12 Aug Here’s how to take back your life from long-term worrying
via Psyche by Dane McCarrick and Daryl O’Connor
If you’ve been feeling stressed lately, you’re far from alone – even before the COVID-19 pandemic, UK survey data from 2018 suggested that 74 per cent of people had been so stressed, worried or anxious at some point in the prior year that they’d felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Stress – defined as a state in which a person feels that they do not have the resources to meet the demands of a particular situation – is everywhere and is central to the human condition. It affects multiple biological systems and, long term, it can cause damaging wear and tear to our health.
One reason that stress can be so harmful is that, even after the initial trigger has passed, it often continues to influence how we think, feel and behave. An important theory, the ‘perseverative cognition hypothesis’, put forward by a team of international psychologists in 2010, helps to explain how: it suggests that worry and/or rumination amplify the initial short-term bodily response to a stressful situation (ie, the fight-or-flight response) and also reactivate the stress response even after a stressor has passed. Moreover, perseverative cognition about past and future stressors (that is, worrying about upcoming stressors, and ruminating about past stressors and whether they might occur again) can also harm our health indirectly, by influencing our health behaviours. For instance, it has been shown that more worry and rumination is linked to poorer sleep, unhealthier eating and substance abuse.
All of this suggests that reducing worry and rumination (via psychological interventions) could be a powerful way to reduce the harm to health caused by stress, both directly by helping to ‘switch off’ the stress response system and indirectly via avoidance of unhealthy behaviours. To explore this possibility, we conducted the first ever comprehensive review of all the high-quality studies that have ever taken the dual approach of aiming to reduce worry or rumination via a psychological intervention and, crucially, that also later measured the intervention’s impact on health or health behaviours. We decided to look only at studies known as ‘randomised controlled trials’, as these are considered the gold standard for assessing the effectiveness of any intervention or treatment within psychological and medical research.
After examining more than 10,500 potentially eligible studies, we found 36 (comprising more than 5,000 participants across nine countries) that were suitably high-quality and relevant for our purposes. These studies featured psychological interventions for combating worry and rumination that fell into seven broad types…
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