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.