People tend to choose from a variety of internal coping strategies to mentally prepare for different arguments and other stressors, according to researchers from North Carolina State University. And the coping strategies people choose can affect them the following day.
“The findings tell us that one person may use multiple coping mechanisms over time — something that’s pretty exciting since we didn’t know this before,” says lead author Dr. Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State.
“But we also learned that what you do on Monday really makes a difference for how you feel on Tuesday.”
“And these are behaviors that can be taught,” Neupert adds. “The more we understand what’s really going on, the better we’ll be able to help people deal effectively with the stressors that come up in their lives.”
The pilot study involved 43 older adults, ages 60-96, and is the first to track the day-to-day coping behaviors people use just before a stressful event.
Participants were given a daily questionnaire for eight consecutive days in which they reported their activities and feelings, including whether anything stressful had happened that day. They were also asked to predict whether they expected there to be a stressful event the following day, and how they were preparing for it.
“The reporting was done using very specific questions with clearly defined metrics, such as ranking how stressed they felt on a scale of one to five,” Neupert explains.
Certain coping behaviors, particularly outcome fantasy (wishing the problem would solve itself) and stagnant deliberation (when someone tries, unsuccessfully, to solve a problem), were associated with people being in worse moods and reporting more physical health problems the following day.
However, stagnant deliberation was associated with one positive outcome: when used the day before an argument, it was correlated with fewer memory failures after the argument.
The researchers also looked at plan rehearsal (mentally envisioning the steps needed to solve the potential problem) and problem analysis (actively thinking about the source and meaning of a future problem) as anticipatory coping strategies.
They found that the use of these strategies changed from day to day, but the changes in these particular strategies were not related to well-being the next day. They also showed no connection to how people responded to arguments the next day.
“This was a pilot study, so we don’t want to get carried away,” Neupert says. “But these findings are very intriguing. They raise a lot of questions, and we’re hoping to follow up with a much larger study.”
The study, entitled “Solving Tomorrow’s Problems Today? Daily Anticipatory Coping and Reactivity to Daily Stressors,” is published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.
Source: North Carolina State University