The psychological impacts of physical activity and exercise related to how men cope with

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The psychological impacts of physical activity and exercise related to how men cope with traumatic events and life stressors have not been well examined. Current research indicates that men tend to cope
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The psychological impacts of physical activity and exercise related to how men cope with traumatic events and life stressors have not been well examined. Current research indicates that men tend to cope with stressors in maladaptive ways due to a variety of reasons, including implied societal messages specific to masculinity norms. Men may often avoid coping with stressors and engage in avoidant behaviors instead of using more adaptive coping strategies such as engaging in physical activity/exercise. Engaging in physical activity and exercise has been found to decrease levels of stress, anxiety, and symptoms related to depression and may be one way men may feel comfortable expressing their masculinity. Relevant masculinity theories imply that men may often avoid traditional mental health treatments because their masculinity may not be adequately recognized and integrated into treatment approaches (Rabinowitz & Cochran, 2002). Thus, this study examines how men use the sport of surfing to adaptively cope with traumatic life events. Research has found that men often cope with stress in more maladaptive ways, including using avoidant strategies that are associated with increased negative psychological symptoms (Lengua & Stormshak, 2000). Coping has been defined as the constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that have been evaluated as taking up or exceeding the resources of the person (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Research indicates that men tend to deal with stress through problemfocused coping methods (cognitive and behavioral attempts to modify or eliminate the stressful situation), while women employ emotion focused coping strategies (involves attempts to regulate emotional responses elicited by the situation). Participating in physical activity and sport has long been recommended due to the associated physical health benefits, but physical activity and sport also has numerous positive mental health consequences (Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). Wheeler and Frank (1988) found four buffers to the negative effects of stress on health: sense of competence, exercise pattern, sense of purpose, and leisure activity. In a study performed by Iwasaki and Mannell ( ) investigating effects of leisure/exercise beliefs and coping 1 strategies, they concluded that participants who strongly believed that leisure contributes to their feelings of self-determination reported lower levels of major event stress which itself was linked to higher levels of mental and physical health (p. 48). Physical activity may be an adaptive strategy for men to cope with life stressors due to the positive psychological effects of physical activity and beneficial impact on reducing stress. Men are often predisposed to culturally embedded standards of masculinity inherent to gender role conflict (GRC; Levant, 2001; O Neil, Helms, Gable, David, & Wrightsman, 1986) as they develop through life, including toughness and aggression in the absence of other more adaptive coping styles (Levant, 2001). One way to think about the influence of masculinity on how men cope with stress is through the GRC model. GRC is a psychological state in which socialized gender roles have negative consequences on the person or others (O Neil, Good, & Homes, 1995, p. 155) resulting from competition between rigid, sexist, or overly restrictive male gender roles and incompatible situational demands (Wester, Christianson, Vogel, & Wei, 2007). The GRC model posits four domains in which men experience conflict: success, power, and competition (SPC), restrictive emotionality (RE), restrictive affectionate behavior between men (RABBM), and conflict between work and family (CWF). Purpose of the Study The current study set out to qualitatively investigate the influence of the sport of surfing in the way male surfers cope with traumatic life events. This study explored the experiences of male surfers in regard to why they choose to surf, what they think about while surfing, the importance of surfing in their life, and how they used the sport of surfing in relation to coping with traumatic life events. The central research question was, How do male surfers use the sport of surfing as a way to cope with traumatic life events? Method Participants and Research Team We used a convenience sample of eleven male surfers who chose to surf at a popular Southern California beach. The participants ages ranged from 24 to 33 years (M = 27.64, 2 SD = 2.94). Convenience sampling was used based on recommendations that homogenous groups (e.g., surfers surfing in the same area) are more effective in describing a specific concept or construct in full versus qualitative results from heterogeneous groups (Ponterotto, 2005). The research team consisted of two doctoral students in a counseling psychology program and one counseling psychology faculty member. The interviewer was a male in his mid-20 s, who identified himself as a surfer and as a member of the action sport community. The other graduate student was in her early 30 s and had basic knowledge of the sport of surfing. The third member of the research team was a counseling psychologist and faculty member. Apparatus and Materials After reviewing the sport and coping literature, the research team developed a semistructured interview protocol. The protocol consisted of two sections: a demographics questionnaire and an open-ended qualitative interview portion. The demographics questionnaire was made up of four Likert-type item questions regarding the participant s age, years surfing, self-rated surfing ability, and frequency of days spent surfing per week. The 23 open-ended qualitative questions were created in accordance with CQR methodology (Hill et al., 1997; see Appendix). The purpose of the interview was to gain a qualitative understanding of (a) the participant s desire to participate in the sport of surfing, (b) the participant s perceptions of how surfing makes them feel and what they are thinking about while surfing, (c) the therapeutic nature of surfing, and (d) the participant s perceptions of how they use the sport of surfing to cope with traumatic life events. All of the interviews were recorded by way of a Kodak Playsport Zx3 Underwater Video Camera. Digital copies of each interview were downloaded from the video camera onto an Apple imac desktop computer where they were transcribed using Microsoft Word. Procedure 3 Surfers choosing to surf at a popular Southern California beach in a major metropolitan area were approached about participating in this study. The beach location is regarded by surfers as a good place for surfing because of the consistency, frequency, and size of waves throughout the year. During the time the data was collected (early January), most participants could be regarded as people committed to the sport of surfing. On the days the data was collected, the weather was raining and cloudy, and the weather temperature was between degrees Fahrenheit, while the water temperature was between degrees Fahrenheit. Given these weather conditions, people who were not well equipped for the weather and water temperature and who were not familiar with the beach and waves are unlikely to be surfing in this locale. The principle researcher approached each participant as he was preparing to enter the water for the first time during that day. In total, 14 men were approached about participating in the study and of those 11 agreed. The men were selected to voluntarily participate since they possessed their own surfing equipment (i.e. wetsuit and surfboard) and appeared to be preparing to enter the ocean to go surfing. This preparation would include applying surfing wax or preparing their surfboard; putting on their wetsuit, booties, or other cold-weather surfing equipment. The researcher explained the study and participants were instructed to read and sign an informed consent document for research participation and for permission to be audio and video recorded. Upon signing the informed consent document and finishing preparing to go surfing, the participant completed the demographics questionnaire. Before the participant entered the ocean, the interviewer asked the first interview question pertaining to how the participant felt before going surfing. Once both the participant and the interviewer were in the water, the interviewer asked the participant 20 questions specific to why the participant chooses to surf, how he currently feels, what he is thinking about, and how surfing makes him feel. The final two interview questions were asked on the shoreline once the participant exited the ocean after surfing. Interviews were both audio and video recorded by way of an underwater water- 4 proof video camera. All interviews were transcribed verbatim by the interviewer for data analysis, however, umm s and long delays were omitted from the report of the final results. Data Analysis Procedure We felt that the Consensual Qualitative Research design (CQR) would be ideal for our purposes due to its intended nature of evoking detailed data pertaining to people s phenomenological experiences (Hill et al., 2005; Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997). The CQR methodology involves interviewing participants, then organizing the responses into general and specific themes in order to develop an inductive understanding of the given construct. The interviewer was a male doctoral student in a counseling psychology program located in the Midwest. In order to most effectively maintain the quality and trustworthiness of the data analysis, one female counseling psychology doctoral student, in addition to the interviewer, served as a primary auditor. In addition, one male counseling psychology faculty member served as an external auditor of the data. Before conducting the interviews, the research team discussed their potential biases for working with the surfing population as recommended by Hill et al. (1997). The interviewer identified as a surfer and reported having previous interactions with surfers. The research team also acknowledged having predetermined beliefs about what the interview process would be like in order to minimize potential bias. For example, some of the dominant biases discussed were that surfers were easy-going, relaxed, somewhat resistant, and preoccupied with the sport of surfing. To determine the core domains and ideas of the study, the primary auditors independently read the interview transcripts and developed a preliminary list of core domains and a list of core ideas for each domain. Each list was discussed between the auditors and eventually a list of core ideas was developed that captured the the participant s perspective and explicit meaning (Hill et al., 2005, p. 200). The external auditor reviewed the list in order to verify accuracy and quality. Lastly, categories were labeled based on the frequency of occurrence of the theme in 5 the data. We employed Hill et al. s (2005) revised labels of general, typical, and variant. qualifies that the category was reported by all or all but one of the participants (10 11). Typical describes a category that was acknowledged by more than half of the participants up to all but one (6-10). The variant label includes at least two participant reports up to half of the participant reports (2 5). Results Three salient domains emerged from the data. First was the Surfing as A Source of Identity domain, which arose from the participants discussion of what the sport of surfing meant to them and the importance of it in their life. The specific categories within this domain were a) Surfing is Apart of Me, b) Can t Imagine Not Surfing, and c) Surfing is Everything. The first domain embodied the individual importance of surfing, while the second domain focused on the Elements of Surfing That Facilitate Coping, which was comprised of the specific elements surfing provided the participants that contributed to their ability to cope with traumatic life events. The specific categories within this domain were a) Therapeutic, b) A Space to Think About Life, c) Ability to Escape, d) A Space to Not Think, e) Be Alone, f) Forget, g) Have Fun, h) Being Immersed in Mother Nature, and i) The Ability to Focus Only on Surfing. The third and final domain that emerged was labeled Emotional Benefits From Surfing due to the participants discussions of specific emotional components that surfing elicited. The categories within this domain were a) A Sense of Balance, b) Feeling Calm, Peaceful, and Relaxed, c) Feeling Recharged and Refreshed, and d) Feeling Cleansed. An excerpt is provided to illustrate the types of responses coded for each core idea. A summary of results across domains and categories can be found in Table 1. An excerpt is provided to illustrate the types of responses coded for each core idea. Surfing as A Source of Identity Participants were asked what surfing meant to them and the importance of the sport in their life. Every participant indicated that surfing was apart of their identity as an individual. Specifically, they referred to surfing as something that was apart of them or something that 6 defines them as a person. For instance, one participant described how surfing is something that he needs to live and is an activity that defines who he is: Its something I need to live, I don t know like it s just such a part of my life everything. Like, it s become such a part of me that it almost defines who I am. I guess there s nothing else I can say, yea, it pretty much defines who I am. Participants also mentioned that they could not imagine surfing not being apart of their life and not surfing. One participant explained that he could not imagine not surfing: No. I don t know what I would do if I didn t have surfing. I don t, I don t know. I guess, it s just in my blood, it s uh, It s something that once you do you get addicted. It really is addicting. I ll surf at 5am if I have to go to work at 6. I ll get out here as often as I can, as, you know, as often as I can I guess any way, any means necessary to get out here I ll do it. Beg borrow or steal. The majority also referred to surfing being so central to their life and that it meant everything to them: Uh, surfing s everything really in my life really. Um, it starts my day and uh, it usually ends my day. Uh, so it s a lot, it s a big balancing act especially in a very hustle bustle city um where everything is moving 500 miles an hour So that s the importance of surfing to me. It opens up my eyes, it relaxes and it, it s healthy, and uh, yea. Elements of Surfing that Facilitate Coping Participants were asked how surfing helps them cope with life and traumatic life events. Every participant believed that that act of surfing was therapeutic in nature: Yea, it [surfing] helps, it s helped a lot, you know, relieves you from a lot of stress. Um, and again it goes back to if you re feeling down that day and you feel like you can cleanse yourself when you surf. So it just helps you relax and get out of the uh, the normal, you know, or whatever stress you re dealing with and again some people think, you know for me it feels like it s ah, again, a very spiritual thing so if I m having a really bad day or going through some stress I can get out in the water and just be at one with nature and just relax and kinda 7 forget about it for that time and come out of it and get back into the day without having that stress. It s really cool how that works, so. But it s definitely helped me. The vast majority also felt that surfing facilitated coping due to the opportunity to engage in the sport of surfing and have the space to think about their life. One participant noted: Um, and sometimes I m thinking about everything at once and trying to balance things out so, it s kinda good, you can use the ocean to either, you know, be at complete peace with yourself or kinda use it to help yourself balance different, you know, chaos that s going on in your life. Every participant also indicated that surfing was therapeutic in the way that it provided them with a space to not have to think about any specific traumatic event that was present in their life and allowed them to escape : It really takes your mind off of everything. It is an escape from an otherwise dreary world outside the ocean. Uh, no matter what s going on outside of the ocean, once you get here it s a peaceful place to practice the activity that I love and uh, I enjoy every minute of it. It s freezing cold. It s raining right now, it s windy and my head hurts but caught my first wave and I am happy. The participants also expressed that the ability to have fun while surfing contributed to its therapeutic nature and is one reason why they are continually drawn back to the sport. Finally, all of the participants commented on the therapeutic nature of the ability to focus only on the act of surfing while actually surfing a wave. The Emotional Benefits of Surfing Participants were asked what surfing provided them emotionally that may contribute to the therapeutic nature of surfing. The men reported that surfing provided them a sense of being cleansed both figuratively and actually: 8 Yes, for sure. Like I said, washing things off, like when you come out here you can wash off everything you did up on land you can just kind of let it go, cleanse yourself, cleanse your thoughts, your body, all of it. Uh, it s a way of letting go for sure Surfing also provided an outlet for the men to feel refreshed and recharged: You just feel kinda recharged almost refreshed. I feel like the reason that is, is because you ve just been out and cleared your mind, you ve had a lot of fun and uh, whether you are having a session with your friends or just by yourself, your just uh you just feel better about everything. Finally, all of the participants stated that they felt more calm, relaxed, and an overall increased sense of balance in their life after engaging in the sport of surfing. Discussion The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of how male surfers use the sport of surfing to cope with traumatic life events. The results from this study suggest that men reported that the act of surfing is therapeutic and an avenue that they utilize to cope with traumatic life events such as the passing of a loved one or stress at the workplace. Several important themes arose from this exploratory study. The men identified surfing as a salient component of their personal identity. Unlike other forms of recreation or physical activity, surfing appeared to be more of a lifestyle than simply a sport as early indicated by Farmer (1992). All of the men expressed dismay and disapproval of the thought of surfing not being apart of their life in the future. The importance that the men placed on surfing may have influenced their positive appraisal of the sports perceived therapeutic benefits. The men believed that engaging in the act of surfing was almost a kind of therapy and identified the sport as their main form of coping with traumatic events that occur in their life. It was interesting to learn that the men found surfing to be therapeutic due in part to the ability to have a space to think about their life as well as have a space to not think about anything but the actual act of surfing a wave. This ability for the men to forget or escape what 9 was taking place in their life while they surfed contributed significantly to surfing being able to facilitate coping. As indicated in previous research, men often cope with stress in maladaptive ways such as engaging in alcohol use as a means of forgetting or escaping what is causing them stress (Martin, Blum, & Roman, 1992). One of the interesting findings in this study was that the vast majority of the men indicated that just simply being in the ocean and immersed in mother nature was therapeutic in its own right. A number of the men noted
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