Conditions of psychosis, like schizophrenia, have positive and negative symptoms, with regard to general affect or demeanor. The positive symptoms of psychosis include mania, hallucinations, delusions, and agitation. The negative symptoms include depression, blunted emotional reactivity, and general negative affect.
Research on psychosis has shown that symptoms can affect how an individual reacts to stressful situations, even mild stressors. Everyday life is filled with events that may not elicit stressful responses in most, but for those with psychosis, these same events can be highly stressful and lead to exacerbation of psychotic symptoms.
Dr. Tineke Lataster of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at South Limburg Mental Health Research and Teaching Network at Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands wanted to see how positive and negative symptoms affected stress reactivity in people with psychosis. To explore this issue, Lataster used the Comprehensive Assessment of Symptoms and History and the PANSS — Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale — to evaluate the relationship between symptoms and stress reactivity in a sample of participants with psychosis.
Lataster found that those with high levels of positive symptoms had more reactivity to daily stressors than those with negative symptoms. Hallucinations, paranoia, and excitability led to more sensitive and extreme reactions to stressors. Lataster believes that perhaps the heightened arousal to stressful events caused feelings of threat and fear, which led to more intense experiences of psychosis.
Negative symptoms of depression and low affect resulted in a more muted and dampened stress reaction. In other words, people with negative symptoms were not as emotionally aroused when confronted with stressors as those with positive symptoms. These findings suggest that heightened sensitivity to stress reactions could indicate which individuals are most vulnerable to positive psychotic symptoms.
Although these findings have to be replicated before they are applied in clinical and therapeutic settings. “However,” added Lataster, “If stress reactivity can truly be considered a specific area of vulnerability, it may be useful to tailor treatment aimed at reducing reactivity to stress in daily life.”
Lataster, T., et al. (2013). Increased stress reactivity: A mechanism specifically associated with the positive symptoms of psychotic disorder. Psychological Medicine 43.7 (2013): 1389-400. ProQuest. Web.
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