All About Stress

What is Stress?

“Stress results from an imbalance between demands and resources. It is a psychological, physiological and behavioural response by individuals when they perceive a lack of equilibrium between the demands placed upon them and their ability to meet those demands” Bakker, Terluin, van Marwijk, Gundy, Smit., van Mechelen&Stalman, (2006)

“Stress has been defined in different ways over the years. Originally, it was conceived of as pressure from the environment, then as strain within the person. The generally accepted definition today is one of interaction between the situation and the individual. Stress is the psychological and physical state that results when the resources of the individual are not sufficient to cope with the demands and pressures of the situation. Thus, stress is more likely in some situations than others and in some individuals than others” (Michie, 2002).
(Monroe, 2008) conceptualizes stress as the organisms response to challenging or harmful conditions.

Classification of stress in research

Put simply, researchers agree that stress has two components, one is psychological and the other is physiological in nature (). It is commonly assumed that we respond to external events whether they are real or imagined with a set of responses that is referred to as General Adaptation Syndrome, also called the stress response which is adapted to the nature of the event ().
Based on the notion that stress is a set of adaptive neurological and physiological reactions stress research has been traditionally focused on studies investigating the organism’s response to stressful stimuli as well as cognitive processes influencing stress perception (Franken, 1994)

However, Seyle (1982) found that very few people can actually classify their experience of stress in the same way and even less are able to clearly define what exactly stress means to them. However, Seyle (1982) also found that not only pain, fear, fatigue or effort can cause stress but also success and these rather dissimilar stress producing aspects have led to a great variety of definitions of stress, causes, consequences and treatments in research.

Thus, there are a number of interpretations for the concept of ‘stress’ in psychology (Joshi, 2005).

(Khoozani & Hadzic, 2010) point out, that there is little agreement on the precise definition of the term, which in turn has led to a great degree of ambiguity in how to measure the various causes and corresponding effects of stress simply because researchers based their studies on different interpretations of stress (Monroe, 2008).
Realizing the need for better classification (Khoozani & Hadzic, 2010) proposed a human stress ontology model with the aim to define the concept in a way that would enable researchers to compare data collected on the basis of similar interpretations of the human stress concept. Their research led them to a model in which they defined the human stress concept by organizing it into 5 sub ontologies consisting of stress causes, stress treatment, stress measurements, stress mediators, and stress effects (see table below).

Stress measurements

u. Measurement of stressors
v. Measurement of stress feelings
w. Measurement of stress physiology

Stress as a matter of relativity, duration, and objectivity

Based on the (Khoozani & Hadzic, 2010) ontology, the model identifies 3 general factors inducing stress based on relativity, objectivity and duration.

Relativity – psychological (perceived) versus biogenic (absolute) factors

Considering the relativity of perceived stress (Lupien, Maheu, Tu, Fiocco, & Schramek, 2007) separate stressors into psychological and biogenic (absolute) groups. Whereas biogenic stressors are defined as stimuli that produce effects regardless of a person’s perception (i.e. drugs or environmental stimuli that lead to physiological arousal such as temperature or… ), psychological stressors are very much of a perceptual nature (Lupien, et al., 2007). Put differently, whether an event is perceived as stressful and to which extend is largely dependent on the way we appraise or interpret it (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980). For example …

Objective versus Subjective stressors

Similarly, (Pervin, 1978) describes stressors either as subjective (i.e. the belief of a person perceiving an event as stressful) or objective (i.e. based on observable facts). For instance (Hamama-Raz, Solomon, Schachter, & Azizi, 2007) found that the lower the participants of a study appraise their situation as a threat and more as a challenge the better they would cope with stress. This is in line with (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) theory that stress results from an imbalance between demand and resources, or put differently, once a stressor exceeds ones perceived ability to cope with it we are experiencing stress.

Acute or Chronic stressors

(Khoozani & Hadzic, 2010) also found that stressors can be categorized as either chronic or acute based on of the length of time they are present. Whereas chronic stressors are defined as of long duration, less intense and ambiguous in nature, acute stressors are more intense, typically of short duration and for example can lead to symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Khoozani & Hadzic, 2010) or increases in asthma attacks in children already suffering from asthma (Sandberg et al., 2000).

Stress Mediators

There are a number of stress mediators. For instance whether people experience stress or not depends on situational factors (Lupien, et al., 2007), or the level to which presenting stimuli is perceived as uncontrollable, unpredictable or unfamiliar(Mason, 1968) and to which extend a specific situation is perceived as threatening (Kemeny, 2003) are all thought to contribute to the stress experience.

Based on the interaction between stress cause, stress feeling and stress experience (Khoozani & Hadzic, 2010)classify stress mediators into three categories defined as psychological, neurophysiological and situational factors.

Psychological Mediators

Coping Patterns

Coping patterns are acknowledged as a person’s attempt to apply a strategy for the purpose to lessen the as stressful appraised adverse psychological or behavioural effects of a stimulus (Everly $ Lating, 2002). Arnold (1960) investigated the link between stress stimuli and emotional responses and found that an individual’s personality type, age or situational factors would determine which kind of coping strategies are likely to be employed. Lazarus (1966) via his transactional theory identified a two stage cognitive appraisal, stage one is concerned with how an individual may perceive a particular stimulus or event, such as threatening or harmless, and the second stage of the appraisal is concerned with the evaluation of his/her abilities to find a resolution to the source of the stress.

Although the majority of researchers tent to agree with Lazarus’s (1966) findings (Everly and Lating, 2002), some argue that coping patterns do not explain all the responses to stress(Keil, 2003) and others have proposed that emotional responses to stressful stimuli could occur without the employment of pre-defined cognitive constructs (Zajonc, 1984)

Cognitive Factors

Cognitive factors have been suggested to play the most crucial role in how individuals cope with stressors (Dunkel-Schetter).Foa&Rothbaum (1998) identified that sufferers from PTSD usually hold world views in which living is seen as a dangerous and unpredictable undertaking over which they have little control in addition to a lack of competencies to deal with stressful situations or events that could occur at any moment.

Hence Bandura (1997) too pointed out that an individual’s perceived control over life’s demands is the most relevant factor in controlling a stress response to environmental stimuli. In other words the greater the perceived control in a situation or event, the lower the levels of perceived stress. There are a number of studies that confirm this equation. For instance Johnston, Gilbert….1992) found that patients would recover faster from Isurgery?when they perceived having greater control over their recovery.
These findings highlight why most cognitive behavioural strategies dealing with an individual’s stress perception are primarily focused on establishing levels of control (Khoozani & Hadzic, 2010).

Personality Factors

A number of researchers found a correlation between personality type and stress responses (Vollrad, 2001, Eyseneck&Eyseneck 1969, Friedman &Rosenman, 1974, Lazarus 1990). For example,personality traits such as hardiness (King, King, Fairbank, Keane, & Adams, 1998) and conscientiousness (Friedman et al.) have been identified as significantly correlating with lower levels of stress experiences in individuals, and neuroticism and trait anxiety in individuals is significantly correlated with greater susceptibility to stressful stimuli (Eyseneck&Eyseneck 1985).
Similarly, Millon’s (1996) biosocial learning theory of personality proposes that an individual’s susceptibility to different kinds of stressors is dependent on their coping styles, needs and reinforcement patterns.

Developmental factors

Seiffge-Krenke, Aunola…(2009) found that stress perception changes based on the developmental stages of an individual. For instance during the adolescents stage the perceived stress of an individual is more likely to be determined by identity issues and conflicts resulting from interaction with parents, peers and the opposite sex.
Check Ryan Wenger, 1992).

Gender related Factors

Billings and Moos (1991) found that males respond different to stress than females with males tending to either confront stress head on or deny it to be an issue compared to women who would tend to be more emotionally affected and are more likely to proactively talk through their issues (La France &Banaji, 1992).

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