Coping Through Communication

A sympathetic ear can support healing after a stressful event.

(This article by Rachel Stowe Master ’91 originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of “TCU Magazine.”)

Following a traumatic situation, how best to cope? Consider talking it out.

It isn’t just good advice, said Kristen Carr, assistant professor of communication studies. She conducted a study to find out how different manners of thinking and talking through life’s rough spells influenced personal growth in their wake.

Photo of two women hugging

Getty Images © Tom Merton

“I was curious how the stressful impact of adversity and the degree of rumination — that is, repetitive thinking and talking — affected the process of seeking social support,” she said.

Over a year, Carr asked online survey participants to identify the most difficult or stressful event they experienced in the previous three months. Responses included a child’s medical condition, family arguments, financial issues, divorce, depression and being the victim of a violent crime.

The professor asked a series of questions to assess the degree of stress using an ascending 7-point scale. “On average, participants reported that the stressful impact of the event was 3.73, indicating that these events were moderately to significantly stressful,” she said.

Survey participants also reported on their attempts to grapple with the negative event. Carr focused on “deliberate rumination” — purposeful, solution-oriented thinking about a problem, and “verbal co-rumination” — the incessant discussion of a problem with another person.

Read more in “TCU Magazine.”