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.