Stressed Out? – Think About It and You Might Not Be

When a person is faced with a stressful situation that they believe is beyond their ability to handle, they perceive it as a threat or a challenge and they can become overwhelmed with stress-related symptoms, such as increased heart-rate, panic and anxiety. But according to a new study led by Jeremy P. Jamieson of Harvard University, taking time to think about your initial response to the stress may actually reduce the anxiety it causes. Rethinking, or reappraising, these responses, was the focus of the study that Jamieson and his colleagues conducted on 50 participants.

After the test subjects were evaluated for cardiovascular functioning, they were separated into either a control group or a reappraisal group. Both groups were exposed to a stressful situation, but only the reappraisal group was given instructions on how to re-think their original response to the stressful event. ” The reappraisal manipulation educated participants about the functionality of physiological arousal during stress. More specifically, participants assigned to this condition were informed that increased arousal during stressful situations is not harmful,” said Jamieson. “Instead, the instructions explained that our body’s responses to stress have evolved to help us successfully address stressors and that increased arousal actually aids performance in stressful situations.”

The study revealed that the participants who were instructed to “rethink” their original responses exhibited better cardiovascular performance and decreased threat perceived bias. “Thus, consistent with research on emotion regulation and CBT, interpretations of bodily signals affect how the body and mind respond to acute stress.” Jamieson added, “More specifically, like the reappraisal intervention used in this research, cognitive restructuring components of CBT are hypothesized to improve clinical outcomes by altering appraisals of bodily signals.” He noted the importance of the findings when he said, “Given that adaptive responses to acute stress improve our ability to cope with future stressors, health education programs might seek to educate students about the functionality of stress in an effort to break the link between physiological arousal and negative appraisals.”

Reference:
Jamieson, J. P., Nock, M. K., & Mendes, W. B. (2011, September 26). Mind Over Matter: Reappraising Arousal Improves Cardiovascular and Cognitive Responses to Stress. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025719

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • acre

    acre

    October 16th, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    thanks this good piece and for this AWESOME blog.

  • lynne crawford

    lynne crawford

    October 16th, 2011 at 10:00 PM

    What, is the application of the reappraisal method top secret? Why didn’t they share what the practical steps the reappraisal group actually took were? That would have been very helpful for those of us that are stressed out.

    I kept reading and reading thinking it would be shared at some point. That’s disappointing. Describing the roots of our stress response isn’t the same.

  • Sammy

    Sammy

    October 16th, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    The general advice in such a situation has been to stop thinking about the stressful event.Interesting to see the complete opposite suggested here. Well I would imagine it depends on too many things to have a universal rule. The nature of the stressful event,how big it is and the personality of the individual all come into play here.

  • Suzanne Prince

    Suzanne Prince

    October 16th, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    @lynne crawford- I don’t know what the clinical name would be for this method, but I use one and refer to it as “talking myself down”. It works well when I’m stressed and getting more and more anxious.

    I remind myself that I’ve been through this before and came out the other side just fine-and can do so again.

    I also focus on slowing my breathing and just sitting still for five minutes minimum.

  • Harriet Peacock

    Harriet Peacock

    October 16th, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    “Instead, the instructions explained that our body’s responses to stress have evolved to help us successfully address stressors and that increased arousal actually aids performance in stressful situations.”

    In other words, they explained the “fight or flight” response. That’s what all that flowery language boils down to, and that is common knowledge. They simply expanded upon that. Obviously their report wasn’t hitting the required word count.

    Teach us something new, why don’t you, Mr Researcher! Maybe you’ll deserve that funding then next time. What a waste of time and money.

  • geoff

    geoff

    October 17th, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    when something stresses me out I can’t think rationally.I will just do anything that will get rid of it and sometimes my actions are strange even to me when I look back upon it later on.

  • Sara B

    Sara B

    October 17th, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    It is one thing to be stressed out. But I have made a conscious decision that this is not going to rule and ruin my life! I have found that there are many ways for me to decrease my stress levels, but one thing that I read about on here that has really helped me was that I started exercising. You would not believe what a life changer this has been for me! I used to be so stressed out because of my job, but I took up taking a daily long walk after work, and while it may not solve all of my problems it at least gives me a peaceful time to think about them and actually work through some of them too. That is advice that I will always value.

  • Kelly U.

    Kelly U.

    October 18th, 2011 at 7:06 AM

    When you’re stressed, it often takes the fact that you are being pointed out to you by friends or family to prod you into taking action. I see no harm in being reminded that it’s a natural response and one you can deal with. Stopping and thinking about it makes perfect sense. You’re breaking the momentum.

  • Adrienne St. Claire

    Adrienne St. Claire

    October 18th, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    The first thing you need do if you are stressed is discard the non-essential tasks so you can free up some time to relax.

    The internet is full of these non-essentials. They come under the guise of social networking.

    You really don’t need to update your Facebook status every day or hour, nor reply to every Tweet by friends. Those chatty texts can go unanswered a little while.

    There’s no rush! That’s the problem today. Everyone’s rushing.

  • standobbs

    standobbs

    October 19th, 2011 at 1:11 PM

    @Adrienne: I’m old enough to remember the old IRC chat rooms. I long for the good old days when being social involved popping in to them for a couple of hours and having a laugh and shooting the breeze.

    I hate Facebook and the rest of them. Keeping up with them all is work, not fun, and socializing is supposed to be fun.

  • Valerie Hawthorn

    Valerie Hawthorn

    October 19th, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    @Adrienne–I agree! Social networking is very stressful. All that should I friend/unfriend them nonsense. It’s killing conversation too. When folks post status updates of what they are doing, where they are going, what they like and dislike, etc, there’s nothing left to talk about when you do see them or email!

    It’s so narcissistic to think anyone cares that you preferred your spinach wrap to yesterday’s bagel. Such chitchat bores me stiff. I don’t know why I don’t just close my account or stop reading them.

  • heaven

    heaven

    October 19th, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” Bertrand Russell said that.

    You could substitute the word “Tweet” or “Facebook status update” for “work” in that quote nowadays.

    What happened to pondering the big life questions? There will be no modern day philosophers around that will be going down in history ever again, that’s for sure. They are too busy with Farmville.

  • Spencer Ingram

    Spencer Ingram

    October 19th, 2011 at 7:10 PM

    Many stressors will float away if you take a hot bath, close your eyes and let your mind have the space to figure things out.

    That’s the worst about our multi-tasking, high speed lives. We don’t take the time out as much as we need to to actually just think because it feels so unproductive. We have to learn that not having a dozen balls in the air at once should be the norm and not the exception.

    That’s why so many ideas come to you in the shower. You’re doing little less but thinking.

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