Results of exploratory investigation into adherence to auditory coping instructions during an acutely stressful task

Stress. 2020 Mar;23(2):144-152. doi: 10.1080/10253890.2019.1660317. Epub 2019 Sep 9.


Healthcare providers often perform under significant stress, during which their performance must be optimal, but is known to suffer. Stress management interventions in this context can provide cognitive support to rescue performance. This exploratory study sought to evaluate the effect of stress intervention components on stress and performance while clinicians engaged in two versions of a computer-based task, differing in overall level of demand: one high-stress and one low-stress. Participants (N = 45) were assigned to one of five groups (N = 9 per group), where they each completed both versions of the task, under different conditions of cognitive support. Group 1 received no intervention; Group 2 received biofeedback; and Group 3 received biofeedback and explicit coping instructions. Group 4 received emotional intelligence training, and Group 5 received emotional intelligence training and biofeedback. We hypothesized that Group 3 participants would present the lowest self-reported and physiological measures of stress, and the highest performance. Results reveal that the high-stress task induced significantly higher self-reported and physiological stress/anxiety, and lower task performance. No significant main effects of experimental condition or interaction effects were detected, indicating that intervention components had minimal effect on stress and performance. However, ultra-short term physiological analysis, analyzing <5 min of HRV data, revealed significantly decreased stress (SDNN, the standard deviation of normal-to-normal peaks) following auditory coping instructions. Exploratory study results suggest that although cognitive intervention components had minimal effect on stress and performance, physiological stress may be significantly reduced immediately following adherence to a coping instruction intervention. Future work is needed.Lay summaryThis exploratory study evaluated the potential benefit of providing healthcare practitioners with various stress management components during an acutely stressful task. Our results support the positive effect of following behavioral coping instructions on immediate physiological measures of stress.

Keywords: Biofeedback; acute stress; coping instructions; healthcare; performance; stress management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Biofeedback, Psychology
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Humans
  • Stress, Psychological* / therapy