Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Stress Buffers and Dysphoria: A Prospective Study

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Stress Buffers and Dysphoria: A Prospective Study

Article excerpt

Following recommendations to include multiple predictors within a single study, this prospective study tested whether generalized self-efficacy (GSE), positive thoughts, optimism, and self-mastery may act as stress buffers. The Generalized Self-Efficacy Scale, the Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire- Positive, the Life Orientation Test, the Self-Mastery Scale, the Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire, the Life Experiences Survey, and the Beck Depression Inventory were administered to 69 undergraduate volunteers twice over 5 weeks. The GSE x negative life events interaction accounted for unique variance in future dysphoria, indicating that, for greater preexisting GSE, negative life events were less associated with dysphoria. This finding suggests that GSE may act as a stress buffer: When exposed to stressors, persons with higher GSE may become less dysphoric than persons with lower GSE. Additionally, for higher self-mastery, negative life events had a stronger relationship with future dysphoria. This suggests that self-mastery may in some circumstances act as a stress exacerbator: When exposed to stressors, persons with higher self-mastery appear to become more dysphoric than persons with lower self-mastery.

Depression is a substantial public health problem, affecting approximately 30% of the patients seen by primary care physicians (Rucker, Frye, & Cygan, 1986), or up to 33% of college students (Wells, Klerman, & Deykin, 1987). Up to half of such depressed students have considered suicide (Vredenburg, O'Brien, & Krames, 1988). Given such severe sequelae, study of personal factors that help to prevent depression is vitally important.

Beck (1967) suggested that positive beliefs about the self may "form the basis for a healthy personality adjustment" (p. 276) and that recovery from depression may reflect progress from a negative cognitive set to a positive cognitive set (Beck, 1985). More frequent positive thoughts, which may reflect activation of positive belief systems, have been linked to lesser relationship between stress and self-report depression in both cross-sectional (Lightsey, 1994a) and longitudinal (Lightsey, 1994b) studies. Positive thoughts, then-particularly positive thoughts about one's social self-worth (Lightsey, 1994b)-may act as stress buffers, helping to prevent or reduce stress-related depression.

In the cognitive theory of depression (Beck, 1967), however, automatic thoughts are viewed as state- like epiphenomena that reflect activation of deeper structures. Such structures-beliefs or schemata pertaining to self, world, or others-precede and foster depression. Several recent studies have indeed found evidence that beliefs about the self or world play a role in depression and dysphoria.

For example, optimism (a generalized expectancy of favorable outcomes), selfmastery (a sense of control over outcomes in one's life), and generalized selfefficacy (GSE; belief in one's tenacity in the face of difficulty) have predicted lower depression (Carver & Gaines, 1987; Marshall & Lang, 1990; Olioff, Bryson, & Wadden, 1989). In theory, furthermore, these variables should have the capacity to buffer the effects of stress, although no single study has tested this possibility. Positive thoughts may have exhibited a buffer effect in prior studies only by virtue of a correlation with GSE, optimism, or self-mastery.

GSE expectancies may be particularly useful in helping persons to cope with stress. Compared to persons low in self-efficacy, persons with high self-efficacy in particular domains exhibit greater domain-specific performance accomplishments and persistence in task performance (Bandura, 1982). More general self-efficacy may allow one to weather a variety of stressors and, indeed, a generalized sense of coping efficacy appears to provide durable protection against the adverse immunological effects of stressful events (Wiedenfeld et al., 1990). Higher GSE has been associated with a variety of outcomes including lower depression (Devins et al. …

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