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Chapter 4

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Department
Psychology
Course Code
Psychology 2035A/B
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Doug Hazlewood

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53 CHAPTER 4 COPING PROCESSES LEARNING OBJECTIVES The Concept of Coping (APA Goal 4) • Describe the variety of coping strategies that people use. • Discuss the role of flexibility in coping. Common Coping Patterns of Limited Value (APA Goals 1, 4) • Analyze the adaptive value of giving up as a response to stress. • Describe the adaptive value of aggression as a response to stress, including the research on media violence as catharsis. • Evaluate the adaptive value of indulging yourself as a response to stress. • Discuss the adaptive value of negative self-talk as a response to stress. • Explain how defense mechanisms work. • Evaluate the adaptive value of defense mechanisms, including recent work on healthy illusions. The Nature of Constructive Coping (APA Goal 4) • Describe the nature of constructive coping. • Distinguish among the three categories of constructive coping. Appraisal-Focused Constructive Coping (APA Goals 1, 4, 9) • Explain Ellis’s analysis of the causes of maladaptive emotions. • Identify some assumptions that contribute to catastrophic thinking. • Describe some ways to reduce catastrophic thinking. • Discuss the merits of humor in coping with stress, including the work on different types of humor. • Assess positive reinterpretation as a coping strategy. Problem-Focused Constructive Coping (APA Goals 4, 9) • List and describe four steps in systematic problem-solving. • Discuss the adaptive value of seeking help as a coping strategy. • Describe cultural differences in seeking social support. • Explain five common causes of wasted time. • Identify the causes and consequences of procrastination. • Summarize advice on managing time effectively. Emotion-Focused Constructive Coping (APA Goals 4, 9) • Clarify the nature and value of emotional intelligence. • Analyze the adaptive value of expressing emotions. • Discuss the importance of managing hostility and forgiving others’ transgressions. • Understand how exercise can foster improved emotional functioning. • Summarize the evidence on the effects of meditation and relaxation. • Describe the requirements and procedure for Benson’s relaxation response. APPLICATION: Coping with Loss (APA Goals 8, 9) • Discuss cultural and individual attitudes about death, including death anxiety. 54 CHAPTER 4 • Describe Kübler-Ross’s five stages of dying and research findings about the dying process. • Analyze cultural variations in mourning practices, and discuss the grieving process. • Discuss various types of loss and what helps people cope with bereavement. CHAPTER OUTLINE I. The Concept of Coping A. Coping: efforts to master, reduce, or tolerate the demands created by stress B. General points about coping 1. People cope with stress in different ways 2. Using a variety of strategies if most adaptive 3. Coping strategies vary in their adaptive value II. Common Coping Patterns of Limited Value A. Giving up 1. Learned helplessness: passive behavior produced by exposure to unavoidable aversive events a. Martin Seligman did early research on animal subjects b. Originally viewed as a product of conditioning 1) Current view includes cognitive interpretation as a determinant of learned helplessness 2) Helplessness is associated with belief that events are beyond your control, a pessimistic explanatory style 2. Generally not viewed as positive method of coping a. This behavioral disengagement is associated with increased distress b. Can contribute to depression 3. Giving up may be adaptive in some situations, particularly if goals are unrealistic B. Acting aggressively 1. Aggression: any behavior intended to hurt someone, either physically or verbally 2. Frustration-aggression hypothesis: frustration frequently elicits aggression 3. Aggression may be displaced onto substitute target 4. Freud suggested aggression can produce catharsis: a release of emotional tension a. Thus, aggression can be adaptive, according to Freud b. But recent research indicates that aggression does not reliably lead to catharsis c. Behaving in an aggressive manner tends to fuel more anger and aggression d. Exposure to violent media is not cathartic, rather appears to be associated with aggression C. Indulging yourself 1. Evidence relating stress to increases in eating, smoking, drug use, gambling 2. Developing alternative rewards is a common response to stress 3. Recent manifestation is Internet addiction, which consists of spending an inordinate amount of time on the Internet and inability to control online use 55 4. Strategy can have merit if kept under control, but excesses generally result in negative consequences D. Blaming yourself 1. When confronted with stress, people may become self-critical 2. Albert Ellis calls this catastrophic thinking and suggests that it is rooted in irrational assumptions, as people a. Unreasonably attribute their failures to personal shortcomings b. Focus on negative feedback while ignoring positive feedback from others c. Make unduly pessimistic projections about the future 3. Recognizing one's weaknesses has some value, but negative self-talk is generally counterproductive 4. Can contribute to development of depression E. Using defensive coping 1. Nature of defense mechanisms a. Defense mechanisms are largely unconscious reactions that protect a person from unpleasant emotions such as anxiety and guilt b. Defend against emotional discomfort elicited by stress c. Work through self-deception d. Include both conscious and unconscious reactions e. Are normal and common patterns of coping 2. Can defense mechanisms ever be healthy? a. Generally, no 1) Operate as an avoidance strategy 2) Represent "wishful thinking" that accomplishes little 3) Repression has been found to relate to poor health, linked to delay in facing problem b. Some researchers suggest that illusions may be adaptive for mental health c. Others have expressed skepticism 1) Suggest that accuracy and realism are healthy 2) Report data showing that overly favorable self-ratings are correlated with maladaptive personality traits d. Baumeister proposes an “optimal margin of illusion,” beneficial small illusions III. The Nature of Constructive Coping A. Constructive coping refers to efforts to deal with stressful events that are judged to be relatively healthful B. What makes a coping strategy constructive? 1. Confronting problems directly 2. Based on realistic appraisals of one's stress and coping resources 3. Recognizing and managing potentially disruptive emotional reactions to stress 4. Exerting control over potentially harmful habitual behaviors C. Categories of constructive coping 1. Appraisal-focused coping, aimed at changing one's interpretation of stressful events 2. Problem-focused coping, aimed at altering the stressful situation itself 56 CHAPTER 4 3. Emotion-focused coping, aimed at managing potential emotional distress IV. Appraisal-Focused Constructive Coping A. Ellis's rational thinking 1. Rational-emotive therapy is an approach to therapy that focuses on altering clients' patterns of irrational thinking to reduce maladaptive emotions and behavior 2 You feel the way you think 3. Problematic emotional reactions are caused by catastrophic thinking, which refers to unrealistic appraisals of stress that exaggerate the magnitude of one's problems 4. Ellis explains his ideas using a three-step sequence a. Activating event is any potentially stressful transaction b. Belief system is one's appraisal of the stress c. Consequence is consequence of negative thinking, which is typically emotional distress 5. Ellis suggests that the belief system is responsible for causing the consequence 6. The roots of catastrophic thinking a. Unrealistic appraisals of stress are caused by irrational assumptions b. Faulty assumptions generate catastrophic thinking, emotional distress c. Common irrational assumptions include 1) I must have love and affection from certain people 2) I must perform well in all endeavors 3) Other people should always behave competently and be considerate of me 4) Events should always go the way I like 7. Reducing catastrophic thinking a. Learn how to detect catastrophic thinking b. Learn how to dispute irrational assumptions B. Humor as a stress reducer 1. Humor buffers the negative impact of stress 2. There are several proposals to explain how humor reduces stress and promotes wellness a. Humor affects appraisals of stressful events b. Humor increases positive emotions c. Humor facilitates rewarding social interactions d. Benefit from not taking oneself too seriously C. Positive reinterpretation 1. Comparing your own plight with others’ even tougher struggles can help put your problems in perspective 2. Another approach is benefit finding, looking for something good in a bad experience V. Problem-Focused Constructive Coping A. Using systematic problem-solving 1. Clarify the problem 2. Generate alternative courses of action a. Avoid tendency to insist on solutions b. Avoid temptation to go with first alternative that comes to mind 57 c. Good strategy is brainstorming: generating as many ideas as possible while withholding criticism and evaluation 3. Evaluate alternatives and select course of action a. Ask yourself whether each alternative is a realistic plan b. Consider costs associated with each alternative c. Compare desirability of probable outcomes of each alternative 4. Take action while maintaining flexibility B. Seeking help 1. Make use of social support system 2. Many people are reluctant to seek help because of potential embarrassment 3. Cultural factors seem to play a role in who seeks social support C. Using time more effectively 1. Learning sound time-management strategies can reduce time pressure 2. Causes of wasted time a. Inability to set or stick to priorities b. Inability to say no c. Inability to delegate responsibility d. Inability to throw things away e. Inability to accept anything less than perfection 3. The problem of procrastination a. Procrastination is the tendency to delay tackling tasks until the last minute b. 70-90% of college students procrastinate before beginning academic assignments c. About 20% of adults are chronic procrastinators d. People procrastinate for various reasons 1) Associated with personal traits: low self-efficacy, low conscientiousness, lack of self-control, poor organization, low achievement motivation, high distractibility 2) Irrational thinking, fear of failure, and perfectionism foster procrastination e. General principles related to academic procrastination 1) Desire to minimize time on task 2) Desire to optimize efficiency 3) Close proximity to reward f. "I work best under pressure"—empirical evidence suggests otherwise g. Procrastination is associated with lower work quality, elevated anxiety, health problems 4. Time-management techniques a. Monitor your use of time b. Clarify your goals c. Plan activities using a schedule d. Protect prime time e. Increase efficiency 1) Handle paper once 2) Tackle one task at a time 3) Group similar tasks together 4) Make use of downtime VI. Emotion-Focused Constructive Coping 58 CHAPTER 4 A. Emotional intelligence consists of the ability to perceive and express emotion, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason with emotion, and regulate emotion 1. People need to be able to accurately perceive emotions in themselves and others to express their own emotions effectively 2. People need to be aware of how their emotions shape their thinking, decision- making, and coping with stress 3. People need to be able to understand and analyze their emotions, which may be complex and contradictory 4. People need to be able to regulate their emotions so that they can dampen negative emotions and effectively use positive emotions B. Expressing emotions 1. There's merit in the notion that you should try to release emotions welling up inside a. Research suggests that people who inhibit expression of anger or other emotions are more likely to have high blood pressure b. Efforts to actively suppress emotions may result in increased autonomic arousal 2. Psychological inhibition in gay men who conceal homosexual identity linked to increased incidence of some diseases (e.g., cancer, pneumonia) 3. Verbalization about traumatic events can have beneficial effects C. Managing hostility and forgiving others 1. Hostility is related to an increased risk of heart attacks and other types of illness 2. Goal of hostility management is to reduce hostile feelings a. First step is to recognize anger b. Strategies used to decrease hostility include reinterpretation, distraction, rational self-talk c. Work on increasing empathy, tolerance, forgiveness 3. Forgiveness involves counteracting the natural tendencies to experience hostility when we feel “wronged” a. Forgiving is an effective emotion-focused coping strategy associated with better adjustment and well-being b. Vengefulness is associated with rumination, negative emotion, lower life satisfaction D. Exercising 1. Physical exercise is a healthy way to deal with overwhelming emotions 2. Exercise provides multiple benefits a. Outlet for frustration b. Distraction from the stressor c. Benefits to physical and psychological health d. Improved well-being in regard to mood, stress, and coping 3. In order to get maximal benefits from exercise, there are three rules to consider: a. You must want to exercise b. Engage in aerobic exercise c. Exercise on a regular basis E. Using meditation and relaxation 1. Meditation refers to a family of mental exercises in which a conscious attempt is made to focus attention in a non-analytical way 59 2. Many approaches to meditation (e.g., yoga, Zen, transcendental meditation) 3. Effects of meditation a. Immediate physical relaxation and suppression of arousal b. Research suggests some long-term effects 1) Lower levels of stress hormone 2) Reduced anxiety and drug abuse 3) Benefits on blood pressure, self-esteem, mood, overall health and well- being 4. Effects may be attained through other mental focusing procedures such as systematic desensitization 5. "Relaxation response" requires four factors: a. A quiet environment b. A mental device c. A passive attitude d. A comfortable position VII. Application: Coping with Loss A. Attitudes about death 1. Death system: the collection of rituals and procedures used by a culture to handle death a. Vary from culture to culture b. Most common strategy in our culture is avoidance c. Avoidance, negativism not universal features of all death systems 2. Death anxiety is the fear and apprehension about one’s own death a. Having a well-formulated personal philosophy of death, rather than having a particular religious affiliation, is associated with lower death anxiety b. Death anxiety typically declines from early to late adulthood B. The process of dying 1. Pioneering researcher Elisabeth Kubler-Ross proposed five stages of dying a. Denial b. Anger c. Bargaining d. Depression e. Acceptance 2. Views of Kubler-Ross have been heavily criticized a. Researchers have not always found support for five stages b. Dying people seem to show variety of conflicting or alternating reactions C. Bereavement and grieving 1. Bereavement: the painful loss of a loved one through death 2. Mourning: formal practices of an individual and a community in response to a death 3. Cultural variations a. In America, bereaved are encouraged to break emotional ties with deceased relatively quickly and return to regular routines b. In Asian, African, and Hispanic cultures, bereaved are encouraged to maintain emotional ties to deceased 4. The grieving process a. John Bowlby suggests four stages in grieving process 60 CHAPTER 4 1) Numbness 2) Yearning 3) Disorganization and despair 4) Reorganization b. There are variable responses to bereavement 1) Absent grief or resilient pattern 2) Chronic grief 3) Common grief 4) Depressed-improved pattern 5) Chronic depression 5. Coping with various types of loss a. The death of an intimate is an adjustment challenge for most, though individual reactions may vary b. Bereavement overload occurs when individuals experience several deaths at the same time or in close succession c. People need support and sympathy of family and friends, and may find it helpful to talk with others who have been through a similar experience DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. For one type of stressful event (such as final exams week, moving to a new home, starting a new job), discuss ways that a person might cope and how these types of coping are examples of the topics in this chapter. 2. What are the pros and cons of giving up as a coping strategy? Indulging one’s self? 3. Some psychologists believe that the concept of learned helplessness can be used to explain some of the behavior patterns that are frequently seen in victims of chronic spousal abuse. What might be the basis for this conclusion? 4. Do you know anyone who shows signs of being addicted to the Internet? Why do you think it is so easy for someone to develop this syndrome? 5. Why do you think it is that “road rage” (or other situational types of rage) is seemingly becoming increasingly common? Can you think of any strategies described in the textbook that could be used to reduce the potential for these kinds of incidents to occur? 6. What is the difference between engaging in excessively negative self-talk and irrationally blaming yourself for events versus taking rational responsibility for your actions and decisions? 7. Under what conditions can defensive behavior be healthy? When is the use of defense mechanisms considered unhealthy? 8. Do you think humor is an effective stress reducer? Can you think of instances in which someone you know used humor as a way to deal with a particularly stressful situation? 9. What are some events that “make” you angry, worried, or upset? What would Albert Ellis say about the notion that the events automatically make a person upset? Identify the beliefs 61 (from the A-B-C sequence) that create the emotional consequences related to your examples. How might these beliefs be restructured to be more calm and rational? 10. Describe some examples of catastrophic thinking that you have engaged in or have seen in friends or family members. 11. Because time management is a key issue in our busy lives, there are all kinds of books and other advice published on how to better manage one's time. Is all of this advice useful or practical? Do we simply want too much out of our days and lives? 12. Some people who have extraordinary demands on their time (e.g., classes, work, family) seem
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