Stress In Everyday Life

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Life Changes and Daily Hassles

Our everyday stress is firmly rooted in our perception of what is stressful and how able we are to cope. These foundations are laid in childhood and affected by past experiences as well as individual personality characterestics.

Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe 1967- developed the Social Readjustment Rating Scale SRRS to measure the relationship between life changes and wellbeing.

The SRRS works on the principle that the more we have to adjust to a life event, the more stressful it is. Holmes and Rahe made a list of typical major life events, death of a spouse, marital separation, gain of new family member.

They got hundreds of men and women to rate each item on the list according to how much life adjustment each one would need. Then they ranked the items from those needing most to least adjustment.

Death of spouse came out on the top and this was assigned an arbitrary value called a life change unit LCU of 100. All other items were ranked relative to this life event and given scores according to their rank in the list. Homes and Rahe now had a tool which they could use to investigate the relationship between everyday stress and physical illness.

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Holmes and Rahe

Rahe et al 1970- find out if the SRRS correlated with onset of illness. 

2500 American sailors given the SRRS to complete for previous six months, total score recorded for each participant, detailed records on health status kept for next six months.

Positive correlation of 0.118 between life event scores and illness scores. 

The greater the number of life events experiences, the greater the likelihood of developing a stress related illness. Life events not only factor contributing to illness since correlation very small.

Problems with correlation, cause and effect, perhaps illness especially mental illness affects life events and not the other way around, limited sample, male US Navy, difficult to generalise to other populations, lacks population validity, and gender biased. 

Informed consent and full debriefing needed, recalling negative life events may cause stress to participants. 

The SRRS failed to take into account individuals appraisals of particular life events. 

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Kanner et al

Newer life event scales have therefore been developed to take account of individual differences by getting participants to rate life events in terms of whether they see them as positive or negative. Negative events tend to correlate more with ill health than positive.

Kanner et al 1981- Lazarus and colleagues devised three scales:

117 items Hassles scale to give a better measure of the impact of negative events.

135 item Uplifts scale since they realised that positive events can counter the effects of negative ones.

Combined Hassles and Uplifts HSUPS scale containing 53 items worded. So that the respondent can indicate whether a given item is a hassle, an uplift or both.

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Research into Daily Hassles

Kanner et all 1981- scores on Hassles scale correlate with levels of deperession.

DeLongis et al 1982- found positive correlation with health status for both a life events and Hassles scales although for Hassles, the correlation was greater. Uplifts were unrelated to health outcomes. 

Bouteyre et al 2007- found a correlation between daily hassles and mental health in a group of first year university students.

Lazarus 1999- Overall, it would seem that the frequency and type of daily hassles experienced by a person provide a better explanation for physical and psychological health than relatively rare major life events. Daily hassles create persistent irritations the effects of which can accumulate to give more serious stress reactions such as anxiety and depression.

Most of the data are correlational so it's not possible to draw causal conclusions. The research certainly indicates that daily hassles have the potential to adversely affect our health and wellbeing.

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Workplace Stress

Furedi 1999- The relationships between stress, the workplace and physical and mental health were first systematically investigated during the 1970s in recent years the workplace has been seen as a major source of stress and consequently stress has overtaken the common cold as the main cause of absence from work.

The source of stress experienced in the workplace will depend, on the type of work a person does, how much control they have over their day to day activities, how much responsibility they have and they type of work undertaken.

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Evans et al 2000- found that even low level noise in open style offices can result in higher levels of stress, and lower task motivation. 

Forty experienced female clerical workers were assigned for three hours to either a quiet office or one with low intensity office noise, including speech.

The workers in the noisy office experiences significantly higher levels of stress, as measured by urinary adrenaline, made 40% fewer attempts to solve an unsolvable puzzle, and made only half as many ergonomic adjustments to their workstations, compared to their colleagues in quiet offices.

Interestingly, the workers themselves didn't report higher levels of stress in the noisy office. 

The findings show open office noise has modest but adverse effects on physiological stress and motivation and could contribute significantly to health problems such as heart disease due to elevated levels of adrenaline and musculoskeletal problems.

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Home-work Interface

Achieving a balance between the demand of the workplace and the demands of home life has become more and more difficult in the last decade, especially since more and more families have both parents working and since technology such as laptop computers and mobile phones has made it easier to stay in contact with work wherever we are. 

Professor Gary Cooper of UMIST cited in Stranks 2005- stress arising from this home-work interface can result in divided loyalties, whereby people increasingly have to make decisions in terms of the demands of the family as opposed to the demands of work. 

Conflict of work with family demands especially in the case of overtime work where people are having to spend more time at work than they do with the family and, consequently, miss out on family activities such as going on trips out and eating together. 

Intrusion of problems outside work, working long hours means that the person isn't able to deal with family problems or crisis situations that require his/her attention.

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Control and Workload

Geer and Maisel 1973- shower participants coloured slides depicting victims of violent deaths. One group could stop the slide show by pressing a button whereas the other group had no such control and had to watch the show from start to finish. 

Stress was measured using the galvanic skin response GSR which detects minute changes in electrical conductivity of the skin due to stress. The group who had no control over their viewing had higher GSRs which suggests they found the viewing more stressful than the other group.

Steptoe et al 2004- found that participants with the highest levels of overcommitment at work had cortisol levels that were an average of 22% higher than those of workers with the lowest levels of overcommitment. Systolic blood pressure was an average of 7mm Hg higher among overstressed individuals. 

Many of these factors interact with each other and with an individuals personality characteristics as well as their perception of workplace stress. Various coping strategies, such as social support and engaging in hobbies can alleviate some of the negative effects of stress.

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Marmot et al

Marmot et al 1997- investigate the association between workplace stress and stress-related illness in male and female civil servants. This was part of the Whitehall studies, where a number of different psychosocial characteristics of work were investigated to test their association with illness. This particular investigation focused on the negative correlation between job control and stress-related illness.

A sample of 10,308 civil servants aged 35-55 (6895 men – 67%, and 3413 women – 33%) were investigated in a longitudinal study over 3 years. Research methods included questionnaires and observation. Job control (an aspect of workplace stress) was measured through both a self-report survey and by independent assessments of the work environment by personnel managers. Job control was assessed on two occasions, three years apart. Records were also kept of stress-related illness. A correlational analysis was carried out to test the association between job control and stress-related illness.

Participant's with low job control were four times more likely to die of a heart attack than those with high job control. They were also more likely to suffer from other stress-related disorders such as cancers, strokes, and gastrointestinal disorders. 

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Mamot et al

These findings were consistent on both occasions that job control was measured and the association was still significant after other factors, such as employment grade, negative attitude to employment, job demands, social support and risk factors for CHD had been accounted for.

Marmot et al's study showed the lack of control was related to ill health in their study of male civil servants. 

Johansson et al 1978- identified a group of high risk finishers in a Swedish saw mill who's job was to complete the last step in the preparation of timber. Their job was machine paced, repetitive, highly skilled and isolating. Their rate of work determined the wages for the rest of the factory.

When compared to a low risk group of cleaners, the finishers were found to have more stress related illnesses such as headaches, and higher levels of absenteeism. They also had higher levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline on work days compared to rest days. 

Supports Marmot it shows that the lack of control, machine paced work, and the high demands placed on them, everyone else's wages depended on their rate of work, led to stress related health problems in the finishers.

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Personality Factors and Stress

In both studies it's not possibly to truly understand the part played by life style factors such as smocking and lack of exercise since these rely on self report and are often under reported.

Neither of these situations takes individual differences such as personality factors into account. Not all workers who experience low control and high job demands become ill. 

Friedman and Rosenman 1976- in the early 1960s a pair of cardiac specialists studied the behaviour of male patients suffering from coronary heart disease CHD and found that a personality type which they called type A was consistently linked with an increased risk of developing CHD.

Type A is a form of behaviour exhibited by people who tend to be aggressive, competitive, tense, time conscious, and generally hostile whereas type B is the kind of behaviour exhibited by an easy going non aggressive, and non competitive person. Such people may be less prone to heart disease.

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Comments and Hardiness

Rosenman et al demonstrated the first link between personality type and CHD,recent research has shown that not all type A behaviours have an increased risk of heart attack. 

Dembroski et al 1989- found that only people who exhibit negative behaviours such as chronic hostility are twice as likely to suffer CHD. The reasons for the relationship between hostile behaviour and heart disease are not clear but it has been suggested that the hormones produced during hostility may do some physical damage, or that people who exhibit such negative behaviour do not maintain good health habits, such as exercising and eating a balanced diet.

The research on personality has shown has aspects of type A behaviour are correlated with the risk of developing CHD. This also means that there are many type A people who cope very well with their stressful lives and show no ill effects.

Kobassa 1979- described the concept of hardiness to explain how such people might cope. She found that people who felt in control, had high commitment and saw problems as challenge rather than stress, reported fewer stress related symptoms than those did didn't view their lives in this way.

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Hardiness Questionnaire

1) Trying my best at work makes a difference 0 1 2 3

2) Trusting to fate is sometimes al i can do in a relationship 0 1 2 3

Numbers in brackets refer to scores for question numbers. 

Hardiness= control score + commitment score + challenge score. The higher the score, the hardier you are. 

Kobasa et al 1985- used questionnaires such as the one you have completed to assess the relationship between hardiness and ability to cope with stress. She found that people who have high scores in tests of hardiness are significantly less likely to suffer from stress related illness than those with low hardiness scores. Her studies of personality and stress have also shown that coping with stress using exercise and social support, protected stress related illness.

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Kobassa Criticisms

Kobassa used mainly western male white collar workers in her research so it's difficult to generalise her findings to other cultures and genders. 

It does show that type A behaviour is not as bad at first believed and that certain type A characteristics may actually protect against the effects of stress.

This has helped to explain the inconsistent results found in earlier studies of type A behaviour and heart disease.

The extent to which each of Kobasa's three Cs contributes to the protective effect is unclear. Control, for example may be an important part of commitment and challenge rather than being separate from them.

Therefore, Kobassa may simply be measuring the role of control in protecting against stress rather than a distinct personality type.

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Other Personality Types

Eysenck 1988- type C difficulties in expressing emotions and forming social relationships, linked with cancer. 

Denollet 2000- type D distressed, high levels of negative emotions linked with heart disease especially when combined with social inhibition.

Whether these are distinct types remains in question. Never the less research into personality and stress has shown us the kind of behaviour associated with coping with stress and has led to come useful cognitive behavioural techniques in which people can be taught to engage in less harmful behaviour as a reaction to daily life stress.

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