In last’s readings, we learned about how people may unfortunately cope with stress by abusing substances (e.g., alcohol, illicit drugs). This week, we learn about “good” coping/stress management strategies people can use to reduce physical and psychological stressors. Personally, I love to dance salsa and use that as an outlet whenever I feel overwhelmed with work, research, or just life in general. When I dance it’s both active exercising, but also an environment where everyone is smiling, laughing, and having a good time. I would definitely recommend people to take salsa classes to reduce stress. At first the classes may seem stressful, especially if you are new to salsa, but the atmosphere is amazing and full of supportive and caring people. That being said there are classes every week in Allston and Cambridge at Salsa y Control studios – just in case you’re looking for a new outlet to reduce stress.
Although the readings didn’t use salsa dancing as an example of stress management, Sapolsky (2004) emphasized the value of exercising and meditation. For example, exercising and meditation can decrease the risk of various metabolic and cardiovascular diseases by decreasing glucocorticoid levels and your sympathetic tone (Sapolsky, 2004). Additionally, it makes you feel good by causing a secretion of beta-endorphins. However, it is important to recognize that using exercise as a stress management tool is only beneficial if it’s something you want to do. If it’s forced, then your health can worsen. Haaren et al. (2015) described how active people may be protected against stress-induced rumination. More importantly, their research found that a 20-week aerobic training course (intervention condition) lowered negative affect (compared to the control group), reduced emotional stress reactivity (compared to their baseline), and may buffer stress-induced health risks (Haaren et al., 2015).
When people meditate or take aerobic courses, an important element of these activities are being mindful. Mindfulness is typically defined as paying attention on purpose to the present moment non-judgmentally (Alsubaie et al., 2017). In mindfulness types of therapy, there are three components researchers typically focus on: control, intention of attentional control, and attitudes that are being trained. For the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) researchers found that participants had reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue in some physical conditions; however, much of these findings had small to medium effect sizes (Alsubaie et al., 2017). Unfortunately, there has been less attention given on why there are small effect sizes and what mechanisms might change through MBCT when comparing physical and psychological stressors. In an extensive literature review, Alsubaie et al. (2017) found that potential mediators of MBCT were mindfulness and decentering – which mediated the effects of perceived stress, post-traumatic avoidance and anxiety disorders. This was shown to be mediators for both physical and psychological conditions; however, some of these findings were inconsistent in the literature review.
On the other hand, looking at the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) – which we briefly reviewed in last week’s readings, participants typically report having more effective stress management compared to when not using this treatment model (Evers et al., 2006). In a nationally representative study, researchers showed that participants with a history of stress related symptoms (e.g., problems sleeping) and not practicing effective stress management, ended up feeling less stressed, depressed, and were more likely to be in the action and maintenance phases compared to control groups (Evers et al., 2006). This is important because it shows how treatment applied stress-management techniques can produce significant findings (e.g., reduced perceived stress).
Overall, it’s important to understand that not every stress-management treatment/intervention will work for your situation. If you don’t like the gym, then forcing yourself to go when you’re stressed may not be the best solution. More importantly, it starts how much effort you’re willing to put into a stress management system as well as how much support you have around you. That being said, I’m curious on what kind of outlets and management systems people have to deal with their weekly stressors?