Study shows coping skills affect women’s anxiety levels

Research shows that having a strong sense of coherence and good coping skills- can help women facing adversity to overcome anxiety. The work found that women encountering difficult circumstances, such as living in a deprived community, who reported good coping skills did not have anxiety. However, women living in deprived communities but without these coping skills were at high risk of suffering from anxiety. This work, presented at the ECNP Conference, is the largest study ever conducted on coping and the anxiety that arises from facing adverse circumstances, such as living in deprivation. This study opens the possibility that teaching women coping strategies may be a way of overcoming the anxiety that stems from facing adverse circumstances, such as living in deprivation.

Lead researcher, Olivia Remes (University of Cambridge), explained: “Individuals with this sense of coherence, with good coping skills, view life as comprehensible and meaningful. In other words, they feel they can manage their life, and that they are in control of their life, they believe challenges encountered in life are worthy of investment and effort; and they believe that life has meaning and purpose. These are skills which can be taught”.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, surveyed 10,000 women over the age of 40 who were taking part in a major cancer study in Norfolk, UK. They used health and lifestyle questionnaires to record information on living conditions, history of physical health and mental health problems, and linked that to 1991 census data to determine if the women were living in a deprived community. They also checked on each person’s sense of coherence using a questionnaire developed from Aaron Antonovsky’s groundbreaking work on how people find meaning and purpose in life. They found that 261 (2.6%) of the 10,000 women had Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Among women without coping skills, those living in a deprived area were about twice (98%) more likely to have anxiety than those living in more affluent communities. On the other hand, living in a deprived or affluent community made very little difference to the levels of anxiety experienced by women if they had good coping skills.

Olivia Remes commented: “In general, people with good coping skills tend to have a higher quality of life and lower mortality rates than people without such coping skills. Good coping can be an important life resource for preserving health. For the first time, we show that good coping skills can buffer the negative impact of deprivation on mental health, such as having generalized anxiety disorder. And importantly, these skills, such as feeling like you’re in control of your life and finding purpose in life, can be taught.

There is a huge number of people living in deprivation, and significant numbers have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. For the first time, we have been able to show that how you cope in life can impact the level of anxiety you are experiencing. Of course, more work needs to be done on this, but this points us in an important direction.

Many people with anxiety are prescribed medication-and while it is useful in the short-term-it is less effective in the long run, is costly and can come with side effects. Researchers are therefore now turning to coping mechanisms as a way to lower anxiety. This is particularly important for those people who do not experience any improvement in their anxiety symptoms following commonly-prescribed therapies”.

Commenting, Professor David Nutt (Ex-Chair of the ECNP, Imperial College, London) said:

“These data suggest a trial of training in coping skills could be valuable for women lacking in them – such training needs to developed and then a study of its efficacy needs to be carried out”.


Media Contact

Press Officer
[email protected]