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.”
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
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