Predictors of Somatic Symptoms in Younger Rural Adolescents

By Christiansen, Lois M.; Copeland, Ellis P. et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Predictors of Somatic Symptoms in Younger Rural Adolescents


Christiansen, Lois M., Copeland, Ellis P., Stapert, Erika B., Adolescence


An individual's life is marked by thousands of events, which vary in magnitude, duration, and meaning. Why one individual reacts differently to a similar life event than another individual is a complex question and the heart of stress research. Stress has been viewed as a motivator for achievement, as well as a destroyer of capabilities. Hans Selye's (1956) biological definition of stress, wherein stress is a reaction to a stimulus which disrupts the balanced state of the body, has provided a dominant theoretical framework of the study of stress. The Schedule of Recent Life Events created by Holmes and Rabe (1967) was modeled after Selye's framework and established a link between stressful life events and adverse health conditions. Within the past twenty-five years, studies have firmly linked stress reduction with emotional and physical health (Dohrenwend & Dohrenwend, 1974; Zakowaski, Hall, & Baum, 1992). Adding yet another dimension to stress studies was the inclusion of smaller stressors or daily hassles, which exert cumulative demands on the individual (Lazarus & Cohen, 1977; Lazarus & DeLongis, 1983; Johnson & Sherman, 1997). Lazarus and DeLongis (p. 247) defined daily hassles as the "irritating, frustrating, distressing demands and troubled relationships that plague us day in and day out." Some investigations suggest that major life events have a direct impact on daily hassles, but daily hassles better predict the onset or presence of pathology; therefore, daily hassles appear to be a better measure of stress (Pillow, Zautra, & Sandler, 1996; Dohrenwend & Dohrenwend; Chamberlin & Zika, 1990; Johnson & Sherman, 1997).

Unlike adults, children and adolescents are subject to many events over which they have little control; therefore, their identified stressors and what they perceive as stressful are often different from those of adults. Adolescence, that period between childhood and early adulthood, has been characterized as a stressful period of development. The experiences of a child making the transition into adolescence (e.g., early adolescence) have become recognized as very different from those of the teenager making the transition out of adolescence (Brooks-Gunn, 1992). Early adolescence has specifically been viewed as a highly stressful period specifically in relation to its "age-graded experiences," including physical, cognitive, and social changes that mark the middle or junior high school years (Swearingen & Cohen, 1985). During this period, adolescents must cope with stressors that include puberty, new experiences, increased responsibilities, and future-oriented plans and goals.

Along with awareness of the differences between younger and older adolescents, there is an increased acknowledgment of gender differences. Adolescent girls report and exhibit higher levels of psychological stress and symptomatology than do adolescent boys, especially in regard to depression (Wilson, Pritchard, & Revalee, 2005; Wade, Cairney, & Pevalin, 2002; Broderick & Korteland, 2002; Thoits, 1991). This difference in symptomatology seems to be partially attributed to a difference in the means by which males and females cope with stress. Gilligan (1982) noted that when girls reach puberty, their coping resources such as self-esteem and self-efficacy fall off sharply, thus leaving girls more susceptible to the negative effects of stress. Furthermore, Sethi and Nolen-Hoeksema (1997) found that girls' thoughts are more internally and relationally focused, while boys tend to exhibit more external focusing. Therefore, when faced with stress, females are more likely than males to use ruminative coping, a method shown to be strongly related to depression (Broderick & Korteland, 2002). Lastly, research by Broderick and Korteland suggests that gender may not be the distinguishing factor in coping styles, but rather the gender roles. Thus, their research suggests that there are implicit rules in regard to coping strategies which imply that rumination is more appropriate for females while distraction is appropriate for males. …

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