Monday, August 20, 2018

Goal-Related Stress
Self-esteem stability is related to the stress of goal pursuit
People sometimes feel good about themselves and sometimes feel bad about themselves. The degree to which such feelings remain the same over time varies quite a bit among people. People with a stable self-esteem are generally unaffected by evaluations made by themselves (e.g., thinking back about past successes and failures) or others (e.g., a compliment). People with an unstable self-esteem, on the other hand, have fragile, vulnerable feelings of self-worth and are influenced a great deal by evaluations made by themselves or others. A group of researchers at The University of Georgia recently published the findings from a study exploring the associations between self-esteem stability and several other personal characteristics. As part of the study, they examined whether self-esteem stability is related to the amount of stress involved in the pursuit of goals.
What was the research about?
One hundred and twenty-six undergraduate students participated in the study. During one phase of the study, the participants completed a brief self-esteem questionnaire every 12 hours for a week. The consistency of the responses throughout the week was used as a measure of self-esteem stability. The participants also listed some of their goals and rated the extent to which they experienced various emotions when pursuing them.
The researchers found that self-esteem stability was related to the amount of stress involved in the pursuit of goals. Specifically, the more unstable self-esteem was, the more people tended to feel tense, to have trouble relaxing, and to be unsure about themselves when pursuing their goals.
Why should it matter to me?
People with an unstable self-esteem may want to try to stop letting evaluations of themselves unduly influence how they feel about themselves. In this way, they may be able to avoid some of the stress associated with the pursuit of their goals.
Source: Kernis, M. H., Paradise, A. W., Whitaker, D. J., Wheatman, S. R., & Goldman, B. N. (2000). Master of one's psychological domain? Not likely if one's self-esteem is unstable. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1297-1305.

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

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. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Venting Anger
When you feel angry beating up on a pillow or punching bag actually makes you angrier.
What should you do when you get angry?  Many people believe the best way to safely get rid of anger is by a process called catharsis, or venting your anger.  For example an angry person could work off their anger by doing things like exercising, beating on a pillow, hitting a punching bag or just screaming as loud as they could.  Although this advice is common in the popular media, does it really work at reducing anger?  To answer that question researchers from Iowa State University and Case Western University conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
Participants in the experiment first read a newspaper article, created by the experimenters, which talked about catharsis.  Some participants read an article that said a Harvard psychologist had determined catharsis worked very well at relieving people’s anger (the Pro-catharsis article).  Other participants read an article that said the Harvard psychologist had determined catharsis did not work at relieving people’s anger (the Anti-catharsis article).  These articles were used to get participants to believe, or not believe, that catharsis worked.
Next participants wrote a short essay discussing their views on abortion and another participant in a different room (who didn’t really exist) graded their essay.  To make the participants feel angry; their essays were always returned with a handwritten comment saying, “This is one of the worst essays I have every read!”  After getting this bad feedback on their essay participants were given 2 minutes to hit a punching bag, if they wanted to, while the experimenter prepared the next part of the study.
To see how aggressive people would be, the participants played a game against another person.  The participant had to hit a button faster than their opponent did; and if they won, they could blast their opponent with a loud noise as punishment.  Some participants were told their opponent was the person who had graded their essay, and others were told the opponent was not the person who had graded their essay.  The “opponent” was actually a computer that randomly let the participant win half of the time.
Results showed that participants who thought catharsis worked, and had hit the punching bag, were actually more aggressive against their opponent in the reaction time game.  They blasted their opponent with louder noise than participants who read the Anti-catharsis article and had hit the punching bag.  Who the opponent was didn’t matter.  Even when the opponent was not the person who graded their essay, the Pro-catharsis participants who had hit the punching bag still blasted him with louder noise.
Why should it matter to me?
When we feel angry many of us are tempted to vent our anger, thinking it will help us calm down.  Unfortunately, this venting actually builds up the anger and makes our problem worse.  A better way to calm down is to get away from the situation and relax.  Later, after we have cooled down, we are better able to constructively deal with the source of our anger.
Source: Bushman, Brad J., Baumeister, Roy F. & Stack, Angela D. (1999). Catharsis, Aggression and Persuasive Influence: Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies?  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 367-376.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Certain stressful events cause different cardiovascular reactions in men and women.
Although many people have to deal with the same types of stressful situations in their daily lives, not everybody is affected the same way by those situations.  For instance, men seem to be more concerned with performance-oriented situations, such as work challenges and tasks involving physical fitness.  Women, however, seem to be more concerned with socially-oriented situations, such as marital conflict and physical appearance.  If men and women differ in how stressful they view certain events, their bodies may also react differently to those events.  To find out, researchers from Brown University and Ohio State University conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
One body reaction commonly associated with stress is an increase in cardiovascular activity, such as heart rate and blood pressure.  Therefore, the researchers decided to measure participants' cardiovascular reactions to different stressful events.  To begin the experiment participants sat in a comfortable chair and listened to soft music for 10 minutes.  During this time the researchers measured the participant's heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, systolic blood pressures, and mean arterial pressure.  These measurements served as a stress-free baseline the researchers could then compare later measurements against.  After the baseline readings were taken, participants completed four different tasks.  Three of the tasks were designed to be performance-oriented and one task was designed to be appearance-oriented.  For the performance tasks, participants had to do subtraction problems in their head while being timed, trace a star pattern while only looking at its mirror image, and squeeze a handgrip for 2.5 minutes.  For the appearance-oriented task, participants had to give a four minute speech on what they liked and disliked about their body and physical appearance.  After participants finished each task, the researchers again measured their cardiovascular responses.
The results showed that men's cardiovascular system reacted more than women's during the performance-oriented tasks.  In other words, men's cardiovascular readings rose above their baseline levels during the performance-oriented tasks, whereas women's cardiovascular readings did not rise.  During the appearance-oriented tasks, however, women's cardiovascular readings rose above their baseline levels, whereas men's did not.  These results seem to suggest that men respond more to performance situations, whereas women respond more to appearance situations.

Why should it matter to me?
When men and women work together, it's important for them to realize how each gender reacts to certain types of situations.  Situations that don't seem stressful to men may be very stressful for women and vice versa.  Being sensitive to these differences can help reduce annoyance at another person's stressed out reaction to a seemingly "harmless" event and even prepare working partners to better help each other cope.
Source: Stroud, Laura R., Niaura, Raymond S., & Stoney, Catherine M. (2001). Sex differences in cardiovascular reactivity to physical appearance and performance challenges. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 8, 240-250. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Can “living in the moment” reduce stress?
The term “mindfulness” has its roots in the Buddhist tradition. It refers to being aware of and paying attention to what is taking place in the present. If you are like many people, you probably spend little time in a mindful state. It is hard not to be distracted by what the world is throwing at us on a constant basis. Try this – spend the next five minutes in a quiet space. Pay attention to what is going on around you, AT THE PRESENT TIME. Do not think about what you are having for dinner. Do not think about that argument you had with your spouse the other day. Do not think about how to get your kids to study more. Do not think about whether you will have enough money after retirement. It’s hard, isn’t it? With this said, there is evidence that being able to at least approach a mindful state of mind can have psychological benefits, including the reduction of stress.
What was the research about?
Kirk Brown and Richard Ryan, of the University of Rochester, conducted a formal test of the psychological benefits of mindfulness. What they found was that people who reported being “more mindful” than others also reported having positive psychological traits as high self-esteem, higher life satisfaction, more positive feelings, less anxiety, and less depression. They next tested whether inducing a mindful state can alleviate stress during an extremely stressful period – the time following cancer surgery. They trained a group of cancer patients to enter a mindful state. What they found was that indeed, patients who were trained to become more mindful did, in fact, report less stress. This suggests that being more mindful can reduce stress, even during the most stressful times of our lives.

Why should it matter to me?
The results of this study strongly support the notion that mindfulness may have powerful psychological benefits. The fact that it appears to reduce stress in cancer patients is evidence that it may have a wide range of therapeutic applications. You may be able to reduce your own level of stress, in addition to reaping the other psychological rewards of mindfulness by practicing techniques designed to induce a state of mindfulness in yourself.
Source: Brown, Kirk, W., & Ryan, Richard, M. (2003).The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

How men and women cope with the same stressful event
When coping with stress, people generally choose between two basic strategies.  Some choose what’s called emotion-focused coping.  Emotion-focused coping involves doing things that help the person cope with the negative emotions caused by their stress.  People will wish the problem were gone, daydream about it turning out differently, re-interpret the problem by “looking on the bright side”, blame others for the problem or just avoid thinking about the problem at all.  Other people choose what’s called problem-focused coping.  Problem-focused coping involves doing things that actually affect the problem itself.  For example, people will think about possible solutions to the problem, gather information about it or take real action to address the problem.  How does a person’s gender influence which strategy they pick to cope with their stress?  Researchers at the University of Washington and Iowa State University explored this question by exposing male and female participants to the same stressful event.
What was the research about?
A total of 114 participants (53 women & 51 men) participated in the experiment over the course of two days.  The participants were told the experiment was trying to use personality characteristics to predict who would be an effective teacher.  Participants were instructed they would first complete some personality questionnaires today, and tomorrow they would return to give a 5-minute lecture about the pros and cons of using animals in scientific research.  They were also informed their lecture was going to be graded by several research assistants.  Immediately after learning about giving the lecture, the participant’s pulse was taken and they filled out a questionnaire measuring how stressful they thought giving the lecture would be.
            On the next day the participants returned and, before giving the lecture, they completed a questionnaire that measured the types of thoughts they were having about the lecture and their pulse was taken.  After participants gave their lecture they completed questionnaires measuring how they had coped with the event, how many other stressors they were currently experiencing and how well they thought their lecture went.
            Results showed that male and female participants had equivalent pulse rates, gave similar ratings of how stressful they thought the lecture would be and had similar thoughts immediately before the lecture.  These results indicated that males and females experienced the stressful event (the lecture) in the same way.  Even though they had similar reactions to the event, males and females did use different coping strategies to deal with the stress caused by the upcoming lecture.  Men reported using more problem-focused coping techniques than women did.  Interestingly, men and women reported using a similar degree of emotion-focused coping techniques.
Why should it matter to me?
Coping with stressful problems can be difficult and it’s important to realize and appreciate the different ways people may choose to cope with their problems.  This realization can be valuable when men and women must work together to cope with problems, such as a family problem or a problem affecting a group at work.
Source: Ptacek, J. T.; Smith, Ronald E. & Dodge, Kenneth L. (1994). Gender Differences in Coping with Stress: When Stressor & Appraisals Do Not Differ. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin. v. 20, pp. 421-430.

Monday, May 21, 2018

When helping people cope with their stress, don’t be too obvious about it.
When a person we care about is trying to cope with a stressful event in their life, we obviously want to help them cope as much as possible.  Unfortunately our attempts to help may actually be no help at all.  Researchers have found that people, who report receiving help coping with a stressful event, only cope as well or even worse than people who don’t report receiving any help.  This may happen because receiving help draws our attention to our problem, is a blow to our self-esteem or the “help” is just not that good and makes the problem worse.  Researchers have also found, however, that people who just believe they have access to social support if they should need it, cope better than those who don’t think they have sources of social support.  In other words, in times of stress, if we think we have sources of social support we cope well.  Yet if we actually receive help from those sources of social support we don’t cope as well.  These two findings seem contradictory, so a group of researchers from New York University and Harvard Medical School conducted an experiment to try and reconcile these inconsistent findings.
What was the research about?
The researchers recruited 68 couples in which one person was preparing to take the New York State Bar Examination.  The Bar Examination is a 2-day test that all aspiring lawyers must pass before they can practice law and is generally a very stressful event.  For each of the 32 days leading up to the Bar Exam, both members of each couple individually completed a short diary form.  In the diary form, the person about to take the Bar Exam (the examinee) indicated their feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as whether they had received social support from their partner that day.  The partner indicated whether he or she had given the examinee social support that day.
Results showed that during the time of highest stress (the week before the exam), feelings of anxiety and depression actually increased on days when the examinee reported receiving social support from their partner.  This was true whether or not the partner had actually provided any social support that day.  On the other hand, anxiety and depression decreased on days when the partner provided social support but the examinee did not report receiving social support.  In other words, on days when the person under stress was given social support but just didn’t realize it, they felt better.  How could a person receive support and not realize it?  One example is when your partner does a household chore without even telling you.  The stress associated with the chore is gone but you don’t even realize your partner helped you out.  These results show that receiving social support does help people cope with stress, but only when their attention is not drawn to the fact they are getting help from another person.
Why should it matter to me?
It’s very common for people to want to help others cope with a stressful event.  If we aren’t careful how we approach helping the other person, however, we may just cause them more stress.  If we help them in a very obvious way this may just make the person feel worse by highlighting their vulnerability to stress.  Instead, we should try to help them in ways that don’t draw their attention to their stress.  Realizing how to best help a person cope is also important in times when we end up causing them more stress.  By understanding which type of help is actually beneficial, we can avoid becoming confused or angry if a person reacts negatively to receiving our “help”.
Source: Bolger, Niall; Zuckerman, Adam & Kessler, Ronald C. (2000). Invisible Support and Adjustment to Stress. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. 79, 953-961. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Workaholics and their well-being
As long as you enjoy your work, being a workaholic may not be bad for your emotional and physical health.
Do you know someone who works every chance they get, feels driven to keep working hard after others have stopped and even misses their work when on vacation?  These are the characteristics of a “workaholic”.  There are a wide variety of opinions about workaholism.  Some people view workaholics positively because they believe workaholism leads to increased productivity.  Others, however, view workaholics negatively because they believe workaholism leads to unhappiness, health problems and stress for co-workers.  Which view is more accurate?  To help answer that question a researcher from the school of business at York University conducted a questionnaire study.
What was the research about?
A total of 530 MBA graduates, who had all graduated some time prior to 1996, completed a mailed questionnaire.  The questionnaire asked respondents to report how involved with work they were, how driven they felt to work hard, how much they enjoyed work, their psychological well-being, any psychosomatic symptoms experienced in the past year (e.g., headaches), their lifestyle behaviors (e.g., how often they exercised) and emotional well-being.
Respondents who reported being highly involved with their work and very driven to work hard were classified as workaholics.  Results showed that only workaholics who didn’t enjoy their work reported poorer psychological well-being, more psychosomatic symptoms, less healthy lifestyle behaviors and poorer emotional well-being than non-workaholics.  Workaholics who did enjoy their work were just as psychologically and emotionally well as the non-workaholics.  Therefore, how much a person enjoys their work, instead of how hard they work, seems to be the best predictor of their psychological and emotional well-being.
Why should it matter to me?
When we think someone is a workaholic we may get a negative impression of that person because we think they are a slave to their job and suffer the consequences.  This impression may be completely inaccurate.  Some workaholics may work so much just because they enjoy their job a lot, and this doesn’t appear to be such a bad thing, at least as far as their psychological and emotional health is concerned.
One important point to keep in mind, however, is the results of this study are only correlational and don’t necessarily mean that enjoying work causes that person to experience better psychological and emotional well-being.  An alternative conclusion could be the reverse; that having better psychological and emotional well-being causes the person to enjoy their work more.  More research needs to be done before these two explanations are sorted out, but this study does show there is an important relationship between work enjoyment and a person’s well-being.
Source: Burke, Ronald J. (2000). Workaholism in Organizations: Psychological and Physical Well-Being Consequences. Stress Medicine. 16, 11-16.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Stress and Smoking
Reducing feelings of stress may be a reason teenagers smoke.
People commonly report they smoke because it reduces their feelings of stress, and research shows that smokers tend to report higher levels of overall stress in their lives than non-smokers do.  People who stop smoking also experience increased feelings of stress, and this stress makes quitting for good less likely.  All of this research relating smoking to stress, however, has only examined adult smokers.  Therefore, a pair of researchers from Australia decided to study the relationship between stress and smoking in teenagers.
What was the research about?
A sample of 2625 adolescents, obtained from various Australian high schools, was given questionnaires to complete.   The questionnaires measured how much stress the respondent experienced from a variety of sources, such as attending school, family conflict and parental control, as well as how much the respondent smoked.
Results showed that adolescents who smoked regularly reported higher levels of overall stress compared to non-smokers.  Interestingly, girls reported experiencing greater levels of stress associated with most of the sources than boys did.  Stress associated with attending school, family conflict and parental control was most related to smoking for girls.  These sources of stress distinguished well between girls who smoked and didn’t smoke.  Stress associated with attending school was most likely to distinguish between boys who smoked and didn’t smoke.  Thus stress from school, family and parental control may be what leads a teenager to smoke.  These results are correlational, however, so it’s not clear whether these sources of stress actually cause a teenager to smoke or not.
Why should it matter to me?
Clearly stress is an important factor in teen smoking.  Whether or not stress causes a teen to smoke is not certain; however, teens that begin to smoke may be more likely to continue because smoking does seem to help alleviate stress.   Smoking may also help teens to better fit in with other peers.  Adolescence is a time when identity is very important; therefore socially smoking may be a way for teens to help establish their peer group.  By realizing that teen smoking is at least associated with stress, parents can take steps to help their kids avoid smoking.  A good start is to be aware of the stress your child experiences and help him or her cope with that stress.  Of course parents must be careful when doing this because their efforts to help may be interpreted by the child as an attempt to control their behavior.
Source: Byrne, D. G. & Mazanov, J. (1999). Sources of Adolescent Stress, Smoking, and the Use of Other Drugs. Stress Medicine, 15, 215-227.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Motivation for Volunteering and Stress
Having too many motivations for volunteering can lead to added stress
When someone decides to volunteer for an organization they usually have at least one personal motivation for doing so.  A person may be motivated by their values, their desire to better understand other people, to meet a personal challenge or to show concern and empathy for others.  Despite these good intentions, volunteering does have a downside because it costs time and can be stressful.  Generally when people feel they have achieved their personal motivations, however, they report feeling less stress and very satisfied with their volunteering experience.  If achieving personal motivations reduces the stress associated with volunteering, would people with more than just one motivation to volunteer be more likely to enjoy their volunteering experience?  To answer this question, researchers conducted three experiments that compared volunteers who had just one or multiple motives for volunteering.
What was the research about?
The first experiment included 282 volunteers in an AIDS service organization who provided emotional support and day-to-day assistance to people with HIV/AIDS.  These volunteers completed an initial survey immediately before they began their volunteering duties, and then completed a follow-up survey 6 months later.  The initial survey asked the volunteers to indicate their personal motivations for choosing to volunteer.  The follow-up survey asked volunteers to report the stress they experienced while volunteering and how much volunteering had cost them (e.g., taking up too much time).  The follow-up survey also asked volunteers to report how much each of their motivations for volunteering had been fulfilled and how satisfied they felt about their experience.  Results showed that volunteers who had more than one motivation for volunteering reported experiencing more stress, more costs, less satisfaction and less fulfillment of their motivations compared to volunteers who had just one motivation for volunteering.  The second experiment also found these same results with a sample of 146 hospice volunteers.
The third experiment actually manipulated how many motivations participants had for volunteering.  Before they took part in a “volunteer activity” (stuffing envelopes for an environmental organization), participants read a testimonial supposedly written by another volunteer explaining why he had volunteered for the environmental organization.  Participants were instructed to use this testimonial to “get in the mindset” before they stuffed envelopes.  The testimonial contained either one or two motivations for volunteering.  After stuffing envelopes for 15 minutes participants indicated how much their motivations for volunteering (as read in the testimonial) were satisfied.  Results showed that participants who had only read about one motivation for volunteering reported more satisfaction.
Why should it matter to me?
Our time is a very precious commodity; therefore, when you actually do have the time to volunteer you may want to ask yourself exactly what your motivation for volunteering really is before you commit yourself.  If you have one single strong motivation to volunteer, chances are you will enjoy the experience more than if you have a variety of motivations.  Why might this be so?  One reason may be that people who have multiple motivations to volunteer just can’t satisfy any one of those motivations very much, therefore, they just don't enjoy the activity as much as a person who has one clear reason for volunteering.  So in the future, make sure you know why you are volunteering and you will probably feel much more fulfilled.
Source: Kiviniemi, Marc T., Snyder, Mark & Omoto, Allen M. (2002). Too Many of a Good Thing?  The Effeccts of Multiple Motivations on Stress, Cost, Fulfillment & Satisfaction. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 732-743. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Chewing Gum and Smoking
Chewing gum, instead of smoking a cigarette, may effectively reduce stress and nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Many smokers report they usually light up when they feel stressed because smoking makes them feel calmer.  Researchers now believe many smokers are dependent on cigarettes as a way to cope with their stress.  When smokers are not able to smoke during times of stress they tend to suffer withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and nervousness.  With widespread smoking restrictions in the U.S. many smokers are not able to use smoking as a means of dealing with their stress.  One popular alternative to smoking is chewing gum, but is chewing gum an effective way to deal with stress?  Even if it is, will a smoker experience withdrawal symptoms if he or she chews gum instead of smokes?  To explore these questions, researchers from Oklahoma State University conducted a study.
What was the research about?
Forty-five participants, who smoked at least 16 cigarettes per day, were recruited for the study.  All participants began the study by smoking one cigarette of their preferred brand.  After their cigarette all participants completed a series of questionnaires that measured their urge to smoke, their withdrawal symptoms and how much stress they were experiencing (the Time 1 measure).  To create feelings of stress, the experimenters told participants they would soon have to give a 3-minute speech on their body and physical appearance, and the speech would be videotaped.  Immediately after they learned about the speech, participants were either told to smoke one cigarette, chew one piece of gum or do nothing.  While they smoked or chewed their gum they filled out another set of the questionnaires (the Time 2 measure).  Participants then spent 2 minutes mentally preparing for their speech and then filled out another set of questionnaires (the Time 3 measure).  At this point participants actually gave their speech for 3 minutes and then filled out the questionnaires again (the Time 4 measure).  Finally, following a 10-minute rest period, participants filled out another set of questionnaires (the Time 5 measure).
The results showed that participants who smoked, and those who chewed gum, experienced fewer withdrawal symptoms than the control group during the last measure (Time 5).  In other words, chewing gum was just as effective at curbing withdrawal symptoms as actually smoking a cigarette was.  The results also showed there were no differences in feelings of stress at any of the measurement times.  Therefore, neither smoking nor chewing gum reduced feelings of stress compared to the control group.  The interesting thing was these results were obtained even though participants who chewed gum still had an urge to smoke.  Despite feeling an urge to smoke, the gum-chewing participants still didn’t experience any more withdrawal symptoms or feelings of stress than the smoking participants did.
Why should it matter to me?
Smoking has been shown to be bad for a person’s health, which makes quitting a potentially life-altering decision.  Quitting smoking, however, is a difficult thing to do for many people.  The results of this study offer some hope that there are alternatives to smoking when a person feels stressed.  Chewing gum may be a healthier substitute that also helps a person avoid withdrawal symptoms when they can’t smoke.
Source: Britt, Dana M.; Cohen, Lee M.; Collins Jr., Frank L.; Cohen, Michelle L. (2001). Cigarette Smoking & Chewing Gum: Response to a Laboratory-Induced Stressor. Health Psychology. 20, 361-368. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Not all stress is bad for your health.
Stressful situations you can actively cope with may not weaken your immune system.
Scientists have known for some time now that stress can be the cause of health problems because stress seems to depress the ability of a person’s immune system to combat illness.  However, we all face different types of stressful situations in our lives.  Sometimes we are faced with situations involving stress we can actively cope with by doing things that address the source of the stress.  For example, if a person is annoyed with a coworker’s behavior, she can actively cope with her stress by confronting the coworker and discussing the issue to sort things out.  Other times we are faced with situations involving stress we can only passively cope with by trying not to focus on the stress.  For example, if a loved one dies all you can do is try to deal with your negative feelings because you are powerless to change the person’s death (the source of the stress).  One question that scientists from the University of Amsterdam had was whether these two different types of stressful situations both negatively affect a person’s immune system.  To explore that question they conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
The experiment exposed 34 undergraduate students to three different types of conditions.  To simulate a stressful situation involving active coping, participants were given a time-paced memory test.  To simulate a stressful situation involving passive coping, participants watched a video showing various surgical operations.  There was also a control condition in which participants watched a boring documentary.  As a way to examine how the stressful situations influenced the participant’s immune system, the researchers took samples of saliva from the participant’s mouth before, during and after each stressful situation.  In the saliva, the researchers measured how much of secretory immunglobulin A (S-IgA) was present.  S-IgA is used by the body to protect against the invasion of microorganisms and toxins.  The less S-IgA present, the higher the risk of health problems such as upper respiratory infection.  To measure stress levels, participants completed a questionnaire after each saliva sample was collected.
Results showed there were no differences in how stressed participants felt during the memory test and while watching the surgery video.  Even though participants felt equally stressed in both conditions, their levels of S-IgA increased in the active stress condition (the memory test) but decreased in the passive stress condition (the surgery video).  This indicates that participants in the passive stress condition were less defended against microorganism and toxin invasions.  On the other hand, participants in the active stress condition were actually better defended than normal because their S-IgA levels had increased in response to the stressful situation.
Why should it matter to me?
Based on evidence from this experiment it seems all stressful situations are not created equal.  Passive stress situations seem to have a debilitating effect on at least one aspect of the body’s immune system functioning.  Active stress situations, however, seem to actually boost one of the body’s protective actions.  If this effect extends to other aspects of the body’s immune system, then people may want to be more careful what types of stressful situations they expose themselves to.  Also, when deciding how to cope with stress, people may want to try and choose more active-coping strategies.  By actively coping with your stress, instead of just passively trying to ignore it, you may better protect your health in the process.
Source: Bosch, J. A., Kelder, A., Veerman, E. C. I., Hoogstraten, J., Nieuw Amerongen, A. V., De Geus, E. J. C. (2001). Differential effects of active versus passive coping on secretory immunity. Psychophpysiology, 38, 836-846.