Your downtime may be doing you no good unless you follow this tip.
Attempts to support others that are phrased in the wrong way can increase stress rather than decrease it.
Validating other people’s feelings is the best way to provide support when they are stressed, research finds.
For example, saying “I can understand why you are upset,” is a helpful response.
Implicit in this message is agreement with — and acceptance of — the person’s feelings.
Other examples of supportive messages that are effective include:
- “I’m sorry you are going through this. I’m worried about you and how you must be feeling right now.”
- “It’s understandable that you are stressed out since it’s something you really care about”
In contrast, saying “Just don’t think about it,” is not a helpful response because it denies the person’s feelings.
Saying this tends to minimise the other person’s emotions and can be experienced as critical.
Attempts to support others that are phrased in the wrong way can increase stress rather than decrease it, psychologists have found.
Ms Xi Tian, the study’s first author, explains:
“One recommendation is for people to avoid using language that conveys control or uses arguments without sound justification.
For example, instead of telling a distressed person how to feel, like ‘don’t take it so hard’ or ‘don’t think about it,’ you could encourage them to talk about their thoughts or feelings so that person can come to their own conclusions about how to change their feelings or behaviors.”
For the study, 478 married adults who had recently had an argument were recruited.
They then looked at a series of six potentially supportive messages and imagined how they would react to them.
The messages varied in how ‘person-centred’ they were.
In other words, some messages supported and validated their feelings, others did not.
For example, this is a message that does not validate a person’s feelings:
- “Nobody is worth getting so worked up about. Stop being so depressed.”
The results clearly showed that messages like this failed to improve marital distress.
Ms Tian expanded:
“In fact, those messages were perceived as dominating and lacking argument strength.
Those messages induced more resistance to social support, such that the participants reported feeling angry after receiving the message.
They also reported actually criticizing the message while reading it.”
In comparison, messages that centred on the person did make people feel better.
Professor Denise Solomon, study co-author, said:
“Another recommendation that can be taken from this research is that people may want to use moderately to highly person-centered messages when helping others cope with everyday stressors.”
The study was published in the Journal of Communication (Tian et al., 2020).
The personality trait strongly linked to stress and 11 ways to reduce the toxic emotion.
People who are higher in the personality trait of neuroticism are more susceptible to stress, a large review of the research finds.
Neuroticism is one of the five major aspects of personality — it runs on a continuum from very stable to very neurotic, with most people in the middle of the range.
People higher in neuroticism are at greater risk of depression as they have a stronger response to frustration, threat and loss.
The other four aspects of personality were all negatively related to stress.
In other words, people who are more agreeable, conscientious, extraverted and open to experience are less likely to have a ‘stressful personality’.
Dr Bo Zhang, the study’s first author, said:
“Stress is a significant mental and physical health issue that affects many people and many important domains of life, and some individuals are more likely to experience or perceive stress disproportionately or more intensely than others, which can then play a role in mental and physical health problems such as anxiety or depression.
We found that individuals high in neuroticism demonstrated a relationship with both stressor exposure and perceived stress that was stronger than the other four personality traits.”
The conclusions come from a review of around 300 separate studies on the link between stress and personality.
Neuroticism was the personality trait most strongly linked to stress, explained Dr Zhang:
“The other main personality factors have a link to stress, but it’s not as pronounced as in someone who’s neurotic.
With agreeableness and conscientiousness, for example, it is possible that agreeable people are less likely to encounter stressful situations such as interpersonal conflict because of the tendency to be caring, understanding and forgiving.
Similarly, conscientious people are less likely to experience stress because their good self-regulation abilities can protect them from the encounters of stressful experiences, as well as the negative psychological impacts of stressors.”
Neurotics, though, are more likely to find themselves in stressful situations, said Dr Zhang:
“Neuroticism and stress share common components, so individuals high in neuroticism are likely to play an instrumental role in generating stressors and reacting to a wide variety of events in negative ways, leading to an increased likelihood or chronicity of negative experiences.”
11 ways to reduce stress
Scientifically supported ways of reducing stress include:
- eating a diet higher in fruits and vegetables,
- seeking out ‘flow states’, as they help reduce the effects of stress,
- strolling in nature, which reduces activity in the amygdala, also try adding a little mindfulness to the walk,
- thinking about your romantic partner,
- hug someone,
- try mindfulness with hypnosis,
- petting a cat or dog,
- give yourself a foot massage,
- look at trees,
- and listen to birdsong,
The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review (Luo et al., 2022).
Deal with stress ahead of time but avoid two techniques that will put you in a worse mood.
While we can certainly ‘catch’ stress off those around us, there are some strange kinks in how it is transmitted.
What the latest psychology studies tell us about effective techniques for reducing stress.
The best way to deal with anxiety and stress is, of course, to identify the source and get rid of it.
If only this were possible.
You can try to avoid people who stress you out, say ‘no’ to things you know will cause you anxiety and stress, and generally do less stuff.
Unfortunately, this is often out of the question or you would have already done it.
Stress is with us and has to be coped with (although, stress is good for mental health — up to a point).
So, below are 8 psychology studies from the members-only section of PsyBlog that explain how research has found that stress can be reduced.
(If you are not already, find out how to become a PsyBlog member here.)
- This Simple Dietary Change Reduces Stress
- The Wonderful Mental State That Reduces Stress
- How Nature Heals The Brain Of Stress
- A Loving Way To Reduce Stress In A Crisis
- The Easiest Way To Reduce Stress
- Stress Can Be Reduced By Combining These 2 Therapies
- The Beautiful Sound That Reduces Anxiety, Paranoia And Depression
- Petting Cats Or Dogs Reduces Stress Hormone
→ Related: This Is The Most Stressful Personality Trait
“When we are afraid, when we are threatened in any way, our cortisol levels go up.”
Stress can literally shrink your brain, research suggests.
Middle-aged people with high levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol also perform worse on memory tests than those with average levels of the hormone.
Common approaches such as mindfulness, moderate exercise and better sleep can all help reduce stress.
Professor Sudha Seshadri, who led the study, said:
“In our quest to understand cognitive aging, one of the factors attracting significant interest and concern is the increasing stress of modern life.
One of the things we know in animals is that stress can lead to cognitive decline.
In this study, higher morning cortisol levels in a large sample of people were associated with worse brain structure and cognition.”
The study involved brain scans of 2,231 people who also had their cortisol levels tested.
Cortisol is a hormone that rises in the body with stress levels.
The tests revealed that those with higher levels of cortisol had smaller brain volumes and worse memory.
However, no one in the study had signs of dementia.
Dr Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui, the study’s lead author, said:
“Cortisol affects many different functions, so it is important to fully investigate how high levels of the hormone may affect the brain.
While other studies have examined cortisol and memory, we believe our large, community-based study is the first to explore, in middle-aged people, fasting blood cortisol levels and brain volume, as well as memory and thinking skills.”
Professor Seshadri said:
“The faster pace of life today probably means more stress, and when we are stressed, cortisol levels increase because that is our fight-or-flight response.
When we are afraid, when we are threatened in any way, our cortisol levels go up.
This study adds to the prevailing wisdom that it’s never too early to be mindful of reducing stress.”
The study was published in the journal Neurology (Echouffo-Tcheugui et al., 2018).
Head and neck pain and problems sleeping are common signs of this emotion.
Reducing stress can help people control their weight, a study finds.
Overweight mothers ate less fast-food and fewer high-fat snacks after taking a stress reduction course.
The course focused on how the stressed mothers could lead a more healthy lifestyle and not on lecturing them.
For example, they were shown how to recognise when they were stressed and to take a deep breath to cope with it.
Mothers watched videos that helped them with prioritising and time management.
Dr Mei-Wei Chang, the study’s first author, said:
“We used the women’s testimonies in the videos and showed their interactions with their families to raise awareness about stressors.
After watching the videos, a lot of intervention participants said, ‘This is the first time I’ve realized I am so stressed out’ — because they’ve lived a stressful life.
Many of these women are aware of feeling impatient, and having head and neck pain and trouble sleeping — but they don’t know those are signs of stress.”
The study included 338 overweight mothers on low incomes who all had children under 5-years-old.
Many were facing a number of difficulties, including poor living conditions, unstable relationships and financial problems.
Of the total, 212 participants were shown videos in which other women like them gave testimonials about food preparation, healthy eating, exercise and managing stress.
They also had access to an online support group.
The results showed that mothers who reduced their stress also decreased their consumption of high-fat foods.
Dr Chang said:
“It’s not that these women didn’t want to eat healthier.
If you don’t know how to manage stress, then when you are so stressed out, why would you care about what you eat?”
The tips mothers were given were very practical, such as using a chart to assign jobs to their children and rewarding kids for being well-behaved.
For stress management, mothers were encouraged not to blame themselves, but instead to think about how they could solve the problem.
Dr Chang said:
“I learned a lot from those women.
Everything needs to be practical and applicable to daily life — anytime, anywhere.”
Self-awareness of stress is important, said Dr Chang:
“We raised their awareness about stressors in their lives, and unfortunately a lot of these problems are not within their control.
So we teach them ways to control their negative emotions — remember that this is temporary, and you can get through it.
And give them confidence to look to the future.”
→ Read on: self-compassion is vital for stress reduction.
The study was published in the journal Nutrients (Chang et al., 2021).
The level of stress linked to greater activity in parts of the brain involved in working memory.
This age-group deal better with stressors and experience fewer of them.