Posted on February 12, 2018 by Jenny Cromack

What is Stress?

Generally, we see stress as sense of pressure, negative emotions, and unpleasant tension. Contemporary, psychological, definitions of stress break the concept down. It is broken down into “stressors” (e.g., external environmental factors) and the “response to the stressors” (e.g., feeling pressured). The concept of stress involves physiological, behavioural, and psychological consequences. Stress has been described both positive (eustress) and negative (distress), and also as acute stress and chronic stress


Why Do We Get Stressed?

A common model, and portfolio of research, by Lazarus and colleagues (1973, 1975, 1977) proposes that the stress response is rooted in the transactions between individuals and their surrounding envrionments, and the way the individuals’ appraise these transactions (e.g., as stressful or not). Lazarus describes two types of appraisal primary and secondary. Primary appraisals involve the initial appraisal of the specific event/situation. These primary appraisals can come in 1 of 4 forms;

1) irrelevant,

2) benign and positive,

3) harmful and threatening, or

4) harmful and challenging.

The secondary appraisal concerns weighing up the pros and cons of different coping strategies available to the individual. Basically, the primary appraisal concerns the external event, and the secondary focus inward on the individuals coping abilities/resources. The outcomes of the primary and secondary appraisals will determine the stress response;

1) direct action,

2) seek information,

3) do nothing, or

4) develop coping resources/strategies.

What Induces More Stress?

Salient Events – an events/situations that occur in domains that are highly important individuals will be more likely to be seen as stressful. For example, those who value work over other walks of life will more often find events at work more stressful than other areas, such as family or sport.

Overload –  stressors that fall into part of a large network of stressors is more likely to be seen as stressful. For example, multitasking or taking on “too much” in one go creates a background noise of stressors, which increases the likelihood of a stressful appraisal. Whereas in isolation these individual stressors may not be seen as stressful.

Ambiguous Events – if an event/situation/task is not clearly defined it will be more likely to be viewed as stressful. For example, role ambiguity within your job may influence more stressful appraisals and responses compared to clearly defined roles or tasks.

Uncontrollable Events – if stressors can be predicted or controlled they are less likely to be seen as stressful. For example, if we can forecast periods of stress and the specific areas it may be easier to appraise them as less stressful.

How Can We Control/Reduce Stress?

Dealing with stress requires having coping strategies/resources in place. Coping refers to the process of managing stressors, and restoring normal physiological and psychological functioning (e.g., removing or correcting a problem). Ways of coping include approach vs. avoidance, and problem vs. emotional-focused. Approach coping involves tacking the problem head on, gathering information, and directly acting on the problem. Avoidance coping often presents as a denial of the problem or minimising its importance. Short-term problems are often best approached with avoidance, whereas long-term stressors would benefit from approach-based coping.

Problem-focused coping involves reducing the demands of the stressors or increase the availability of resources to deal with them. For example, putting a plan of action, timescale, and goal/task sheet together to tackle a specific work-related stressful task/event. Emotion-focused coping refers to attempts at controlling the emotions provoked by the stressors. Examples of emotion-focused coping may include seeking social support (e.g. friends/family), re-framing your perspective of the problem (e.g., look for positives), and distraction (e.g., exercise, TV, shopping).

Specific Coping Strategies!

There are many strategies individuals can develop to cope with stress, here are some of my own strategies that I find extremely effective in reducing and managing my stressors. Not all stressors are removable so we need to be able to manage them. Here are my top 5 tips for stress managment:

  • Social Support; Talk to friends/colleagues/family/those related to the stressor.
  • Goal-Setting; break stressful tasks into achievable and progressive chunks.
  • Time-Managment;  physically write up a timescale/diary to complete/work on/tackle event/stressor.
  • Reframing the Event; Look for positives in the stressor. “Yes its a challenge, but this will give me a great sense of achievement.”
  • Self-Distraction; Use exercise as a release. Unless it, in itself, is a stressor.

Stress is what we make it. Consider the importance of the stressor, what do you have in place to cope with it, who can you turn to for help, and how can you tackle/avoid this stressor?

Here’s to a less stressful rest of 2018!