Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Stress and the Familiarity of Support Providers

Social support is only helpful from people you know

Researchers at Bowling Green State University recently published a pair of studies that clarify one of the circumstances in which social support is helpful for people in stressful situations. Their studies emphasize the importance of the people providing social support. The people providing social support in their studies were not people who knew the participants. They were complete strangers. 

Unlike other research, in which social support was provided by people who the participants knew or had a reasonable opportunity to get acquainted with, the presence of the other person either did not provide any stress relief.

Participants in the studies were asked to prepare and deliver a speech that they were told would be videotaped and evaluated by experts. Depending on the condition, another person was also in the room with the participants to evaluate. In some conditions, the other person also provided social support. Across all the conditions in both studies, the presence of the other person did not change the participants' bodily stress reactions (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate) or self-reported level of stress.

Evidently, for social support to be a source of stress relief, the people providing the support need to be people who are familiar to the person experiencing stress. In these studies, if the support from the other person actually did provide any benefit, it was probably covered up by the additional stress prompted by the other person's role as an evaluator.

Source: Anthony, J. L., & O'Brien, W. H. (1999). An evaluation of the impact of social support manipulations on cardiovascular reactivity to laboratory stressors. Behavioral Medicine, 25, 78-87.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


Stressful psychological, social, and physiological consequences for African Americans

A team of researchers from Wayne State University, the National Institutes of Health, Morehouse College, and the University of Michigan recently developed a model of how perceived racism, the subjective experience of prejudice or discrimination, leads to various psychological, social, and physiological stress responses among African Americans. Although the model is unique in that it deals specifically with perceived racism of African Americans, it is based on a well-known model of stress and coping proposed by Lazarus and Folkman in 1984.

According to the model, actions by others can be perceived as racist, which can lead to psychological and physiological stress responses, and over time, to physical and mental health problems if attempts at coping are unsuccessful. Additionally, the model shows that a variety of factors can influence the extent to which actions by others are perceived as racist, such as skin tone, socioeconomic status (e.g., education, income), self-esteem, sense of control, and expression or suppression of anger.

The researches comment that the model could probably be expanded to represent other ethnic groups.

Source: Clark, R., Anderson, N. B., Clark, V. R., Williams, D R. (1999). Racism as a stressor for African Americans: A biopsychosocial model. American Psychologist, 54, 805-816.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Smoking Causes Stress

People who smoke cigarettes often report that it helps them relax and alleviate their feelings of stress. Andy Parrott, a psychologist at the University of East London, has recently argued that, although smokers probably do not realize it, cigarette smoking actually causes stress.

A review of the research on cigarette smoking and stress is consistent with this assertion. Smokers on average have higher levels of stress than do nonsmokers. As adolescent smokers develop regular patterns of smoking, they experience more and more stress. When people quit smoking, the experience reduced levels of stress.

Parrott recently proposed a model that is based on the idea of nicotine dependency as a cause of stress. According to the model, most smokers are psychologically and physiologically dependent on nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco, and become tense and irritable when they do not have enough nicotine in their system. Consequently, cigarettes may seem like stress relievers because they provide the nicotine that smokers need to feel normal.

Source: Parrott, A. C. (1999). Does cigarette smoking cause stress? American Psychologist, 54, 817-820.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Stressful Marital Interactions

The role of hostility in cardiovascular stress responses

Researchers at the University of Utah recently investigated whether people who tend to be hostile react to stressful marital interactions with a greater increase in cardiovascular stress responses than do people who do not tend to be hostile. Cardiovascular stress responses include heart rate and blood pressure.

In the study, sixty couples participated in discussions in which they either agreed or disagreed with each other while facing either low or high evaluative threat. Under low evaluative threat, they were told that their discussions would be recorded but just to check the clarity and volume of their speech. Under conditions of high evaluative threat, they were told that their discussions would be recorded to determine the level of verbal intelligence evident in their discussions.

When evaluative threat was high, hostility was associated with higher systolic blood pressure in husbands. For wives, however, hostility was not related to cardiovascular stress responses. Although, when wives disagreed with their hostile husbands, they responded with increases in heart rate.

The researchers suggest that hostility may make a difference for husbands but not for wives because of efforts by husbands to assert dominance in marital interactions.

Source: Smith, T. W., & Gallo, L. C. (1999). Hostility and cardiovascular reactivity during marital interaction. P

Monday, November 18, 2019

Stress and Smoking Among Adolescents

Among adults, it is well known that stress is related to smoking. Unfortunately, very little attention has been given to the relation between stress and smoking among adolescents. In an attempt to address this shortcoming, researchers at The Australian National University recently reported their findings from a study that examined the relations between stress, smoking, and the use of alcohol and other drugs among adolescents. The participants in the study were in the 10th or 11th grade, years in which many adolescents go through a potentially stressful transition from high school to college or the job market. The goals of the study were (a) to look at the association between stress and smoking among adolescents, (b) to look at the role of specific sources of adolescent stress, and (c) to see whether stress is related not only to smoking but also to the use of alcohol and other drugs.

Overall, they found that some sources of stress among adolescents relate to both smoking and other substances. The associations between stress and smoking were generally stronger than they were between stress and other substances, and these associations involved a greater number of the individual sources of stress for girls than they did for boys. One source of stress in particular, school attendance, clearly differentiated boys and girls in terms of smoking. School attendance represented compulsory school attendance, boredom at school, excessive hours in school, insufficient time for leisure, discipline, and enforced concentration. Additionally, the association between stress and smoking was stronger than the association between stress and other substances.

Although smoking is stimulating biologically, it seemed somehow to serve as a stress reliever. The researchers offer two explanations for why this apparent paradox may occur among adolescents. First, smoking may allow adolescents to briefly distract themselves and shift their attention away from sources of their stress. Second, being known as a "smoker" by peers may improve how adolescents see themselves by making them feel more "grown-up."

Source: Byrne, D. G., Mazanov, J. (1999). Sources of adolescent stress, smoking and the use of other drugs. Stress Medicine, 15, 215-227.

Monday, November 11, 2019


Lowering stress-related high blood pressure though self-hypnosis

For many people, essential hypertension is an unfortunate consequence of leading a stressful life. Essential hypertension refers to high blood pressure that is not caused by any medical problem but instead caused by something else, such as stress from the way in which people live their lives. 

The standard treatment for essential hypertension usually involves some type of drugs, which sometimes involve unpleasant side effects and typically need to be taken indefinitely. A team of researchers from a variety of backgrounds recently published findings from a preliminary study on the effectiveness of self-hypnosis for treating essential hypertension.

Twenty-three inpatients at a veteran's hospital volunteered to participate in the study. They had all been recently diagnosed with essential hypertension. The participants were divided into three groups: the treatment group, the attention-only group, and the control group. The participants in the treatment group were taught how to hypnotize themselves across several sessions and were instructed to practice the technique at home twice a day. The participants in the attention-only group were just asked to try to relax as much as they could during several sessions at home twice a day. The participants in the control group just had their blood pressure taken.

Based on the results of the present study, the use of self-hypnosis to treat essential hypertension seems promising. The participants who practiced self-hypnosis tended to have lower blood pressure than did those who did not. Although the present study did not involve many participants and should be repeated with a larger number of participants to corroborate the findings, it appears as though self-hypnosis could prove to be a worthwhile supplement to drug-based treatments of essential hypertension.

Source: Raskin, R., Raps, C., Luskin, F., Carlson, R., & Cristal, R. (1999). Pilot study of the effect of self-hypnosis on the medical management of essential hypertension.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Innovation and Occupational Stress

Innovation is often an important element of a successful work environment. Without new ideas, new products and services, and new ways of doing things, most businesses would probably not stay in business too long. Research has shown that innovation is associated with factors like goal clarity, feedback, and communication. Stress, however, has been somewhat neglected in most research on innovation in the workplace. Fortunately, researchers in Finland recently published the findings from a study in which they investigated whether occupational stress is associated with innovation.

The researchers in the present study surveyed 1,767 employees from health care organizations and the metal and retail industries. The results showed that increases in stress are associated with decreases in innovation. Furthermore, stress was distinguishable from the other factors related to innovation and it influenced the relations between innovation and the other factors related to innovation.

Although the present study was not designed to determine whether occupational stress influences innovation in the workplace or visa versa, it nonetheless demonstrates that the two are related. Evidently, an innovative work environment is not a high-stress work environment.

Source: Länsisalmi, H., & Kivimäki, M. (1999). Factors associated with innovative climate: What is the role of stress? Stress Medicine, 15, 203-213.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Psycho-social Resources

Why do stressors sometimes lead to depressive symptoms?

Sometimes stressors, such as deadlines at work and screaming children, leave people feeling and behaving depressed. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Stanford University recently investigated what is responsible for the connection between stressors and depressive symptoms. In particular, they focused on the role of psycho-social resources, which refers to personal and social influences on people's ability to cope with stressors. Personal characteristics that tend to help people cope with stressors include being calm and easygoing and having a sense of control. 

Emotional support, guidance, and assistance from family members and friends are examples of social factors that help people cope with stressors.

Unlike most other studies on this issue, the study conducted by the present researchers involved a long-term approach. A sample of 326 adults was followed over a period of 10 years. In other studies, researchers typically had looked at people of different ages and made inferences about the impact of changes in the amount of psycho-social resources over time.

The results demonstrate that changes in the amount of psycho-social resources that people have are completely responsible for the depressive symptoms that they sometimes experience following stressors. In other words, whether stressors lead to depressive symptoms depends entirely on the amount of psycho-social resources that people have. These findings highlight the importance of developing and maintaining psycho-social resources for successful stress prevention.

Source: Holahan, C. J., Moos, R. H., Holahan, C. K., & Cronkite, R. C. (1999). Resource loss, resource gain, and depressive symptoms: A 10-year model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 620-629.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Visualizing Stress

Mental Simulation can facilitate coping responses to stress

Several studies have demonstrated that putting stressful events into words, by talking about them or writing about them, can help people deal with them and can lead to better health and well-being. 

Building upon these findings, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently explored the role of mental simulation. They predicted that visualizing a stressful event and the emotions surrounding it (i.e., mental simulation) would result in an increase in the use of both problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies. Problem-focused coping involves confronting stressful events directly, and emotion-focused coping involves regulating the emotions aroused by stressful events.

The participants in this study identified an ongoing stressful event in their lives and completed a variety of questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study. Compared to participants in other groups in the study, the participants who visualized a stressful event and the emotions surrounding it were happier and used more problem- and emotion-focused coping.

The benefits of mental simulation appear to be limited, however, to ongoing stressful events that people have some control over and traumatic events that take place in the past.

Source: Rivkin, I. D., & Taylor, S. E. (1999). The effects of mental simulation on coping with controllable stressful events. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1451-1462.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Personality and Daily Stress

The relation between personality and the day-to-day experience of stress is not well understood. In an attempt to shed some light on this issue, researchers at the University of Delaware and the University of Connecticut Health Center conducted a study to investigate the role of neuroticism, a personality trait, in daily stress. Neuroticism is the general tendency to feel negatively. Based on research in which neuroticism was found to be associated with major life events, the researchers in this study expected to find a corresponding association between neuroticism and daily functioning.

A total of 197 participants completed questionnaires at the end of each day over a period of 2 weeks. They also completed questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study. The questionnaires measured neuroticism, mood, stress, appraisal, and coping. The results showed that people who were high in neuroticism experienced more stressors in their interactions with others, perceived daily events more negatively, and made bad choices about which coping strategies to use.

This research helps explain why people who are high in neuroticism tend to feel so negatively. People who are high in neuroticism tend to experience more stress. It is unclear from this research, however, whether having higher levels of neuroticism causes people to experience more daily stress or whether more daily stress causes people to have higher levels of neuroticism.

Source: Gunthert, K. C., Cohen, L. H., & Armeli, S. (1999). The role of neuroticism in daily stress and coping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1087-1100.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Migraine and Tension-Type Headaches
Frustration and bright lights can lead to head pain

People often have quite a bit of difficulty trying to identify the causes of their headaches. When something happens before a person gets a headache, he or she does not know whether it was something that triggered the headache or whether the headache would have occurred anyway. One way to find out whether potential triggers really do cause headaches is to conduct an experiment. 
Negative affect and visual disturbances are two potential triggers that were recently examined in an experiment by researchers in Australia.

Negative affect is a term used to describe negative emotions or feelings, such as anxiety, anger, and depression. Visual disturbances refer to things like the flicker of lights, the glare from lights, and eyestrain.

The researchers in the present study recruited 75 participants of various ages who had a long history of frequent migraine or tension-type headaches. They also recruited 15 participants who did not to serve as a control group, so the results of participants with the aforementioned history of headaches could be compared to the results of participants without such a history. Across several sessions, the participants engaged in a number of activities, including trying to solve frustrating word puzzles (i.e., negative affect) and staring at something on a computer screen while bright flashing lights created glares on it (i.e., visual disturbances). While engaging in these tasks, physiological measurements were taken. They also completed some questionnaires. Additionally, between sessions, the participants kept a headache diary, in which they rated the intensity of any headaches they experienced 4 times per day.

The results of the study indicated that both negative affect and visual disturbances can trigger headaches, regardless of whether people tend to get migraine or tension-type headaches or whether they believe they are triggers for them. Visual disturbances also led to negative affect, however, so it was unclear form the findings whether visual disturbances actually can trigger headaches directly or must exert their influence indirectly through negative affect. The findings that were based on the diary information demonstrated that these two triggers had their strongest influence on the intensity of subsequent headaches 48 to 72 hours afterward.

Source: Martin, P. R., & Teoh, H.-J. (1999). Efffects of visual stimuli and a stressor on head pain. Headache, 39, 705-715.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Meditation and Relaxation Techniques

How do they reduce stress?

Most people have probably heard by now that meditation and various techniques aimed at relaxation can be helpful in times of stress. What most people probably don't know, however, is how exactly meditation and relaxation techniques can reduce stress and provide other related benefits. An associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, recently wrote an article reviewing the research that has been done so far on the topic.

One rather obvious function of meditation and relaxation techniques is to make people actually feel better emotionally, such as reducing feelings of anxiety and tension. These activities also have an influence on the body, more specifically, the nervous and immune systems.

Regarding the nervous system, people who practice mediation or relaxation techniques become more adaptive. The nerve cells of people who engage in these activities become less sensitive to cortisol, a hormone in the blood stream that usually makes nerve cells more likely to become activated at produce heightened physiological arousal. Furthermore, research shows that, although people who practice meditation and relaxation techniques have a greater reaction to stressful events at first, it takes less time for them to return to the way that they were before the stressful event had taken place.

In other words, they detect stressors better and dismiss them faster (if appropriate).
Regarding the immune system, meditation and relaxation techniques serve to improve the body's defenses against disease. For example, research has demonstrated that these activities can be helpful for caregivers, people with cancer, and people who are HIV-positive.

Source: Mills, P. J. (1999). Meditation. Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 6, 38-41.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Stress and Problem Solving

Why it is harder to solve problems when depressed?

When people are depressed and are faced with stressful problems in their lives, they sometimes fall prey to a pattern of thinking that is called dysphoric rumination. Dysphoric rumination involves thinking about how sad, lethargic, an unmotivated one feels but not doing anything about it or worrying about the problems that are making one depressed but not making any plans to fix the situation. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, recently presented the findings from a series of studies exploring the connection between dysphoric rumination and problem solving.

In each of three studies, participants took a pretest and were divided into groups, based on whether they were depressed or not. Then, either by looking over a list of words or reading a set of instructions, some participants were induced to ruminate and some were not. Afterwards, participants wrote about or worked through out loud several problems in their lives to assess the impact of dysphoric rumination on problem solving.

The research showed that dysphoric rumination leads to impairments in problem solving ability because people who think this way are less motivated to try to solve their problems. Interestingly, even though people who think this way believe that their problems are more unsolvable and more severe than they really are, they are not less confident in the solutions they come up with are not more pessimistic about how well their solutions would work if carried out. They are just less willing to try.

Source: Lyubomirsky, S., Tucker, K. L., Caldwell, N. D., & Berg, K. (1999). Why ruminators are poor problem solvers: Clues from the phenomenology of dysphoric rumination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1041-1060.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Gender Differences in Depression

Why are women more vulnerable than men are?

Over the years, studies have shown than a gender difference exists in the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms. For some reason, women tend to be more vulnerable to depressive symptoms than men are. In search of a reason why this occurs, researchers at the University of Michigan, in association with a collaborator with an independent practice in California, conducted a two-wave study of 1132 men and women from communities in California. The participants completed a variety of questionnaires during two in-home interviews that were one year apart.

They tested the idea that women are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms than men are because they are more likely to experience long-term strain in their lives, to feel like they have less control over their lives, and to rely on coping strategies that involve repetitive thoughts about the causes, meanings, and consequences of their stress in the absence of efforts to actively do anything about it. 

The findings from the study supported this idea. Additionally, these three tendencies in women tended to contribute to each other over time.

So what can be done to make women less likely to become depressed? One potential solution might be to help women achieve a greater sense of control over their lives. Another potential solution might be to encourage women to use coping strategies that emphasize problem solving. Of course, improving the unfair social circumstances that women are faced with (e.g., having to work full-time and take care of their children, unequal power and status in relationships with men) also would probably be a step in the right direction.

Source: Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Larson, J., & Grayson, C. (1999). Explaining the gender difference in depressive symptoms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1061-1072.