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.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Work Stress and Cardiovascular Disease

It is well known that work stress is associated with cardiovascular disease (e.g., high blood pressure, cholesterol problems). Unfortunately, researchers have not been able to determine exactly why this connection exists. Why do work stress and cardiovascular disease seem to go hand in hand? Recently, researchers from two universities in The Netherlands conducted a study to identify the bodily processes that are responsible.

What was the research about?
One hundred and twenty-four middle-aged, white-collar workers at a large computer company participated in the study. Blood samples were obtained from participants on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of a workweek. The blood samples were used to assess the levels of various chemicals in the blood. The participants also completed a work-stress questionnaire to assess effort-reward imbalance and overcommitment. Effort-reward imbalance refers to working very hard but not getting much for it. Overcommitment refers to a combination of needing approval, being competitive, being impatient and irritable, and not being able to withdraw from work obligations.
They found that overcommitment was associated with cardiovascular disease. Effort-reward imbalance or the interaction between overcommitment and effort-reward imbalance, however, was unrelated to cardiovascular disease. In particular, they found that overcommitment was related to an impaired fibrinolytic system. The fibrinolytic system is a bodily process that is responsible for getting rid of blood clots before they can do any damage. Therefore, one probable reason why work stress is associated with cardiovascular disease is that overcommitment impairs the fibrinolytic system, resulting in blood clots.

Why should it matter to me?
People may find it in their best interest to avoid becoming overcommitted at work. Although nothing is necessarily wrong with commitment, going overboard may lead to an impaired fibrinolytic system, and consequently, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Source: Vrijkotte, T. G. M., van Doornen, L. J. P., & de Geus, E. J. C. (1999). Work stress and metabolic and hemostatic risk factors. Psychosomatic Medicine, 61, 796-805.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Alcohol and Stress

Why do people drink when stressed, or do they?

A common assumption that many people have is that people use alcohol to deal with stress. Although this may be "common knowledge," researchers have not been able to find much support for this notion. In other words, people as a whole do not seem to drink as a way to deal with stress. Some studies have shown, however, that men who believe that drinking leads to positive outcomes or feelings of carelessness tend to use alcohol as a stress reliever. Unfortunately, these studies asked people to reflect back on past behavior, which is not a very good way to investigate this issue. Researchers from the University of Connecticut Health Center recently conducted a study to investigate this issue using a more appropriate approach.

What was the research about?
Eighty-eight community residents participated in the study after responding to newspaper advertisements. They completed an initial questionnaire measuring alcohol expectancies, the outcomes they expected after drinking alcohol. Each day for sixty days, they completed a brief questionnaire about the stress they experienced, their desire to drink, and their alcohol consumption.
Consistent with some of the other studies on this issue, men who believed that drinking leads to positive outcomes or feelings of carelessness wanted to and actually did drink more alcohol on more stressful days than they did on less stressful days. Additionally, men who believed that drinking leads to impairment showed the opposite pattern, wanting to and actually drinking less alcohol on more stressful days than on less stressful days. Alcohol use among women was not related to stress.

Why should it matter to me?
This study provides strong evidence for why some people drink in response to stress. Men who drink may want to think about whether their beliefs about the consequences of alcohol consumption are leading them to use alcohol as an unhealthy, shortsighted approach to stress relief.
Source: Armeli, S., Carney, M. A., Tennen, H., Afflect, G., & O'Neil, T. P. (2000). Stress and alcohol use: A daily process examination of the stressor-vulnerability model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 979-994.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Job Stress and Sleep Disorders

It may seem obvious that job stress can lead to problems with sleep. Although the few studies that have investigated this issue have found a link between job stress and sleep disorders, the findings are not very convincing. These studies had problems such as basing the results on small, specialized samples of people that may not have been similar to people in general and using questionable measures of job stress and sleep disorders. Fortunately, a recent investigation by a group of researchers in Finland has provided a convincing explanation for the link between job stress and sleep disorders.

What was the research about?
Using data from the Helsinki Heart Study, a large-scale study that investigated whether certain drugs could prevent coronary heart disease, the researchers examined the data from 3,079 participants. The participants consisted of middle-aged men employed by two state agencies and five industrial companies. The researchers looked at the responses of participants on questionnaires measuring job demands, job decision latitude, and symptoms of sleep disorders. Job demands represented how demanding people's jobs were, such as has how fast or hard they had to work. Job decision latitude represented how much input they had about their job, such as whether they had the freedom to decide how to do their job or what was done on their job.
The researchers found that higher job demands and less decision latitude were related to experiencing more symptoms of sleep disorders. People who had demanding jobs about which they had little input tended to have the most problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and remaining alert during waking hours.

Why should it matter to me?
People who have sleep-related problems may want to consider whether their job is a factor. They may sleep better if they find a job that is less stressful or find a way to reduce the stress they experience while working (i.e., using stress management skills or somehow reducing job demands or increasing decision latitude).
Source: Kalimo, R., Tenkanen, L., Härmä, M., Poppius, E., & Heinsalmi, P. (2000). Job stress and sleep disorders: Findings from the Helsinki Heart Study. Stress Medicine, 16, 65-75.

Thursday, March 7, 2019


Most people are familiar with the term workaholic. What exactly is a workaholic, though? More importantly, is workaholism something people should strive for or try to avoid?
Regarding a definition of workaholism, the first and best definition of workaholism proposed by researchers identifies three types of workaholics: workaholics, work enthusiasts, and enthusiastic workaholics. Workaholics are very involved and strongly driven but do not enjoy their work very much. Work enthusiasts are very involved and enjoy their work very much but lack drive. Enthusiastic workaholics are very involved, strongly driven, and really enjoy their work.
Unfortunately, very little research has been done to find out the extent to which workaholism involves stress and other problems. Despite the lack of evidence, researchers have strong opinions on the subject. Some argue that workaholism is beneficial for the individual and the organization. Others argue that workaholism is damaging to the individual and the organization, likening it to other addictions, such as alcoholism. A researcher at York University in Canada recently reported the findings from a study aimed at clarifying this issue.

What was the research about?
The study examined the association between the different types of workaholism and well-being. Five hundred and thirty people responded to a set of questionnaires sent by mail. The participants had MBA degrees from a Canadian university and were employed full-time. Responses on the questionnaires were used to determine workaholism types and well-being.
The results demonstrated that different types of workaholism were related to well-being in different ways, which may help explain some of the inconsistencies in the other research. Compared to work enthusiasts and enthusiastic workaholics, workaholics tended to suffer more from negative bodily symptoms (e.g., headache), to engage less in healthy behaviors (e.g., exercise), and to be worse off emotionally.

Why should it matter to me?
People who have a great deal of involvement in their work may want to figure out what type workaholism they have, if any. People who fall into the workaholic category may find their job less stressful and feel better overall if they find a way to make their job more enjoyable and possibly also find a way to avoid being excessively driven to work.
Source: Burke, R. J. (2000). Workaholism in organizations: Psychological and physical well-being consequences. Stress Medicine, 16, 11-16.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Trying To Quit Smoking?

Stress is related to cessation success for pregnant women

Many people are aware of the adverse health consequences associated with smoking and are trying to quit. The consequences of smoking get worse when a woman becomes pregnant. She is not only putting herself in danger but also her unborn child. Consequently, it is especially important to understand what influences the chances of cessation success for pregnant women. Researchers at the Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, the University of Washington, and the University of Minnesota recently took on the challenge.

What was the research about?
Eight hundred and nineteen pregnant smokers in two large cities participated in a smoking cessation study. They were randomly assigned to one of three types of programs designed to help them quit smoking, and they were surveyed at multiple times before, during, and after pregnancy. Among other things, information was gathered on smoking behavior and stress.
The findings showed that smoking cessation was related to low levels of stress in early but not late pregnancy. In other words, less stress only was related to being able to quit smoking early on during pregnancy, not later on during pregnancy. Thus, it is possible that reducing stress early in pregnancy may make it easier to quit smoking. It is also possible, however, that quitting smoking early in pregnancy serves as a stress reducer.

Why should it matter to me?
Women who smoke and who have not been pregnant for too long may find that stress reduction can help them quit smoking. Alternatively, quitting smoking early on during pregnancy may help women reduce the stress in their lives.
Source: Ludman, E. J., McBride, C. M., Nelson, J. C., Curry, S. J., Grothaus, L. C., Lando, H. A., & Pirie, P. L. (2000). Stress, depressive symptoms, and smoking cessation among pregnant women. Health Psychology, 19,21-27.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Cancer-Related Stress
Why unsupportive spouses promote stress in cancer patients
The relationships between cancer patients and their spouses are important. They play an important role in determining how well cancer patients adjust to the disease. When the spouse of a cancer patient engages in unsupportive behaviors, the patient experiences increased stress. Researchers at the Fox Chase Cancer Center and Research Analysis and Consultation recently reported the findings from a study aimed at finding out why.
What was the research about?
The participants in the study were 191 married cancer patients. They responded to questionnaires measuring the extent to which they perceived negative spousal behaviors, felt in control over their emotions and the course of the disease, used an avoidant style of coping (i.e., trying not to think about it and trying to avoid reminders of it), felt able to cope, and experienced stress.
The results showed that the using an avoidant style of coping and feeling unable to cope were two reasons why unsupportive spouses promoted stress in cancer patients.
Why should it matter to me?
First, people who are married to someone with cancer should try to be supportive. Second, cancer patients with unsupportive spouses should not use avoidant coping styles and should try to be more confident in their ability to cope. One option, for example, would be to learn more effective coping styles that they can be more confident in, such as finding social support from other sources like other family members, close friends, and support groups.
Source: Manne, S., & Glassman, M. (2000). Perceived control, coping efficacy, and avoidance coping as mediators between spouses' unsupportive behaviors and cancer patients' psychological distress. Health Psychology, 29, 155-164.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Exercise and Meditation Influences on the Immune System

Both meditation and exercise are useful ways to get stress under control. They also seem to have an effect on the immune system. In a recent attempt to tie these issues together, researchers in Norway investigated the effects of long-term meditation on the immune system before, during, and after exercise.
What was the research about?
Twenty runners in a half-marathon race participated in the study. One group in the study consisted of 10 runners who had practiced mediation for a long time. The other group in the study consisted of 10 runners who did not practice meditation. Blood samples were taken from the participants before, immediately after, and 2 hours after the race to determine the number of immune cells in the blood stream.
The results showed that certain types of immune cells were much higher after the race, regardless of whether participants practiced long-term mediation.
Why should it matter to me?
Exercise can help people avoid getting sick by boosting the immune system. Moreover, using relaxation techniques like meditation do not interfere with this exercise-related benefit.
Source: Solberg, E. E., Halvorsen, R., & Holen, A. (2000). Effect of mediation on immune cells. Stress Medicine, 16, 185-190.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Marijuana Use and Depression
Although marijuana is illegal in the US, some people still use it. Among those who do, some use it to try to cope with stress and others just use it for the "high." Besides the legal consequences of being caught with the drug, some studies have found evidence suggesting that marijuana use may be associated with depression. Other studies have contradicted these findings, suggesting that marijuana is not related to depression. So, is marijuana use related to depressions, and if so, does it matter why a person uses the drug? A recent study by researchers from The Ohio State University and Kent State University provided some answers to these questions.
What was the research about?
The data for the study came from the 1985 portion of the Young Men and Drugs Survey, which involved face-to-face interviews with thousands of men over several years. The men who participated in the survey were a good representation of 30- to 40-year-old men in the general US population during 1985. The participants were asked questions about marijuana use, educational attainment, employment and marital status, other drug use, and depression.
The results showed that marijuana use, stress, and depression were related in a complex way. In general, men who had used marijuana at some point in their lives, spent fewer years in school, were less likely to be married or have jobs, and used other drugs (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, other illegal drugs) more, which accounted for why they became more depressed than did those who had not ever used marijuana. The frequency of current marijuana use, however, was not related to depression for everyone. Increased frequency of current marijuana use was associated with more depression only for those who used it as a way to try to cope with stress. For those who did not use marijuana as a way to try to cope with stress, increased frequency of current marijuana use was actually associated with less depression. Due to the nature of the study, however, it is unclear whether marijuana can actually cause depression for some people or whether the two just tend to seem related for other reasons.
Why should it matter to me?
People who are depressed probably should not try to use marijuana to cope with their problems because it might actually make things worse. Even though marijuana use may actually lead to less depression for those who do not try to use it as a way of coping, the negative legal consequences of being caught with the drug and the stress that most likely would follow are probably not worth risk.
Source: Green, B. E., & Ritter, C. (2000). Marijuana use and depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 40-49.