Of all the negative effects of war, loneliness is probably the most common. It can occur during any time of transition or disruption. Loneliness is a feeling of deprivation about one’s existing social relations. But what makes people feel deprived? According to some researchers loneliness is produced by a discrepancy between what we actually have and what we want.
According to Robert Weiss, there are two types of loneliness. In social isolation, a person feels deprived of a network of friends or relatives; in emotional isolation, a person feels deprived of a single, intense relationship. These two kinds of loneliness share a common emotional core, and there is some debate about how clearly they can be distinguished (Russell et al., 1984). Either one can be momentary or a long-lasting characteristic of the individual.
Emotional Isolation often strikes the war veterans at the same time as social anxiety and depression. Like social anxiety, emotional isolation and depression are characterized by the deliberating pattern of social interaction.
Social anxiety is the emotion we experience when we are uncomfortable in the presence of others. It is often accompanied by social awkwardness, inhibition, and a tendency to avoid social interaction.
Social anxiety comes in two varieties. The state of social anxiety is a momentary experience that flares up at a certain time or in a certain place, and then passes. The trait of social anxiety is more enduring: a characteristic of certain individuals that persists over time and across situations. For those chronically afflicted, their anxiety locks them into increasingly unpleasant social interactions. Such individuals tend to reject other people, perhaps because they fear being rejected themselves. They are withdrawn and ineffective in social interactions, perhaps because they perceive negative reactions even where there are none. In fact, however, other people often do react negatively to interactions with socially anxious individuals.
Feelings of social discomfort can arise from a number of sources. They can be a learned reaction of to unpleasant encounters, as social problems in the past contribute to social anxiety about the future. That is why, it has often been seen that war veterans usually suffer anxiety.
Depression is a psychological disorder characterized by negative moods, low esteem, pessimism, lack of initiative, and slowed thought process. Although there are numerous influences on depression, social psychologists have paid particular attention to the role of cognitive factors.
Researchers believed that depression is caused due to the exposure to uncontrollable, aversive stimulation. They proposed that organisms exposed to an uncontrollable event learn something- namely that control is not possible. Faced with this knowledge, they stop trying to exert control even in a different situation. That is the case of war veterans. They have seen too much cruelty, huge toll of human lives, immense loss of property and resources, heinous and inhuman war crimes; and above-all the aftermath-miseries, diseases and moral decay, over which they have no control whatsoever. This feeling of helplessness and hopelessness caused depression in many war veterans. A sense of hopelessness does appear to serve as a major link between negative life events and depression.
How to cope Stress?
When people cope, they attempt to reduce the stress produced by a threat that strains or exceeds their resources. Many individuals cope with misfortune by actively seeking meaning in their lives. There are, however, many other ways to cope, and researchers often examine general categories of coping that include many specific responses. Two types of coping are widely recognized. Problem-focused coping consists of cognitive and behavioral efforts to alter a stressful situation. Emotion-focused coping consists of cognitive and behavioral efforts to reduce the distress produced by a stressful situation. Some investigators also emphasize a third type of coping; seeking social support.
Problem-focused coping seems a prime candidate for a starring role in the war against stress. Surely those active, direct, assertive, efforts are associated with better health. There are, no doubt, many reasons why problem-focused coping might not have positive consequences in a specific situation. Research on the effects of exerting control provides some insight into a more general explanation. Perhaps there can be too much of even a good thing.
Is it always beneficial to confront a stressor head-on and try to control it? The answer is no. There are costs to imposing control, and at times these costs exceed the rewards (Burger, 1989). To exert control, an individual must remain vigilant, alert and actively engaged. If people are not sure that their efforts at control will be fully successful, the responsibility of having control can be a source of emotional turmoil.
Because of the costs of effort and responsibility, the benefits of exercising control will vary depending on the demands of the stressful situation and the resources of the individual. Beneficial use of control involves selectivity and efficiency: selecting what can, in fact, be controlled and exercising only that level of control necessary for success. Although indiscriminate efforts to maintain or regain control can create a momentarily comforting illusion of control, they may reduce actual control over relevant events and increase stress. There are times to go it alone and times to ask for help; times to “bear down” and times to “mallow out”. The trick is knowing when to do which.
When people rely on emotion-focused coping in response to a stressful situation they seek to manage their emotions rather than modify the threat. Emotion-focused coping comes in two kinds: approach versus avoidance.
Researchers are agreed that confessions are good for the body as well as the soul. There are two reasons for that. First, not confronting one’s feelings and beliefs about a distressing event requires active inhibition, which is physiologically stressful. Second, the failure to translate the psychological consequences of a trauma into language makes it more difficult to understand the event and cope with it.
Confrontation reverses these harmful effects: Physiological stress is reduced and coping is facilitated. Although people often confront their feelings by talking to others, there are other possible modes of expression. The benefits of confrontation may be especially strong when extremely traumatic events are being described and when women rather than men are disclosing.
Avoiding and denying the feelings is also, sometimes, harmful. Active suppression of physical pain can prolong its intensity. Chronic long-term avoidance and denial may prevent a person from ever coming to terms with a stressful experience.
But denial and avoidance can sometimes be beneficial. A severe trauma with long lasting consequences, such as war calls into question basic assumptions about personal invulnerability, the meaningfulness of life, and self-worth. Individuals faced with such serious threats to their understanding of themselves and the world in which they live need psychological breathing space; time to incorporate the trauma without demolishing their psychological integrity. If unable to avoid or deny these threats early in the coping process, they may be overwhelmed.
Distraction, another form of avoidance coping, can also be beneficial in some circumstances. It has been noticed that subjects who had been instructed in anxiety-management techniques coped better than those given training in problem solving or no training at all. In situations where the individual had very little control over events, distraction and other emotion-focused techniques were more effective in reducing psychological distress than were problem-focused efforts to exert control.
Focusing on the self can be induced by various kinds of external situations such as mirrors, cameras, and audiences. Mood, too, can induce it. Research indicates that, compared with a neutral mood state, both positive and negative moods increase awareness of the self. Thus, when a stressful event occurs, the negative feelings that arise magnify self-focus. What happens next depends on a person’s view of self. Individuals with negative self-concept experience more negative moods when self-focused than do those with a positive self-concept. The end result is a self-perpetuating feedback loop: Negative mood increases self-focus, which among those with a negative self-concept increases negative self-concept increases negative mood even further. This vicious circle forms the basis for a self-focus model of depression. In this case, coping with stress by focusing on the feelings only makes things worse.
One reason may be that depressed, self-focused individuals don’t feel capable of engaging in distracting activities. Unfortunately, even those who do escape often jump from the frying pan straight into the fire. Substance abuse of all kinds (alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and overeating), promiscuous sexual behavior, chronic aggressive behavior, self-mutilating, and suicide may all be increased by people’s attempts to avoid an uncomfortable state of self-awareness. These kinds of distraction have nothing to recommend them.
Fortunately there are some healthy alternatives. First, there is an important difference between passive and active approaches to emotions. Passive brooding about one’s depressed conditions, called a ruminative response style, maintains depression among both men and women. In contrast, an active effort to understand and express one’s feelings is associated with reduced depression. Among men, adopting an active approach to emotional expression is associated with increased depression over time. It appears that the kind of active emotional confrontation may have greater psychological costs for men than for women.
Both men and women, however, can profit from constructive distraction. There are many healthy kinds of distraction: exercise, gardening, reading, helping others etc. whatever the specific activity, it should be difficult, demanding and fully engaging. Research found that subjects in a negative mood felt better after performing a difficult task than did those who performed a simple task or no task at all. Difficult tasks, it appears, can absorb a bad mood. But this paper-towel effect is not limited to negative emotions; a good mood is also reduced by an absorbing task. The prescription is obvious. In a bad mood, use some healthy task; in a good mood, stay focused.