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.