Sarah D. Pressman, associate professor of psychological science, wants college students to understand the impact stress can induce and learn coping mechanisms to reduce it.
To that end, Pressman and colleague Anita T. Ginty, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, produced three short videos that recently debuted on AXA Research Fund’s YouTube channel. AXA, which supports projects in health, environment, new technology and socioeconomics, funded the researchers’ videos:
When it comes to psychological stress, “it’s harder for us to get sleep at night,” Pressman says in one of the videos. “It’s harder for us to find time in our schedules to exercise and take care of ourselves. We tend to eat higher fat carb kinds of foods. A lot of people have muscle tension and that can obviously translate into injury.”
High levels of stress are associated with adverse outcomes such as mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease, poorer cognitive function and uptake of risky behaviors, such as addiction and eating disorders, Pressman says.
The good news, though, is that by understanding the impacts of stress, research shows, steps can be taken to cope, hence reducing stress and preventing debilitating conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
The videos offer techniques for reducing stress, such as relying on a social network of people who can be a source of support. Another technique is called “cognitive reappraisal,” which means changing the way a situation is interpreted. Even the slightest shift in thought can reduce stress. For example, instead of going into an exam thinking it’s going to be the hard and failure is inevitable, think: “the test will be hard, but I’ll try my best.”
While the videos are geared toward college students, anyone can benefit from them, Pressman says, adding that they use research evidence to educate the viewer about how people biologically respond to stress and provide effective ways to cope.
In other AXA-supported research, Pressman continues her examination of how smiling and positive emotions can reduce stress and boost immune system functioning and cardiovascular health. She is exploring how different types of positive emotions might help with coping with different types of stressors.
“Most people don’t realize that stress can have serious and objective negative effects on our wellness, damaging our immune systems, our heart health, and more,” Pressman says. “With this new work, however, we’re hoping we can develop better stress-busting interventions that can sustain and enhance the well-being of the population.”
— Mimi Ko Cruz