The concept of the stress-buffering model is that certain resources help to reduce the impact of negative life events on an individual’s health status. An accumulation of adverse occurrences can be related to health problems, but life stress may have less effect among people who have more psychosocial resources. In this sense, the resource serves as an insulating factor, or buffer, between the stressors and the disease outcome, so that people who have more resources are less affected by stress.
Stress is typically measured by the number of major negative events that a person has experienced in the past year. These include events such as loss of a loved one or experiencing severe financial difficulty. Job strains, in an occupation in which demands are high but control is low, can serve as a stressor, and criminal victimization (assault or theft) can be quite distressing. High levels of stress have been linked to anxiety, depression, and physical health problems in studies of general populations, but buffering resources can reduce the relation between stress and disease.
One type of stress-buffering agent is social support. Social support can be defined as resources provided by others that help a person to cope better with problems. Research has shown that persons with more social support are less affected (or unaffected) by negative life events. Supportive relationships contribute to well-being because they provide a source of intimacy, acceptance, and confiding about emotions (emotional support), which provides buffering effects across a broad range of life stressors. Supportive persons may also offer useful advice and guidance (informational support). By providing such resources, personal relationships help to reduce the impact of stress on depression and anxiety. Some studies have also suggested that social support can provide buffering effects that reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease or cancer.
Personality characteristics also may serve as a stress-buffering resource. For example, a personality complex termed hardiness has been found to provide buffering effects. Hardiness is defined as scoring high on attributes of commitment (being involved with other people rather than detached or alienated), control (taking control over one’s decisions and actions, rather than passivity and pow-erlessness), and challenge (the ability to tolerate uncertainty and see life events as a challenge rather than a threat). Persons who score higher on hardiness show less illness at high levels of stress, compared with persons low on hardiness. Thus individuals who score higher on this personality complex are more resistant to stress.
An implication of the stress-buffering model is that interventions to enhance available social support or to teach persons positive attitudes about commitment, control, and challenge can help make persons less vulnerable to negative events. Such interventions can be conducted in school, clinic, or community settings so as to improve people’s coping ability and thereby improve the mental and physical health of the population.
SEE ALSO Anxiety; Coping; Psychosomatics, Social; Stress
Ouellette, Suzanne C., and Joanne DiPlacido. 2001. Personality’s Role in the Protection and Enhancement of Health. In Handbook of Health Psychology, eds. Andrew Baum, Tracey E. Revenson, and Jerome E. Singer, 175–193. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Wills, Thomas Ashby, and Marnie Filer. 2001. Social Networks and Social Support. In Handbook of Health Psychology, eds. Andrew Baum, Tracey E. Revenson, and Jerome E. Singer, 209–234. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Thomas Ashby Wills