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.