Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Optimism and coping
How are optimism and coping related?
Overview[edit | edit source]
|“||Be like the flower that gives its fragrance, even to the hand that crushes it.||”|
|— Imam Ali|
As Imam Ali quotes, one should strive to be optimistic even under the most trying circumstances!
Have you ever experienced been in a situation where you used optimism as a coping strategy to get you through? Many people at some point have used optimism to get them through a challenging situation. This chapter explores the relationship between optimism and coping, how one affects the other, the theories behind optimism and coping, and whether gender plays a key role in levels of optimism and coping. This chapter also looks at the role of optimism and coping on mental health and well-being and how that may influence or affect an individual. This chapter further explores the effects of calamities such as the COVID-19 on people and how that may affect their coping strategies. This chapter also discusses the effects of a diagnosis of health problems and how that influences people's optimism and coping.
What is optimism? What is coping?[edit | edit source]
Optimism can be defined as a personality trait or an attitude an individual has that reflects a belief of hope that an outcome of both a specific or general endeavour will be positive and favourable (Fasano et al., 2020). Coping has been defined as thoughts and behaviours that an individual may use to aid in the management of life demands and stressors (Fasano et al., 2020).
Theory about optimism and coping[edit | edit source]
When encountering stressful situations or difficult times many individuals find coping or strategies for coping quite difficult to achieve and in turn find themselves feeling hopeless, lacking motivation and in some cases, some may find themselves to be in distress over the situation they are currently in (Riolli & Savicki, 2003). Stress and coping theory proposed by Lazarus and Folkman (1984), coined coping as a phenomenon, where both an individual's cognitive and behavioural responses are used, in an attempt to aid them in managing external and/or internal stressors stimuli, that may be perceived to exceed their personal experiences (Naughton, 1997). Stress can be experienced in different ways and within different age groups (Cabras & Mondo, 2018), many people's response to stress may differ depending on the situation they are in, and the methods of coping styles they may choose to employ can also differ (Cruz et al., 2018).
Cognitive perspective[edit | edit source]
The cognitive approach in Lazarus and Folkman's theory consists of mental processes that a person uses when evaluating a situation (Naughton, 1997), the level of evaluation taken may decide the level of stress someone may face and the individual's coping strategy used in that situation (Naughton, 1997). Two types of appraisals can be taken to aid in coping through/with situations:
- Primary appraisal: this approach is taken when a conscious assessment of the situation at hand is made, and whether it possesses as either, a risk, harm, a threat or a challenge.
- Secondary appraisal: this approach takes place when a person asks themselves "Can I do something?" by assessing the available coping resources surrounding that individual. These resources can range from physical, such as health, levels of energy a person possesses, social resources, which could include family and friends, as he/she must depend on as a support system for one's immediate neighboring surroundings, psychological resources, this includes a person's self-esteem and their self-efficacy, finally, material resources which include, amount of money one has to survive and the type of equipment one has that might be of use to that individual .
Cognitive functions that may be used to aid in coping in any type of situation may be changing your perception or outlook on the current situation you are in, "this is not going to last forever" or "this will be over soon" are some ways one can shift their mindset towards a situation to help them cope (Naughton, 1997).
Another cognitive function that one might use as a coping strategy is looking at the current situation from a positive lens and taking a more optimistic approach towards the situation such as saying, "At least I get to spend some quality time with my family during this lock-down period" or "I may not be getting the salary I would like but at least I have a job",this is another way an individual can look at a current situation and use these cognitive appraisals to help them cope with their current situation or future problems that they might face (Naughton, 1997).
This theory overall suggests that, when one is able to analyse their situation that may be causing them concern or stress, theydevelop the ability to be able to cope and in turn be more optimistic towards their current or future situation. The theory further suggests that coping and optimism may be independent from one another, as one can use many coping strategies or can cope well during a situation however, may not necessarily be optimistic during that period of time (Carver, Scheier & Segerstrom, 2010).
Problem-focused coping[edit | edit source]
Problem-focused coping encourages individuals to identify the root cause of the problem that an individual could be facing and finding practical ways that could aid in tackling the situation or problem causing them to feel stressed out (Smith, Saklofske, Keefer & Tremblay, 2016). This approach has been suggested to produce positive outcomes for people who choose this method of coping, which has led to better life satisfaction as this approach promotes the person to focus on solutions rather than avoiding the problem causing them stress (Smith, Saklofske, Keefer & Tremblay, 2016), which is achieved by removing any environmental stressors (Herman & Tetrick, 2009).
Emotion-focused coping[edit | edit source]
Emotion-focused coping focuses on the person's emotional aspect of what might be causing them stress and addresses the problems they are facing through mitigating their emotional responses to stress (Herman & Tetrick, 2009). This approach to coping aims to minimise an individual's emotional outcome of the problem or situation which is similar to avoidant-focused coping (Herman & Tetrick, 2009).
Biological/physiological perspective[edit | edit source]
From a biological perspective, the human body possesses its own way when dealing with many emotions and the coping mechanisms that our body might employ differ from one person to the other (Naughton, 1997). Threats and challenges that we encounter in our environment could potentially cause sequences of events known as neuroendocrine, these events range from conceptualised comprised of two separate responses (Naughton, 1997), the first response known as the sympathetic or adrenal response which include the catecholamine’s section otherwise known as (epinephrine, norepinephrine), the second being the sympathetic or adrenal response, which is responsible for carrying messages from the brain and delivered through the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to the adrenal medulla, this produces both epinephrine and norepinephrine (Naughton, 1997) .
This phenomenon is known as the “fight or flight” response proposed by Cannon (1929). This response occurs when the elevation of the heart rate rises and begins to quicken, blood pressure begins to rise hence preparing the individual to either fight or run (Naughton, 1997). These are some examples of what can occur when faced with situations and how our body responds to these external stimuli from our environment (Naughton, 1997).
Furthermore, the response in the pituitary and adrenal glands, the hypothalamus gets stimulated and begins to produce corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) which goes to the pituitary gland through the blood veins, this is then followed by the adrenal corticotropic hormone (ACTH) which is released from the pituitary gland and to the adrenal cortex (Naughton, 1997). Finally, the adrenal cortex secretes cortisol which is a hormone that will communicate back to the original centres of the brain together along with other body organs in order to stop the whole cycle (Naughton, 1997).
Table 1. Theories and theorists about optimism and coping
|Theories and Theorists about coping and optimism||Theory summary|
|Model of coping modes (MCM) Krohne (1993)||This Model deals with individual differences of a person's attention orientation and their emotional-behavioural regulation when faced with stressful conditions.|
|Dispositional optimism, Carver and Scheier (1985)||The belief that the future generally contains a more positive chain of events as opposed to negative events.|
Another theory proposed by Martin Seligman (1991) known as learned optimism, is defined as the process of an individual identifying and challenging pessimistic thoughts that they might have in order to harness more positive behaviours (Chadwick , 2019). Learned optimism is considered to be a response to the well known saying, "is the glass half-full or half-empty" (Chadwick, 2019) see figure 4. Previous literature about coping strategies has found a link between optimism and quality of life (Chadwick , 2019), more specifically people who were optimistic and applied problem-focused coping as a strategy more frequently to aid in everyday life stressors (Chadwick , 2019). Various coping strategies such as problem-focused and emotion-focused coping can be used to aid people in managing life stressors (Smith, Saklofske, Keefer & Tremblay, 2016). Depending on which coping strategy is chosen, each method differs from the other and provides different solutions and outcomes for differing situations (Smith, Saklofske, Keefer & Tremblay, 2016).
Positive Psychology[edit | edit source]
Positive psychology refers to the scientific study of investigating the reasons of what makes life worth living the most, as it incorporates both society and an individual's well-being as positive psychology attempts to study subjective positive experiences (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Positive psychology consists of three levels, the subjective level, the individual level and the group level (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), and consists of five pillars known as (PERMA) which stands for, Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment, these five elements are considered to account for what makes up "the good life".
Positive psychology promotes both good well-being and mental health which can promote positive thinking, living and better coping when facing tough situations (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). This perspective of psychology aims to reduce or challenge a person's pessimistic thoughts and encourage them to adopt a more optimistic outlook on life. Positive psychology further promotes growth in an individual by finding different ways in which they may form positive meaningful relationships, setting achievable goals are some of the ways where a person can develop mental and emotional growth (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
[edit | edit source]
Vast research on this matter have proposed different suggestions regarding optimism and coping (Rim, 1990). Optimism is considered to be a personality dimension, that aids people in coping with stressful situations (Cabras & Mondo, 2018). Cabras and Mondo (2018) conducted a study where they recruited first-year university students evaluating the relationship between optimism and coping regarding levels of stress experienced during their first year of studies (Cabras & Mondo, 2018). The study further explored gender differences, levels of optimism and quality of life among students in their first year of university studies (Cabras & Mondo, 2018).
The findings revealed that mature students adopted a more task-oriented coping strategy than the younger students who used avoidant coping strategies to deal with the stress of studies (Cabras & Mondo, 2018), which conveys the message that age differences affect the choice of coping strategy one may use to aid them in dealing with stressful events (Cabras & Mondo, 2018). Gender was also a contributing factor to how men and women dealt with stress and the coping strategies chosen to aid them in coping, the study had revealed on average male students would use avoidant coping more often than the female students would, this was found to be more prominent in the younger students than the older students (Cabras & Mondo, 2018). Research further suggests that female students tend to carry more stress such as experiencing headaches, feeling fatigued and having a short-temper (Yokota et al., 2017).
While you may not necessarily need optimism to help you cope or even use it as a coping strategy to get you through a stressful situation or any situation in general, both optimism and coping are indeed related as optimism can be seen as a way a person can better cope with a situation (Strutton & Lumpkin, 1993). Adopting an optimistic mindset can provide some comfort for a person who may be concerned about future events or a current situation, by looking at various alternative options and exploring different avenues to help deal/cope with the situation at hand. Optimism has been associated with the use of problem-focused coping one's ability to utilise positive reframing which is redirecting or changing the way you view a situation or event, such as the glass half-full instead of half empty (see Figure 4), and a tendency to accept one's reality rather than dwell or avoid the situation (Strutton & Lumpkin, 1993).
Are they independent from one another?[edit | edit source]
Optimism and coping are independent from one another as optimism may not necessarily be needed to aid in better coping as some people may choose to avoid problems faced as a form of coping strategy however, they may not be optimistic about it (Riolli & Savicki, 2003). Many coping strategies can be untilisedto aid in better coping, some may adopt a pessimistic mindset, or may chose denial in order to better cope with a situation or event (Riolli & Savicki, 2003). Denial can be used as an avoidant strategy in order to avoid facing the truth or the severity of the situation as a protective factor in a bid to prevent distress (Riolli & Savicki, 2003), this however, may not be the most effective coping mechanism as it promotes avoiding a problem rather than addressing the root cause of the problem and achieving long-term relief rather than short-term relief (Riolli & Savicki, 2003).
Eric was a very fit athlete,he loved playing sports with his friends and family and going on morning runs. He had a very healthy diet and would generally avoid fast foods and high-fat foods such as, ice-cream, cake, fizzy drinks, and pizza. He would always aim to walk at least 10,000 steps a day and would go on regular hikes. However, when the lock-down occurred due to coronavirus Eric began to sleep in more, exercise less, and eat more unhealthily, he stopped playing sports and going on his morning runs. His family expressed their concern to Eric that they are worried about him, as he had begun to gain a lot of weight quite rapidly, Eric claims that there is nothing wrong with him and that he is still very healthy and fit, he claims that this is just water weight and that he will be fine so they shouldn't worry about him.
Does gender affect levels of optimism and coping?[edit | edit source]
Coping styles amongst males and females may be different and differences in age can be a contributing factor (Madrigal, Gill & Willse, 2017). How people may choose to cope whether it is remaining optimistic during a tough time and finding different ways to look at a situation and seeking possible positive outcomes that could occur as a result of a particular situation (Madrigal, Gill & Willse, 2017). While it is suggested that females experience higher levels of stress compared to males, as females tend to use more of an emotion-focused type coping strategy (Madrigal, Gill & Willse, 2017), males on the other hand tend to use avoidant-focused coping type strategy in order to avoid problems and stress faced as biologically, men tend to not talk about their feelings or what may be potentially bothering them resulting in poor coping management and poor mental health (Madrigal, Gill & Willse, 2017) .
Muhammad Ali (see Figure 6), the greatest boxer of his time was that of ahumble character who had many successes and achievements in his lifetime. His famous saying of "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" said a lot about the great boxer. Diagnosed in 1984 with Parkinson's syndrome after his career in boxing and receiving many blows to the head left the fast-moving champion feeling trapped in his own body.
When asked about his disability and how he copes with such a disease considering he was once a strong man, his response was that it was his religious faith which had helped him cope with this new challenge. He would continue to attend interviews and events despite his slurred speech and facing difficulty in his mobility.
Muhammad Ali's attitude and religious beliefs are some of the coping strategies that he utilised to get him through his illness and remain optimistic for the remainder of his life. Furthermore, his family had also played an essential role in helping him with his illness and giving him another reason to remain optimistic.
How do optimism and coping influence well-being and mental health?[edit | edit source]
Many studies have shown that more optimistic people tend to experience a better quality of life than those who are more pessimistic in their outlook of life (Strutton & Lumpkin, 1993). Optimism can be a contributing factor in maintaining good mental health as it may help in keeping a person calm during a challenging time such as the COVID-19 pandemic. People world-wide began experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety, feeling depressed, lonely, sadness over the loss of loved ones and adapting to a new way of living.
How has the pandemic influenced optimism and coping?[edit | edit source]
Many people worldwide were struck with fear and uncertainty when the pandemic first began to spread (Gurvich et al., 2021),this left many people unsure of what to do and feeling lost, and living in constant fear (Gurvich et al., 2021). Rich and poor, young and old were now experiencing the same fear and uncertainty, they also shared one common goal which was wanting the pandemic to be over (Gurvich et al., 2021) (see Figure 5). According to a study by Prasath et al. (2021) University students were recruited to take part in examining the effects of students' well-being in response to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and how that may have affected their studies (Prasath et al., 2021) .
Throughout the pandemic, many people worldwide were forced to find other ways to help them cope with the current situation and adapt to a new way of life (Gurvich et al., 2021), many people decided to view the situation from a positive perspective and find different ways to enjoy everyday activities.
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
In conclusion, many coping strategies can be used to help in managing stressful life events as they unfold. Optimism can be seen as a coping strategy, and as a means of coping with an unpleasant or stressful situation, it can aid a person in maintaining a more calm and sound mindset towards a situation. Having an optimistic attitude can be a contributor to better mental healthleaving a person feeling better about future events and feeling at ease. Optimism is not necessarily the only coping strategy that can be used to solve every problem or get through every situation, however, it is useful in promoting positive thinking and positive attitudes towards unpleasant or stressful events as it encourages a person to think of different alternate solutions to current problems.
The main message that can be learnt from this chapter, is to view life positively and look on the bright side because a dull and an unpleasant situation does not last forever and eventually problems and stressors are resolved as well as new skills are developed and lessons are learnt to avoid future problems.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Learned optimism (Book chapter, 2011)
- Optimism and depression (Book chapter, 2020)
- Coping and emotion (Book chapter, 2020)
- Optimism and physical health (Book chapter, 2021)
- Optimism bias (Book chapter, 2021)
References[edit | edit source]
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Yokota, J., Shinozaki, A., Kamo, T., Horiguchi, F., & Uchida, K. (2017). A Questionnaire Study on the Prevalence of Premenstrual Syndrome, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, and Related Coping Mechanisms among Female Medical Students. Tokyo Women’s Medical University Journal, 1, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.24488/twmuj.2017001