CHAPTER 3 EMOTION REGULATION AND COPING WITH OCCUPATIONAL STRESS
“The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.”
– Margaret Atwood
This chapter serves to further contextualise the current study by outlining the meta-theoretical context of coping and emotion regulation that formed the definitive boundary of the research. The aim of this chapter, through a thorough literature review, is to gain an understanding of the constructs under investigation and their theoretical context so that dimensions could be identified and items generated to determine which coping strategies academics adopt in response to occupational stress. To achieve this objective, a number of existing coping and emotion regulation questionnaires are reviewed and discussed to outline their composition, discuss their psychometric properties and the dimensions and subdimensions that categorise coping and emotion regulation strategies. This chapter also aims to address the fourth research objective of this study, namely to determine which coping strategies academics adopt in response to occupational stress.
The most commonly cited definition of coping is that of Lazarus and Folkman (1984). They defined coping as the “constantly changing cognitive and behavioural efforts to manage specific internal and/or external demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person” (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p. 141). This definition mentions various characteristics of coping, including the role of both cognitive and behavioural processes, and focuses on responses to environmental demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the individual’s coping resources. Coping is further perceived as a continuous process that changes in response to the demands of the stressful situation (Compas et al., 2001). In addition, coping has two primary functions, namely (1) the regulation of distressing emotions, and (2) doing something to change the situation that is causing the distress (Folkman & Lazarus, 1985, p. 152). In a nutshell, coping is a continuous, goal-directed effort or process in which individuals adjust their thoughts and behaviours towards resolving the source of stress and managing their emotional reactions to stress (Lazarus, 1993).
Skinner and Wellborn (1994, p. 112) conceptualised coping as “regulation under stress”, and defined it as “how people regulate their behaviour, emotion, and orientation under conditions of psychological stress”. Coping directed at behaviour regulation includes, the following for example: looking for information and problem-solving; emotion regulation, which includes maintaining an optimistic outlook; and orientation regulation which includes avoidance (Compas et al., 2001). Similarly, according to Compas et al. (2001, p. 89), coping is defined as “conscious volitional efforts to regulate emotion, cognition, behaviour, physiology, and the environment in response to stressful events or circumstances”. Coping efforts therefore fall under the broad definition of self-regulation, because individuals are involved in the regulation of their behaviour and emotions on an ongoing basis (Compas et al., 2001; Koole et al., 2010). Coping refers specifically to self-regulation when one is confronted by a stressful situation (Eisenberg, Fabes, & Furthrie, 1997). Eisenberg et al. (1997) further distinguish between three aspects of self-regulation, namely (1) attempts to regulate emotion (also known as emotion regulation), (2) attempts to regulate the situation, and (3) attempts to regulate emotionally driven behaviour (also known as behaviour regulation).
Gross (1998, p. 275) defines emotion regulation as “the process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions”, and more recently, as the process by which individuals influence the incidence, timing, nature, experience and expression of their emotions (Gross, 2015). Emotion regulation is thus conceptualised as a control process through which individuals modulate and/or divert their emotions and/or attention consciously and unconsciously to respond to environmental demands (Aldao et al., 2010; Koole et al., 2010). Individuals therefore engage in regulatory strategies to exert control over their behaviour and modify the magnitude of their emotional experience. Emotion regulation focuses primarily on the modulation of internal emotional changes to meet external needs (Wang & Saudino, 2011).
From the discussion above it is evident that coping is closely linked to emotion and the regulation thereof to respond to environmental demands (Garnefski, Kraaij, & Spinhoven, 2001; Folkman & Lazarus, 1988; Wang & Saudino, 2011; Zimmer-Gembeck et al., 2014). Not only are both constructs conceptualised as a process of regulation, but both include controlled, purposeful events to regulate emotional experiences. Consequently, Compas et al. (2014) define coping as regulating emotional experiences by changing one’s response to a stressful event or by changing the situation that elicits an emotion. Secondary appraisal, discussed in chapter 2, is thus driven by emotion regulation (Koole et al., 2010), and emotion regulation therefore overlaps with coping (Gross, 2015). Emotion regulation, however, is a broader concept than coping for a number of reasons, as outlined by Compas et al. (2014). Firstly, emotion regulation includes both conscious and unconscious processes, whereas coping includes only controlled, conscious processes. Secondly, where coping refers only to responses to stress, emotion regulation includes efforts to manage emotions under a wider range of situations and in reaction to a wider range of stimuli. Lastly, emotion regulation includes both intrinsic and extrinsic processes, while coping is only carried out by the person who experiences the stressful situation.
In light of the discussion above, coping was conceptualised as “emotion regulation under stress” and defined by the researcher as conscious efforts that individuals adopt to regulate heightened emotions to respond to environmental demands that are perceived as taxing or exceeding their coping resources. The rationale behind this definition is summarised and verified in table 3.1.
The next section addresses the theoretical approaches to coping and emotion regulation.
Various theoretical approaches to coping and emotion regulation have been discussed in literature and are reviewed as the background to the present study. The following approaches are discussed: the psychoanalytic approach to coping; coping as a personality trait or style; the contextual approach to coping; the Integrative Conceptual Framework; the Appraisal Theory of Coping and Emotion; and the Process Model of Emotion Regulation.
Psychoanalytical approach to coping
The psychoanalytic or dispositional approach views coping as a defence mechanism and includes techniques that individuals adopt to adjust the meaning of the stressful event. Psychoanalysts further assume that individuals have stable preferences for a particular defence or coping style when dealing with conflict and that these styles vary in their maturity. Carver and Scheier (Carver et al., 1989), however, introduced the dispositional-situational approach to coping. These researchers conjectured that enduring dispositions might predispose an individual to engaging in one or another type of coping, but the situation would ultimately determine the specific coping strategy/ies the individual adopts. Carver and colleagues consequently developed a dispositional measure, namely the Coping Orientations to the Problem Experienced (COPE) Inventory, to measure coping by asking individuals to indicate the extent to which they had engaged in each coping response during a particular time, with regard to a particular stressor. The Multidimensional Coping Inventory (MCI), developed by Endler and Parker (1990), also asks individuals to indicate how they generally cope when they encounter a difficult or stressful situation. Other dispositionally oriented conceptualisations include cognitively seeking out or avoiding threat-related information and everyday thoughts that reflect common destructive ways of thinking (Zeidner & Endler, 1996).
Coping as a personal trait or style
Researchers adopting this approach view coping as a trait, as the manifestation of a trait or as a classifiable disposition (Folkman, 2010). Existing literature outlines four conceptualisations of this approach. The first approach assumes that an individual’s personality traits influence how he or she appraises stress and consequently determines which coping strategy is used in a stressful situation (Aldwin, 2007). Individuals with certain personality traits (or predispositions) therefore cope better with stress. The second approach assumes that individuals adopt the same coping strategy to cope with different stressors. The third approach focuses on the nature of the stressor itself as a determinant of coping (Folkman, 2010). Individuals, for example, adopt maladaptive coping strategies when confronted with repeated stressors that are uncontrollable. The fourth approach explores the relationship between personality traits and coping responses, and its impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals when confronted with different stressors. Roohafza et al. (2016) found that individuals’ personality traits and coping strategies influence their psychological wellbeing. The researchers further found that personality traits fulfil a key role as the basis for coping. In conclusion, personality traits influence how individuals respond to stress.
The contextual approach to coping
Central to the contextual approach to coping is Lazarus’s appraisal-based model of coping (discussed in chapter 2). Lazarus and Folkman (1984) viewed coping as a response to a specific stressful situation rather than a stable personality feature. In this approach, coping is viewed as a dynamic process that changes over time in response to the changing demands and appraisals of the situation. The emotional response that an individual elicits thus depends on his or her appraisal of the situation.
The Integrative Conceptual Framework
This framework, as outlined in figure 3.1, was conceptualised by Zeidner and Endler (1996). This framework emphasises the fact that both the dispositional and contextual approach shape the individual’s coping efforts.
The environment is composed of ongoing life stressors (e.g. chronic illness) and social resources (e.g. social support from family and friends). By contrast, the personal system includes the individual’s demographic characteristics and personal coping resources (e.g. self-confidence). These environmental and personal factors, in turn, influence the individual’s circumstances and health and wellbeing directly and indirectly through cognitive appraisal and coping responses. This framework, according to Zeidner and Endler (1996), emphasises the central mediating role of cognitive appraisal and coping responses in the stress response.
The Appraisal Theory of Coping and Emotion
As outlined in section 3.2, the coping effort is closely linked to emotion and the regulation thereof to respond to environmental demands. Consequently, how individuals cope depends on how they feel emotionally (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988). For the purposes of this study, it was deemed necessary to discuss the relationship between coping and emotion, because coping was conceptualised from an emotion regulation perspective and defined as an effort to regulate emotions to respond to environmental demands.
Appraisal theorists, such as Folkman and Lazarus (1988), believed that individuals elicit an emotion when a situation is perceived as stressful and is important for their wellbeing. The emotion that individuals elicit depends on the cognitive appraisal of the significance of the person-environment relationship for the individuals’ wellbeing and available coping options (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988). Appraisal is necessary to determine different emotional reactions towards a specific situation (Siemer, Mauss, & Gross, 2007).
As discussed in chapter 2, emotions result from a transaction between the individual and his or her environment in a stressful situation. When an individual perceives (appraises) the situation as stressful, he or she determines whether it is harmful, beneficial, threatening or irrelevant to his or her wellbeing. This process is known as primary appraisal and an emotion is elicited (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988). Once the appraisal process generates an emotion, coping strategies (such as problem-focused and emotion-focused strategies) are adopted to influence the felt emotion and change the person-environment relationship (Schmidt, Tinti, Levine, & Testa, 2010). The altered person-environment relationship is reappraised, and the reappraisal leads to a change in emotion quality and intensity (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988). Consequently, both coping and emotion regulation involve affect modulation and appraisal processes (Wang & Saudino, 2011). From this perspective, coping is thus viewed as a mediator of the emotional response, and resembles the concept of “emotion regulation” (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988; Schmidt et al., 2010). This process is summarised in figure 3.2.
The Process Model of Emotion Regulation
Emotion regulation, as defined in section 3.2, is a term that describes an individual’s ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. Individuals adopt regulatory strategies to change the intensity and/or type of emotional experience or the emotion-eliciting situation (Aldao et al., 2010). Individuals who are thus unable to effectively regulate their emotional responses to environmental demands, experience longer and more severe periods of distress. The process model of emotion regulation, proposed by Gross (1998, 2002, 2015), highlights the significant role of modulating emotional experiences. A description of the model is included because (1) coping was conceptualised as “emotion regulation under stress”; (2) coping is viewed as a mediator of the emotion response; and (3) the emotion regulation theory and strategies were considered in outlining the conceptual model with proposed dimensions and constructing the instrument.
The “modal model” of emotion forms the foundation of the Process Model of Emotion Regulation and illustrates that emotion arises in the context of a person-environment transaction that requires a coping response (as discussed in section 3.3.5). According to the modal model, emotions arise in a sequence of the following four steps: (1) an emotional situation; (2) attention that is directed towards the emotional situation; (3) appraisal of the situation; and (4) an emotional response to the situation. The modal model further suggests a feedback loop from the emotional response to the situation.
The Process Model of Emotion Regulation (henceforth termed “the model”) treats each step in the modal model as a potential target for regulation, and distinguishes between two overarching control strategies that modulate an emotional experience, namely antecedent-focused regulation and response-focused regulation (Gross, 2015; Webb, Miles, & Sheeran, 2012) (see figure 3.3).
Antecedent-focused regulation occurs at an early stage in the modulation of an emotional response and before the emotional and behavioural response system is activated (Aldao et al., 2010). Antecedent-focused regulation comprises emotion regulation strategies such as situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment and cognitive change (Compare, Zarbo, Shonin, Van Gordon, & Marconi, 2014; Gross, 1998, 2002, 2015; Webb et al., 2012).
• Situation selection involves approaching or avoiding people or situations in an effort to regulate emotion. With this strategy, individuals move to a different situation that is less likely to give rise to unwanted emotions.
• Situation modification, or changing the situation, allows the individual to transform the environment to modify the emotional impact. Situation modification has also been referred to as problem-focused coping or primary control.
• Attentional deployment allows individuals to focus their attention towards or away from situational circumstances. Individuals are thus able to select which of the many aspects of the situation they focus on. Examples of attentional deployment include concentrating on a particular topic or problem, ruminating about the problem and/or distracting oneself.
• Cognitive change involves reinterpreting the situation to modify its emotional significance. An example of cognitive change is reappraisal, which targets the meaning of a potentially emotion-eliciting situation of the self-relevance of a potentially emotion-eliciting situation. The individual is thus able to select which of the many possible meanings he or she will attach to the situation.
Response-focused regulation, however, occurs at a later stage and is focused on modifying the emotional response (Aldao et al., 2010). Response modulation is thus an example of a response-focused regulation strategy.
• Response modulation allows individuals to directly manipulate the physiological, experiential, or behavioural expression of their emotions. Examples of response modulation include emotional expression and suppression (or expression suppression), and using alcohol and drugs to modify one’s emotions.
Antecedent-focused regulation occurs before the emotion is generated. Antecedent-focused regulation determines whether an emotional experience happens and attempts to modulate the likelihood or experience of a stressor to prevent or reduce the distress it generates. Response-focused regulation, however, attempts to modulate one’s emotional response to a stressor once it has occurred. Response-focused regulation therefore manages the emotional impulses when emotions are generated.
Six theoretical approaches were discussed in this section. Firstly, the psychoanalytic or dispositional approach focuses on generalisable, preferred coping styles that transcend particular situational influences. Researchers who have adopted this approach developed 89 dispositional coping instruments that require individuals to indicate how they have coped in specific stressful situations. Secondly, the personality trait approach views coping as a trait, manifestation of a trait or classifiable disposition. This approach therefore assumes that personality traits influence how individuals respond to stress. Thirdly, the contextual approach reflects how individuals cope with a particular type of stressful event and is responsive to changes in the coping effort during a stressful episode. This approach is therefore based on Lazarus’s Appraisal-based Model of Coping, which states that an event is appraised in a certain way, and an emotion is associated with the appraisal of an event. Fourthly, the Integrative Conceptual Framework assumes that the dispositional and contextual approaches shape the individual’s coping effort. Lastly, coping is perceived as a mediator that transforms the original appraisal and accompanying emotion in some way. The Process Model of Emotion Regulation distinguishes five emotion regulation processes that encompass specific strategies (discussed in section 3.5) that individuals adopt to gain control over their emotions.
The contextual approach to coping, the Appraisal Theory of Coping and Emotion, and the Process Model of Emotion Regulation formed the foundation on which this study was conceptualised. Firstly, coping is viewed as a dynamic, ongoing process or continuous effort that changes over time in response to the changing environmental demands and appraisals of a specific stressful situation (contextual approach and appraisal theory). Secondly, an emotion is elicited when a situation is appraised as taxing or exceeding the individual’s coping resources. Primary appraisal is thus essential to determine how individuals respond to a stressful situation (appraisal theory). An emotional response is experienced because of the individual’s inability to regulate emotions (process model of emotion regulation). Thirdly, coping is linked to emotion and the regulation thereof to respond to environmental demands (appraisal theory and the Process Model of Emotion Regulation). Coping and regulation strategies are adopted to influence the felt emotion and change the person-environment relationship. Coping is thus viewed as a mediator of the emotional response and resembles the concept of emotion regulation.
MEASUREMENT OF COPING
Coping is an important explanatory variable, but there is no clear consensus on how it should be measured (Dewe et al., 2010). The construct, according to Monat and Lazarus (1991), is measured in a number of different ways, and as stated by Dewe et al. (2010), there is no correct approach to follow when measuring coping. Consequently, for the purposes of this study, a number of existing coping questionnaires were reviewed and are briefly discussed.
The intention of this discussion is not only to outline the questionnaires’ basic composition, but also to discuss their psychometric properties and the critique they received from other coping researchers. Secondly, from this discussion, the dimensions and subdimensions identified in these questionnaires are outlined and briefly discussed. Thirdly, a distinction is drawn between coping resources and coping strategies. Lastly, the coping strategies that academics adopt in response to occupational stress are discussed briefly.
A number of questionnaires have been developed to assess different aspects of coping. Questionnaires such as the Ways of Coping Questionnaire (WCQ), the Coping Orientations to the Problem Experienced (COPE) Inventory, and other existing coping questionnaires are reviewed in this section
Ways of Coping Questionnaire (WCQ)
The first version of the Ways of Coping Checklist (WCCL) was derived from Lazarus’s transactional model of stress. The checklist consists of 68 binary items, which describe a broad range of cognitive and behavioural coping strategies that individuals adopt when they have to deal with stress during a specific situation (Dewe, Leiter, & Cox, 2000; Oakland & Ostell, 1996). Participants are required to describe their coping response to a situation by indicating how often each coping strategy is used on a four-point Likert scale (0 = not used/not applicable; 3
= used a great deal). The items are divided into eight subscales reflecting different coping strategies, namely (1) confrontive coping, (2) distancing, (3) self-controlling, (4) seeking social support, (5) accepting responsibility, (6) escape-avoidance, (7) planful problem-solving, and
(8) positive reappraisal (Jones et al., 2001; Rimstad, 2004). The items were further classified into problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies, and the average reliability estimate for the scale was 0.77, ranging between 0.56 and 0.91.
The checklist was revised and factor analysis of the revised item pool yielded eight factors, namely: (1) problem-focused coping (11 items); (2) emotion-focused coping comprising of wishful thinking (5 items); distancing (6 items); emphasising the positive (4 items); self-blame (3 items); tension-reduction (3 items) and self-isolation (3 items); and (3) missed problem and emotion-focused coping, such as seeking social support (7 items) (Stemmet, 2013).
The WCCL was revised to form the current Ways of Coping Questionnaire (WCQ) (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Amendments made to the scale included the following: (1) deleting/rewording some of the items that were unclear; (2) adding new items that were suggested by respondents; and (3) changing the binary response (yes/no) format to a four-point Likert scale, which ranged from “does not apply” to “used a great deal”. Participants are required to indicate to what extent they use each of the strategies in dealing with a specific situation. Participants are asked to think of the most stressful situation experienced during a certain period, give a written description of the situation, and then indicate which strategies were used in each situation (Stone, Kennedy-Moore, Newman, Greenberg, & Neale, 1992). Factor analysis resulted in the following eight factors: (1) confrontive coping; (2) distancing; (3) self-control; (4) seeking social support; (5) accepting responsibility; (6) escape/avoidance; (7) planful problem-solving; and (8) positive reappraisal (Lazarus, 1991).
During its construction phase, the WCQ was at the forefront of coping theory and research, because of its conceptualisation of coping as the cognitive and behavioural efforts to manage stress and the use of factor analysis in developing the questionnaire. The questionnaire has, however, been the subject of wide criticism, including the format of the response items and its factor structure (Stemmet, 2013).
The Coping Orientations to the Problem Experienced (COPE) Inventory
According to Carver et al. (1989), a distinction between problem- and emotion-focused coping is important, but it is too simple. From a theoretical perspective, the researchers argued that none of the existing questionnaires they reviewed sampled all of the specific domains they had identified theoretically. Consequently, to assess a broader variety of useful coping strategies, as well as less useful strategies, they developed the Coping Orientations to the Problem Experienced (COPE) Inventory (Carver et al., 1989; Litman, 2006).
The COPE inventory describes 13 different coping strategies (summarised in table 3.2) and makes several distinctions within the overall categories of problem- and emotion-focused coping (Bezuidenhout, 2006).
TABLE OF CONTENT
LIST OF TABLES
LIST OF FIGURES
CHAPTER 1 SCIENTIFIC ORIENTATION TO THE RESEARCH
1.2 BACKGROUND TO AND RATIONALE FOR THE RESEARCH
1.3 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.4 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
1.5 STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE
1.6 THE RESEARCH MODEL
1.7 PARADIGM PERSPECTIVE OF THE RESEARCH
1.8 RESEARCH DESIGN
1.9 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
1.10 CHAPTER LAYOUT
1.11 CHAPTER SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 2 STRESS AND OCCUPATIONAL STRESS
2.3 OCCUPATIONAL STRESS
2.4 STRESS AND OCCUPATIONAL STRESS AMONG ACADEMICS
2.5 CONCLUSION AND CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 3 EMOTION REGULATION AND COPING WITH OCCUPATIONAL STRESS
3.3 THEORETICAL APPROACHES
3.4 MEASUREMENT OF COPING
3.5 MEASURING EMOTION REGULATION
3.6 CONCLUSION AND CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 4 CONCEPTUAL MODEL FOR COPING WITH OCCUPATIONAL STRESS
4.2 PROPOSED THEORETICAL DIMENSIONS FOR MEASURING COPING WITH OCCUPATIONAL STRESS
4.3 PROPOSED CONCEPTUAL MODEL FOR COPING WITH OCCUPATIONAL STRESS
4.4 CONCLUSION AND CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 5 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
5.2 RESEARCH APPROACH
5.3 CLASSIFICATION OF THE RESEARCH PURPOSE
5.4 RESEARCH DESIGN
5.5 DESCRIPTION OF THE POPULATION AND SAMPLE
5.6 INSTRUMENT DEVELOPMENT
5.7 DESCRIPTIVE ANALYSIS
5.8 INFERENTIAL ANALYSIS
5.9 FORMULATION OF RESEARCH HYPOTHESES
5.10 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
5.11 CONCLUSION AND CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 6 RESEARCH RESULTS
6.2 INSTRUMENT DEVELOPMENT
6.3 DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS
6.4 INFERENTIAL STATISTICS
6.5 INTEGRATION OF EMPIRICAL RESEARCH
6.6 CONCLUSIONS REGARDING THE RESEARCH HYPOTHSES
6.7 CONCLUSION AND CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 7 CONCLUSIONS, LIMITATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
7.5 EVALUATION OF THE RESEARCH
7.6 FINAL CONCLUSION
7.7 CHAPTER SUMMARY
LIST OF REFERENCES
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