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People infected with HIV are subject to ongoing stress. These patients are plagued with night sweats, nausea, medication side effects, and periods of physical disability. In addition, they may have to cope with unemployment, rejection by family and friends, hospitalizations, and the prospect of premature death.
It’s not surprising that a recent study finds that coping strategies combined with social conflict and social support networks affect the psychological adjustment of HIV-infected individuals to their illness.
Researchers found that compared with perceived social support, social conflict was more strongly related to coping behaviors. Negative encounters with others — such as arguments, misunderstandings, and inappropriate demands — had a very strong effect on negative coping strategies including anger, social isolation, and withdrawal. Individuals who used social withdrawal as a coping mechanism were also found to have more negative moods and symptoms of depression. Researchers note that a dynamic may occur in which conflictual social interactions and social isolation aggravate each other and result in escalating psychological stress.
Older respondents coped more often than younger ones by seeking information and by engaging in positive actions, but they were also more likely to cope through isolation. Greater physical limitations were associated with more social isolation and fatalism. Feelings of HIV-related stigma were significantly related to coping with social isolation, anger, and cognitive avoidance, or trying to repress HIV-related concerns. Coping by seeking information was more strongly related to a positive mood than a negative mood.
[See: Fleishman JA, Sherbourne CD, Crystal S, et al. Coping, conflictual social interactions, social support, and mood among HIV-infected persons. Am J of Comm Psych 2000; 28(4):421-453.]