Wednesday, July 31, 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.

Monday, July 22, 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.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Mediation 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.

Monday, July 8, 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.