Stress

  • Causes of stress
  • Methods of measuring stress
  • Techniques for managing stress
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Stress

Lazarus and Folkman define stress as : "A pattern of negative physiological states and psychological responses that occur in situations where people perceive threats to their well-being which they may be unable to meet."

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Causes of stress.

Background: Vary from person to person. Not all stressors carry the same level of seriousness. Lazarus claims that "the causes of stress dont exist objectively, and individuals differ in what they see as a stressor in the first place."

Psychologists want to identify the main causes of stress so that they can then help to reduce both physiological and psychological impacts by removing the stressor that is causing the problem.

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Work

Background: Stress levels can differ according to the type of job held. People who are responsible for meeting targets and who have a lack of social contact are often more stressed. However, people with less stressful jobs can find work more stressful than at home, suggesting that any job is going to cause some level of stress.

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Johansson: "Stress responses in Swedish sawmill wo

Aim: To see if work stressors such as repetitiveness, machine-regulated pace of work and high levels of responsiblilty increase stress-related physiological arousal and stress-related illness.

Method: Natural experiment. Independent measures design. 24 workes at a swedish sawmill. 14 were in the high stress risk group - 'finishers' who had to work at a set pace, governed by the production line, respinsible for their own and their teams wages and were socially isolated. The other 10 workers were in the low risk group (control) were all cleaners or maintenance workers. 
Each p gave daily urine samples to measure levels of stress-related hormones (adrenaline & nor-adrenaline). Body temp. was checked at the same time as an indication of alertness and they were asked to complete a self-report about mood and caffeine and nicotine consumption since their last urine sample. They completed these measure when they first arrived and a firther 4 times during the day.
Baseline readings were taken at home before the study started. Records of stress-related illness and absenteeism were also kept.  

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Continued...

Results: In the 1st urine sample of the day the high risk group had twice as much adrenaline in their urine compared to their baseline and this increased throughout the day. The control group has a peak of 1.5 times their baseline and this declined during the rest of the day. High risk group also rated themselve as more irratable and rush than the control and had a lower rating of overall well-being.

Conclusion: A combination of work stressors - espescially repetitiveness, machine-paced work and high levels of responsibility leads to chronic physiological arousal. This leads to stress-related illness such as headaches and absenteeism. Also shows that work causes stress regardless of the type of job as all workers were more stressed at the start of the day.

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Hassles and Life Events

Background: Kanner defined hassles as: "the irritating, frustrating, distressing demands that to some degree characterise everyday transactions with the environment. They include the annoying practical problems such as losing things or traffic jams and fortuitous occurrences such as inclement weather, as well as arguments, disappointments, financial and family concerns."

Daily hassles we experience are positively linked to undesirable psychological sympotms such as anger, depression, crying and insomnia. These stressors combined together become on large cause of stress. Hassles could be seen as having a bigger impact on a person's stress levels than major life events as these are a collection of minor hassles added together.

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Kanner: "Comparison of 2 methods of stress measure

Aim: To compare the hassles and uplift scale and the Berkman life event scale as a predictor of psychological symptoms of stress.

Method: Longitudinal study. Repeated measures design. 100 middle aged adults from California. Most were white, average or above income and educated. All had previously completed a survey in 1965.

Each P completed the hassles and uplifts scales once a month for 9 months and then after 10 months the life event scale. They had their psychological symptoms of stress measured using the Hopkins Symptom checklist and the Bradburn Morale scale once a month for 9 months.

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Continued...

Results: The Hassles scale was a better predictor of psychological and physiological symptoms the the life events scores. Hassles also seemed to be consistent month on month. Hassles and symptoms were significantly more positively correlated (the more hassles the more symptoms.). Uplifts were positively related to reduce symptoms for women but not for men.

Conclusion: The assessment of daily hassles and uplifts may be a better predictor of stree and ill health than the life events as they ocntribute to psychological symptoms regardless of life events.

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Lack of Control

Background: How much real/perveived control we have over a situation can affect the levels of stress. How much control affects us links to self-efficacy in that how confident we are in carrying out a particular behaviour of meet the demands of a particular situation will change the level of stress we experience.

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Geer & Maisel: "The effect of control in reducing

Aim: To see if perceived or actual control can reduce stress reactions to adverse stimuli.

Method: Lab experiment. 60 students. Shown photos of dead car crash victims and their stress levels measured by GSR and heart rate through ECG monitoring. Independent measures, P's randomly assigned to 3 conditions:
Group1: Given control over how long they looked at the images for. Could press a button to terminate the image and were told a tone would precede each new image.
Group2: Warned the photos would be 30secs apart and would see the pictures for 35secs and a 10sec warning tone would preced each photo. No control but knew what was happening.
Group3: Told from time to time they would see photos and hear tones but were not given timings or any control.
Each P was seated in a sound and electrically shielded room and wired up to the GSR and ECG machines. Machines were calibrated for 5mins and a baseline measurement was taken. Instructions were read over an intercom. Each photo was preceded with a 10second tone and then flashed up. GSR was taken at the onset of the tone, during the second half of the tone and in response to the photo.

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Continued...

Results: ECG recordings were discarded as they appeared inaccurate. Group 1 experienced the least stress. Group 2 showed higher stress as they knew what was coming but did not have any control. Group 3 showed the highest stress levels.

Conclusion: Having control over your environment can reduce stress responses so being able to terminate adverse stimuli reduces the impact of stressful events.

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Methods of measuring stress.

Background: Psychologists need to be able to measure both the subjective experiences of stress using self-reports and the objective physiological reactions that occur to the way that the body changes when under stressful conditions.

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Physiological measures.

Background: Involves scientific measurements of changes in the body such as hormone/chemical levels, heart rate and blood pressure. P's often wired up to machines or asked to give samples. E.g. saliva or urine can be collected to measure levels of cortisol, polygraph to measure heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure.

GSR (galvanic skin response) is used to measure changes in electrical potential across the skin based on the amount of swear detected and the value is recorded on a computer. P is wired up to a machine via electrodes attached to the fingers. The more stressed they are, the more sweat the body produces causing electrical resistance of the skin to drop.

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Geer & Maisel: "The effect of control in reducing

Same as before.

Lab experiment. 60 students. Shown photos of dead car crash victims and their stress levels measured by GSR and heart rate through ECG monitoring.

Each P was seated in a sound and electrically shielded room and wired up to the GSR and ECG machines. Machines were calibrated for 5mins and a baseline measurement was taken. Instructions were read over an intercom. Each photo was preceded with a 10second tone and then flashed up. GSR was taken at the onset of the tone, during the second half of the tone and in response to the photo.

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Self-reports

Background: Can be used to measure both chronic and acute stress. Involve questionnaires, intervies or diary methods for individuals to record their responses to stressful situations and events in their lives. Can be used to measure a range of different stressors such as major life events or percieved levels of stress or minor hassles.

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Kanner: " Comparison of 2 methods of stress measur

Same study as before.

Each P completed the hassles and uplifts scales once a month for 9 months and then after 10 months the life event scale. They had their psychological symptoms of stress measured using the Hopkins Symptom checklist and the Bradburn Morale scale once a month for 9 months.

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Combined approach.

Background: Use both physiological measures and self-reports at the same time to allow psychologists to gain objective and subjective data at the same time which means the data will be rich and detailed.

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Johansson: "Stress responses in Swedish sawmill wo

Same as before.

Each p gave daily urine samples to measure levels of stress-related hormones (adrenaline & nor-adrenaline). Body temp. was checked at the same time as an indication of alertness and they were asked to complete a self-report about mood and caffeine and nicotine consumption since their last urine sample. They completed these measure when they first arrived and a firther 4 times during the day.
Baseline readings were taken at home before the study started. Records of stress-related illness and absenteeism were also kept. 

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Techniques for managing stress.

Background: Look at how different approaches attempt to devise ways of managing stress based on what they believe is the cause of stress.

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Cognitive techniques

Background: All stressful behaviour is caused by faulty thinking patterns.
Stress Inoculation Therapy aims to teach clients to replace self-defeating thoughts with more positve ones, and so practice this unti it becomes habit, it is intended to train people to be able to cope with stress before it has become a serious problem. SIT can be conducted with individuals or groups. SIT consists of 8-15 sessions, plus booster and follow-up sessions conducted over 3-12 months. SIT is a sort of preventative treatment for stress and Meichenbaum suggests there are 3 components
1) Conceptualisation stage: Client and therapist work through different situations so the client can make a to-do list of problems that need sorting. This is done by looking at how the client reacts to situations and thinking about how these could be changed
2) Skill aquisition & rehearsal stage: Client is taught coping strategies such as relaxation training/problem solving to provide self-instruction that will help them restructure their thoughts. Can be practiced in sessions before the client tries them in real life.
3)Application stage: Client puts into practice what they have learnt in real life stressful situations and may be encouraged to help others in similar situations to cope with stress.

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Meichenbaum: "Stress Inoculation Therapy"

Aim: To compare the effectiveness of SIT with systematic desensitisation and a control group. To look at whether enabling people to idnetify their stressors and change their mental processes when under stress is better then just sitting changing their behaviour.

Method: field experiment. 21 American students aged 17-25 sitting real tests, 15 males and 6 females, all had replied to an advert for a treatment of test anxiety. Given a test-anxiety questionnaire; an anxiety checklist and an IQ test to create a baseline score so they could be allocated to groups. Ps randomly allocated to conditions, gender split was balanced in each condition and anxiety levels were controlled in the 3 groups. P's completed self-reports before and after treatment and their grade averages were also compared before and after. The assessors did not know which condition participants had been in (blind testing). In the SIT group, Ps had 8 therapy sessions using ‘insight’ training where they addressed their thought processes and were given positive statements to say and relaxation techniques to use in the test situation. 

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Continued...

Systematic desensitisation group had 8 sessions of progressive relaxation training, they were told to practice at home. The control group were put on a waiting list for the treatment.

Results: They found that the SIT group performed the best in tests and had lowest anxiety levels but both therapy groups showed greater improvements that the control group.

Conclusion: SIT is an effective was of reducing anxiety in students who are prone to anxiety in test situations and more effective than simply using behavioural techniques when a cognitive component is added in. Students treated witht his therapy are encouraged to challenge their own negative thoughts which cause anxiety rather than addressing the anxiety alone.

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Behavioural techniques

Background: It is the consequences of our actions that controls whether behaviour is repeated. Using biofeedback devices, it is possible to train a person to control their body's heart rate, muscle tension, gastrointestinal tract, blood pressure and responses to stress.

The training involves being monitored in real time, most common course is EMG monitoring of muscle tension. The person can watch the results and actually correlate what they feel to them and learn to control them. Eventually you get to a stage where you can have complete control over your body's muscular systems.
In a normal session, electrodes or sensors are attached to the skin which send info to a monitoring device that translates info into a tone that varies according to different measurements, or an on-screen display. Through practice people will learn to control and identify the mental activities that will bring about the desired physical and physiological cahnges. Each session usually lasts 1hr. Many people see results within 8-10 sessions but this will vary depending on what is being treated.

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Budzeynski: "Biofeedback and reduction of tension

Aim: To see if biofeedback techniques work and help reduce tension headaches or whether the effect is due to the placebo effect.  The placebo effect is a positive psychological effect that can occur even when there is no actual treatment

Method: 2 males, 16 females. Average age og 36. Replied to an advert in a USA newspaper. They were screened by phone and underwent psychiatric and medical examination to ensure they was no other reasons for their headaches. Lab experiment. Data collected using EMG, feedback by graph. P's also given a psychometric test for depression and asked to comple questionnaires on their headaches. Independent measures design, randomly assigned to 3 conditions. All p's kept a diary of their headaches for 2 weeks, rating them 0(mild)-5(severe).
Group A: Received biofeedback with relaxation training and EMG feedback. They were told the ‘clicks’ of the biofeedback machine would reflect their muscle tension & the slower the clicks the less tension.

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Continued...

Group B: Received relaxation training but with false (pseudo) feedback.  They were told to concentrate on the varying clicks
Group C: Control group who were told they were on a waiting list for the treatment and it would begin in 2 months
A and B had 2 sessions of training a week for 8 weeks and were told to practice relaxation at home twice a day. P's continued to record their headaches and after 3 months, A and B were given an EMG test, questionnaire and MMPI

Results: After 3months A's muscle tension was significantly lower than B's at the end of training and this was maintained after the study. A's reported less headaches than the other groups and they reported less symptoms. Drug use in A decreased more than B. During follow up 18months later all A's p's reported some reduction in headaches.

Conclusion: Biofeedback is an effective way of training patients to relax and reduce their tension headaches so can be seen as an effective method of stress management. Relaxation training is effective but better when used along side biofeedback.

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Social techniques.

Background: Social support helps reduce stress, may be due to the fact loneliness and isolation can increase stress. A social support network is made up of friends, family and peers unlike a social support group. You dont need to fomalise your social support network with regualr meeting or an official leader. A coffee break with friends etc. are ways to reduce stress whilst fostering lasting relationships with people close.
There are different types of social support available such as informational support, emotional support, esteem support and tangible support.

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Waxler-Morrison: "Social relationships and cancer

Aim: To look at how women's social relationships influence their response to breast cancer and survival.

Method: Quasi-experiment, independent measures. All women were naturally in different condition due to their social support networks. Questionnaires, interviews and examination of medical records. 133 women under 55 yrs. Clinic in Vancouver. Asked to complete questionnaires about existing social networks, edicational level, children, friends and family etc. Medical records were reviewed for their treatment period and survival recurrence rates were checked for the period 4years after treatment. Biases were removed. Sample was chosen and social networks were assessed, then the researchers waited to see the outcomes.

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Continued..

Results: 6 aspectsof social network were significantly linked with survival, including: marital status, support and contact with friends, total support, social network and employment. Qual data showed concrete support such as help with childcare was important although complex relationships were found with children and children themselves needed support. Spouses were reported to be supportive and jobs were important as they were a source of support and info.

Conclusion: The more social networks and support, the higher the survival rate of women with breat cancer, presumably because stress has been reduced. However, the main factor in survival is the state of the cancer at the time of diagnosis.

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