questionnaire measuring perceived stress. During the second session, which was 2 days later, the participants watched the two videos again and responded to the same questionnaire plus another questionnaire measuring the degree to which they had intrusive thoughts, unwanted thoughts that they could not prevent from reoccurring, related to the distressing video.
The results suggest that talking about stress can reduce it when it leads to a decrease in intrusive thoughts. Compared to situations in which people do not talk about their stress, talking about it with another person who can relate and provide support or even talking about it while alone appears to result in fewer intrusive thoughts, and consequently, less stress the next time the same situation arises.

Why should it matter to me?
Whenever people are distressed about something, they should try to talk about it by themselves or with someone else who can relate and provide support. Such actions should help them deal with what is bothering them by reducing the intrusive thoughts surrounding the issue and make them better prepared to deal with the problem the next time they find themselves in a similar situation.

Source: Lepore, S. J., Ragan, J. D., Jones, S. (2000). Talking facilitates cognitive-emotional processes of adaptation to an acute stressor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 499-508.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Three Basic Needs Related to Happiness

A low level of stress is one of the key features of happiness. Researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of Missouri, Columbia recently investigated the connection between daily variations in happiness and daily variations in the degree to which people satisfy three basic needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy refers to being able to do what you want to without being controlled by others. Competence refers to having the ability to meet the challenges you face. Relatedness refers to experiencing positive relationships with others.

What was the research about?
Sixty-seven undergraduate students participated in the study. After an initial testing session, participants responded to measures of autonomy, competence, relatedness, happiness, and illness-related symptoms everyday for 14 days. They found that the degree to which daily activities helped people meet the three basic needs (i.e., autonomy, competence, and relatedness) was related to how happy they were. The more that these needs were met, the happier they were. Additionally, the more that autonomy and competence needs were satisfied, the less that illness-related symptoms were experienced.

Why should it matter to me?
People may be able to live happier, less illness-prone lives by trying to satisfy their autonomy, competence, and relatedness needs in their daily lives. For example, people could try to engage in more behaviors that are not controlled by others, to go after challenges that match their abilities, and to participate in positive relationships with others.

Source: Reis, H. T., Sheldon, K. M., Gable, S. L., Roscoe, J., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 419-435..

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Life-Threatening Illnesses and Stress

Is feeling like you are in control always beneficial?
Life-threatening illnesses, such as breast cancer, are extremely difficult to cope with and often lead to stress and stress-related symptoms like anxiety and depression. One consistent finding that researchers have found in the past is that having a sense of control, feeling like either oneself or one's doctors/treatments can exert control over the disease, is generally beneficial. Is it always a good idea to try to have a sense of control in the face of life-threatening illnesses, though? A team of researchers from across the United States recently conducted a study to find an answer to this question.

What was the research about?
Fifty-eight women diagnosed with first-time breast cancer volunteered to participate in the study. On three separate occasions (i.e., within 6 weeks of diagnosis, 4 months after diagnosis, and 8 months after diagnosis), they completed questionnaires measuring coping styles, adjustment, anxiety, and depression.
The results showed that, eight months after diagnosis, having a sense of control was not always beneficial. It depended on the way in which participants tried to gain a sense control. Among participants who tended to have a positive yielding coping style, accepting and able to abandon attempts at control when necessary, trying to gain a sense of control was associated with better adjustment. Among participants who tended to be have a negative yielding coping style, passive and unable to try to gain control when necessary, trying to gain a sense of control was associated with worse adjustment. Additionally, there was some tentative evidence for anxiety and depression findings similar to those found for adjustment.

Why should it matter to me?
When people are facing life-threatening illnesses, they may find it in their best interest to not only try to gain a sense of control but also use a positive yielding coping style. In other words, people may be best off trying to establish feelings of control while knowing when to just accept things for what they are.
Source: Astin, J. A., Anton-Culver, H., Schwartz, C. E., Shapiro, D. H., Jr., McQuade, J., Breuer, A. M., Taylor, T. H., Lee, H., & Kurosaki, T. (1999). Sense of control and adjustment to breast cancer: The importance of balancing control coping styles. Behavioral Medicine, 25, 101-109.