09:24pm Monday 14 October 2019

Better to deal with problems than avoid them

Stress has been linked to depression, anxiety, heart disease and other physical and psychological health issues, including a compromised immune function. Some people seem to deal with pressure better than others, UC psychology researcher Dr Lehan Stemmet says. 

“Coping strategies play an important role in the stress response. My study assessed a number of coping strategies in a New Zealand sample of working adults as part of a project that involved almost 1500 research participants from across the world.

“Avoidance coping is an attempt to deal with stress by ignoring it, distorting it, staying away from it and escaping it, be it physical or emotional.

“In some instances, avoidance coping may be beneficial during or after an event like an earthquake but it is maladaptive when it is the only coping response to all issues. People often avoid dealing with issues from the past because they do not want to stir up memories or emotions. 

“Maladaptive avoidance often limits a repertoire of coping responses and opportunities for personal growth such as learning from the experience, seeking help, becoming more resilient and getting on with life and living.

“Women report higher use of general, emotional and conflict avoidance coping strategies than men. The findings for the New Zealand study showed a link between avoidance coping and reporting higher levels of depression, anxiety and physical symptoms associated with psychological distress such as trouble sleeping, shortness of breath, chest pains, stomach upsets, infections, dizziness and loss of appetite.

“A laboratory study involving another sample from New Zealand suggested that people who use more avoidance coping strategies to deal with conflict exhibited more cardiovascular (heart rate and blood pressure) reactivity compared to low avoiders.

“High avoiders also said they would feel more stressed if in a conflict situation compared to low conflict avoiders. This could mean that people who tend to avoid conflict may anticipate the conflict to be worse than it actually is and, therefore, avoid it rather than deal with it in a constructive manner. This could lead to unresolved personal or work issues, which could lead to other consequences.

“My research shows avoidance coping may be beneficial but is considered maladaptive when it is the only coping response people use. Maladaptive avoidance is linked to negative psychological and physical health in the longer term,” Dr Stemmet says.  

For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168

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