Coping Resources and Coping Methods

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Coping Resources and Coping Methods
Stress Mediators
unpredictable stressors tend to have more impact than those that are predictable
(Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Pham, Taylor, & Seeman, 2001)—especially when the stressors are intense and relatively brief. For example, people whose spouses died suddenly
tend to display more immediate disbelief, anxiety, and depression than those who had
weeks or months to prepare for the loss (Schulz et al., 2001; Swarte et al., 2003). However, predictability does not provide total protection against stressors. Research with
animals shows that predictable stressors can be even more damaging than unpredictable
ones if they occur over long periods of time (Abbott, Schoen, & Badia, 1984).
The perception of control also mediates the effects of stressors. If people feel they have
some control over stressors, those stressors usually have less impact (e.g. Johnson &
Krueger, 2005). For example, studies of several thousand employees in the United
States, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have found that those who felt they had little or no control over their work environment were more likely to suffer heart disease
and other health problems than workers with a high degree of perceived control over
their work environment (Bosma et al., 1997; Cheng et al., 2000; Spector, 2002). And at
many hospitals, it is now standard procedure to help patients to manage or control the
stress of emergency treatment or the side effects of surgery, because doing so helps people to heal faster and go home sooner (Broadbent et al., 2003; Chamberlin, 2000;
Gordon et al., 2005; Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1998).
Simply believing that a stressor is controllable, even if it isn’t, can also reduce its
impact. This effect was demonstrated in a study in which participants with panic disorder inhaled a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide that typically causes a panic
attack (Sanderson, Rapee, & Barlow, 1989). Half the participants were led to believe
(falsely) that they could control the concentration of the mixture. Compared with those
who believed that they had no control, significantly fewer of the “in-control” participants experienced full-blown panic attacks during the session, and their panic symptoms were fewer and less severe.
People who feel they have no control over negative events appear especially prone
to physical and psychological problems. They often experience feelings of helplessness
and hopelessness that, in turn, may promote depression or other mental disorders
(Sarin, Abela, & Auerbach, 2005; Taylor & Aspinwall, 1996).
Coping Resources and Coping Methods
People usually suffer fewer ill effects from a stressor if they have adequate coping
resources and effective coping methods. Coping resources include, among other things,
the money and time to deal with stressful events. For example, the physical and psychological responses you experience if your car breaks down tend to be more negative
if you are broke and pressed for time than if you have the money for repairs and the
freedom to take a day off from work.
The impact of stressors can also be reduced by effective coping methods (Benight
et al., 1999; Cote & Pepler, 2002; Poczwardowski & Conroy, 2002). Most of these methods can be classified as either problem focused or emotion focused. Problem-focused
coping methods involve efforts to change or eliminate a source of stress, whereas
emotion-focused techniques attempt to control the negative emotional consequences of
stressors (Folkman et al., 1986). Some people use both kinds of coping. For example,
you might deal with the problem of noise from a nearby factory by forming a community action group to push for tougher noise-reduction laws and, at the same time,
calm your anger when noise occurs by mentally focusing on the group’s efforts to
improve the situation (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2000; Hatfield et al., 2002). Susan
Folkman and Richard Lazarus (1988) devised a widely used questionnaire to assess the
specific ways in which people cope with stressors; Table 10.3 shows some examples from
their questionnaire.
Particularly when a stressor is difficult to control, it is sometimes helpful to fully
express and think about the emotions you are experiencing in relation to the stressful
event (Low, Stanton, & Danoff-Burg, 2006; Niederhoffer & Pennebaker, 2002). The benefits of this coping strategy have been observed in many individuals whose religious
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