A Singaporean and Australian co-study, 189 Australian and 243 Singaporean university students (therefore, not a typical subset of the population, please note) completed the ‘Life Orientation Test-Revised’ and found some interesting differences.
Australians tended to be more agreeable, more conscientious, more optimistic and more satisfied with their lives.
On the other hand, Singaporeans tended to be more neurotic and pessimistic.
Using regression analysis, the researchers found that ‘optimism’ is the only significant predictor for life satisfaction.
Which means that if we want to be satisfied with our lives, being optimistic is an essential psychological component; without it we won’t be satisfied.
Similarly, if we want to be less stressed, we need to be less neurotic.
I know, it sounds obvious, doesn’t it. But obvious or not, such findings lend credence to previous findings that neuroticism is not a single ‘thing’ in our psychology, but comprised of many things (such as a lack of optimism, self-doubt, self-blame, emotional instability and worry).
Optimism, on the other hand, is a singular element in our psychology – you either have/create it within you or you don’t.
There is a difference, allegedly, between how the two nationalities deal with stress: Australians use more ‘tactics’ (both helpful and not-so-helpful) such as:
- substance use/abuse
- emotional support
- behavioural disengagement
- venting and self-blaming
- acceptance (the ‘it is what it is’ or ‘build a bridge and get over it’ tactic)
Singaporeans, however, when faced with stressful situations are less likely to use any of the above positive tactics, which the authors of the study suggest may imply a general apathy toward coping tactics, no matter how adaptable that tactic might be to the situation at hand.
Wong, S.S.; Lee, B.O.; Ang, R.P.; Oei, T.P.S.; & Ng, A.K. 2009. Personality, Health, and Coping: A cross-national study. Cross-Cultural Research, 43, 3; pp. 251-279
Please see our medical disclaimer.
One of the thoughts that crossed my mind during the week was how we rarely if ever take a break.
I’m not talking about holidays – although most of us don’t take our full allotment of holidays in one go, and when we do we invariably fill those days with adventure, excitement and stimulation.
No, I’m talking about the ‘40 days in the wilderness’ stuff, the retreat (religious or otherwise) that allows us to go somewhere quiet and do little else except recharge our thoroughly depleted batteries and spend days and nights in quiet alcohol-free contemplation.
There are so many competing demands on our time, even away from the hurly-burly of work, that the opportunity to escape for any period longer that a long-weekend is sadly not an option for the vast majority of us.
Yet how different might our mental health be if we allowed ourselves the luxury (and it IS a luxury) of unplugging from the world for two or more weeks whilst still having our basic needs of food, shelter and personal safety met? How less anxious might we become? How less stressed might we return?
Perhaps only those who are stressed, depressed or anxious might understand the need to ‘disappear’ from view for a little while… our already over-worked families and friends would, I’m sure, be less than impressed by our desire to unhitch ourselves from our responsibilities and dump even more of a load on them. I can’t say I blame them.
But in an ideal world wouldn’t it be lovely to have the freedom to be able to leave all one’s worldly cares and possessions behind and disappear for ‘forty days and forty nights’ in order to face one’s demons and peer into the murky depths of one’s own black soul?
With thanks to Drinda for the inspiration behind this post.
Please note the medical disclaimer.
Is there a relationship between anxiety, depression and cognitive processes in the elderly?
This was a research question that occupied Sherry A. Beaudreau and Ruth O'Hara from Stanford University School of Medicine and the Sierra Pacific Mental Illness, Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC) at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
Unfortunately, the answer is the classic, "it depends."
They found that if you take 'anxiety' out of the patient, but keep 'depression' in, you get no difference in cognitive processing -- suggesting that depression itself is not a major contributor to reduced mental performance.
But if you have an anxious elderly adult, either with or without depression, you will also have someone whose mental performance is reduced.
Personally, I'm not sure that you can totally separate 'anxiety' from 'depression' -- my personal experience is that anxiety is nearly always a component of depression, or at least a close travelling companion.
To be fair to Beaudreau and O'Hara, they do note that their sample of 102 community-dwelling older adults were well-educated and also self-reported a mild, not major, state of depression. Had the sample been taken from a population under the care of psychiatrists, it may well have shown similar results to previous studies of such patients and reported impairment of memory and a reduced ability to rapidly shift attention (Beaudreau and O'Hara cite studies from Butters et al., 2004 and Mantella et al., 2007 for those interested in finding out more).
Perhaps the 'take away' from the research is that if you are responsible for or have an elderly relative yourself who is reporting mild depression (which the vast majority of the elderly do), and you witness a slowdown or impairment in their mental faculties that cannot be considered part of 'dementia' or Alzheimers, then have a look at what if any anxiety-producing stressors they have in their environment, or in their inner-world.
Helping to reduce their anxiety, whilst still acknowledging and accepting their depression, may go some way to helping them restore their mental performance.
Beaudreau, S.A., & O'Hara, R. (2009). The Association of Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms With Cognitive Performance in Community-Dwelling Older Adults. Psychology and Aging, 24, 2, 507-512
Butters, M. A., Whyte, E. M., Nebes, R. D., Begley, A. E., Dew, M. A., Mulsant, B. H., et al. (2004). The nature and determinants of neuropsychological functioning in late-life depression. Archives of General Psychiatry,61, 587-595.
Mantella, R., Butters, M. A., Dew, M. A., Mulsant, B. H., Begley, A. E., Tracey, B., et al. (2007). Cognitive impairment in late-life generalized anxiety disorder. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 15, 1-7.
Please see our medical disclaimer.