On the validity of stress mindset

On the validity of stress mindset

What was the aim?

The research aimed to provide a deeper understanding about a relatively new idea in psychology called 'Stress Mindset'. The idea here is that the way we respond to stressful situations (and in turn, the way stress affects us – both mentally and physically), is related to our beliefs about stress. So, someone who believes that stress is a positive and helpful experience is thought to be more likely to respond to a stressful situation in a positive way, and is more likely to be affected by stress in a positive way. This study looked at what characterises a person who is more likely to view stress as a positive and helpful experience (rather than a negative and unhelpful experience) in terms of their personality, trait anxiety, ability to regulate their emotions, and the amount of stress they perceive themselves to be experiencing.

How did we do it?

Three online questionnaires were completed by 123 people over a one-month period. Each questionnaire assessed a person’s stress mindset, personality, trait anxiety, perceived stress and emotion management.

What did we find?

The results suggest people who believe that stress is a positive and helpful experience are more likely to report having less anxiety, less stress, less neuroticism, greater control over their emotions, and greater openness compared to those who report believing that stress is negative and unhelpful. However, it is unclear whether these characteristics promote a positive belief about stress, or if believing stress to be positive promotes these characteristics (a question for future research!).

This study also looked at how stable someone's stress mindset is over a one-month period. The stability study demonstrated that a person’s stress mindset is very stable over the one-month period (with almost no change at all). This is important because the way a stress mindset-based intervention would be developed is strongly based upon how stable stress mindset is (or how hard it is to change).

What does this mean in practice?

This research will be used to develop an evidence-based intervention targeting stress mindset. The intervention might also shed light on whether the characteristics listed above are influenced by stress mindset, or if stress mindset is influenced by them.

Citation: Kilby, C.J., & Sherman, K.A. (2016). On the validity of stress mindset (Master of Research thesis). Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

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