A new U.K. study finds that strong coping skills may be key to keeping anxiety levels low during stressful situations.
The findings show that among women with poor coping skills, those living in a deprived area are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety compared to those living in more affluent communities. On the other hand, living in a deprived or affluent community makes very little difference to the levels of anxiety experienced by women with strong coping skills.
The study is the largest ever conducted on how coping skills might impact anxiety levels in women in adverse circumstances. The findings, recently presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Conference in Paris, suggest that teaching women coping strategies may be a way to help them overcome the anxiety stemming from adverse circumstances, such as living in deprivation.
“Individuals with this sense of coherence, with good coping skills, view life as comprehensible and meaningful,” said lead researcher Olivia Remes, doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in England.
“In other words, they feel they can manage their life, and that they are in control of their life, they believe challenges encountered in life are worthy of investment and effort; and they believe that life has meaning and purpose. These are skills which can be taught.”
The University of Cambridge researchers surveyed 10,000 women over the age of 40 who were participating in a major cancer study in Norfolk, U.K.. The women completed health and lifestyle questionnaires on their living conditions, history of physical health, and mental health problems. The researchers then linked this information to 1991 census data to determine if the women were living in a deprived community.
They also measured each person’s sense of coherence using a questionnaire developed from Aaron Antonovsky’s research on how people find meaning and purpose in life. They found that 261 (2.6 percent) of the 10,000 women had generalized anxiety disorder.
Among women without coping skills, those living in a deprived area were about two times (98 percent) more likely to have anxiety than those living in more affluent communities. On the other hand, living in a deprived or affluent community made very little difference to the levels of anxiety experienced by women if they had good coping skills.
“In general, people with good coping skills tend to have a higher quality of life and lower mortality rates than people without such coping skills,” said Remes.
“Good coping can be an important life resource for preserving health. For the first time, we show that good coping skills can buffer the negative impact of deprivation on mental health, such as having generalized anxiety disorder. And importantly, these skills, such as feeling like you’re in control of your life and finding purpose in life, can be taught.”
Many people live in deprivation, and a significant portion of these have generalized anxiety disorder. For the first time, the researchers have shown that coping skills can significantly impact levels of anxiety.
“Many people with anxiety are prescribed medication-and while it is useful in the short-term-it is less effective in the long run, is costly, and can come with side effects. Researchers are therefore now turning to coping mechanisms as a way to lower anxiety. This is particularly important for those people who do not experience any improvement in their anxiety symptoms following commonly-prescribed therapies,” said Remes.