Academic journal article Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies

The Relationships between Stress, Negative Affect, Rumination and Social Anxiety

Academic journal article Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies

The Relationships between Stress, Negative Affect, Rumination and Social Anxiety

Article excerpt


Rumination is defined as a repetitive cognitive pattern that focuses on the causes and consequences of emotional states, and also on past problems and events (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991). Numerous studies have investigated rumination in relation with depressive symptoms (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991; Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000; Nolen-Hoeksema, Morrow, & Fredrickson, 1993), but evidence now suggests that rumination is also associated with anxiety (Abela & Hankin, 2011; Brozovich & Heimberg, 2008; Fresco, Frankel, Mennin, Turk, & Heimberg, 2002; Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000; Valenas & Szentagotai, 2014). Social anxiety is one of the anxiety disorders most often studied in relation with rumination; however, some ambiguous aspects still need to be clarified.

Indeed, studies have confirmed the relationship between rumination and social anxiety (Abbott & Rapee, 2004; Edwards, Rapee, & Franklin, 2003; Mellings & Alden, 2000). In the social anxiety context, rumination is frequently conceptualized in terms of repetitive thoughts about a self-related experience during/after a social interaction, which can include both self or other-related evaluations and details about the event (Kashdan, Zvolensky, & McLeish, 2008). In these situations rumination is seen as an effect of social anxiety. Studies have shown that social anxiety is associated with negative rumination a day after the interaction, even after statistically controlling for depressive symptoms (Edwards et al., 2003; Mellings & Alden, 2000). In a social anxiety disorder sample, Kocovski and Rector (2008) found that individuals with higher levels of social anxiety report higher levels of rumination after the first group cognitive-behavioral therapy (gCBT) exposure task.

However, Clark and Wells (1995) suggest that rumination plays an important role not only following the event, but also in before it taking place. They suggest that prior to a social interaction, socially anxious individuals engage in negative thoughts which contribute to their anxiety (Dodge, Hope, Heimberg, & Becker, 1988). Vassilopoulos (2004) showed that anticipatory processing before social interactions was specific to individuals with high levels of social anxiety, even when controlling for general negative affect (i.e., trait anxiety and depression). In the same line, Brown and Stopa (2006) found that socially anxious undergraduate students reported higher levels of anxiety and negative self-images than non-anxious participants after engaging in pre-event rumination. They suggested that individuals may hold positive meta-beliefs about the function of anticipation and rumination before a social performance situation that maintain social anxiety.

Despite the fact that rumination is an important risk factor for depression and anxiety (Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema, & Schweizer, 2010), we know relatively few things about the predictors of ruminative response style. Investigating such factors would contribute to: 1) a better understanding of rumination, and 2) designing effective prevention strategies.

One predictor of increased ruminative thoughts is the experiences of stress. Stress is conceptualized as a general state defined by difficulty relaxing, nervous arousal, feeling of being easily upset/agitated, irritable/over-reactive or impatient. Monroe (2008) defines experiences of stress as psychological and physiological adaptations of the organism to social and environmental circumstances. One conceptualization of the etiology of rumination maintains that stressful life events can lead to rumination not only about those events, but also about many areas of one's life (Nolen-Hoeksema, Larson, & Grayson, 1999). Stressful life events have also been found to predict major depression and anxiety disorders (Kendler, Hettema, Butera, Gardner, & Prescott, 2003). Therefore, it is possible that rumination may act as a mechanism between social anxiety symptoms and stress. …

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