Study Explores Effects of How People Think about Stress

woman with neck tensionIf you’ve ever tossed and turned in bed endlessly worrying about money, your career, or your relationship, you know that anticipation of stress can be just as bad as the stress itself. Life is challenging, and there’s no surefire method for avoiding stress, though a new study offers hope to people who want better coping options. The small study, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, argues that how you manage stress before it happens can improve the way you feel when stressful events occur.

How You Think about Stress Matters

Researchers worked with 43 seniors ranging in age from 60 to 96. The participants, who were mostly women, completed a diary every day for nine days. Researchers used the logs to track participants’ mood, health, and the stress they anticipated in the near future. Researchers also posed questions designed to elicit responses about how participants thought about stress. For instance, researchers might ask participants whether they believed they would have an argument with someone within the next day. After answering these questions, researchers asked participants to share how they might cope with such stress.

The study’s authors then divided the participants’ stress management strategies into four categories. These included analyzing the problem, rehearsing a plan for dealing with the problem, stagnantly dwelling on the problem without devising a plan, and fantasizing that the problem would go away or fix itself. They found that people didn’t rely on a single coping strategy. Rather, participants’ coping strategies depended on context. A woman who avoided problems at work might actively devise plans for dealing with financial challenges.

Some strategies were more effective than others. Participants who fantasized about the problem going away or who stagnantly deliberated were more likely to report health challenges or a bad mood the following day. Analyzing the problem and rehearsing a plan had no negative results.

The study was small, so its results would need to be replicated with a larger and more diverse sample. The researchers believe that their results suggest that some problem-solving strategies result in more stress than others, so if you want to reduce your stress, planning a strategy is likely better than wallowing.

Reference:

Brace yourself: Study finds people can use different strategies to prepare for stress. (2015, February 18). Retrieved from https://news.ncsu.edu/2015/02/neupert-coping-2015/

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  • Carolyn

    Carolyn

    February 28th, 2015 at 12:27 PM

    So there is this fine line between analyzing and making a plan and worrying too much about it. I think that you have to know yourself and know where to draw that line.

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