Strategies for managing stress

Stress has become increasingly accepted as a contributor to illness although at a relatively gradual phase in comparison to most causative factors of disease. Such may be due to its lack of physical attributes that define other causative factors of disease such as viruses, bacteria and chemicals. The challenge in identifying how stress contributes to illness has however been aggravated by the lack of a conventional definition and methodological and theoretical inadequacies of studies trying to establish the link (DeLongis, Folkman and Lazarus 486). Although Selye defined stress to be the “nonspecific response of the body to any demand” (Selye 53), other perspectives (e.g. Mason’s) have considered stress as a more specific response, especially with regard to the psychological stimulus it involves. Study inadequacies in stress research include use of stress as a unitary variable yet it is a complex variable and the cross-sectional nature of most studies that limit their causal-effect identification (DeLongis, Folkman and Lazarus 486). This paper discusses stress with reference to perspective offered by Selye and Lazarus to highlight aspects that could help in managing stress.

Taking the definition of stress by Seyle, stress could signify either a positive aspect (eustress) or a negative aspect (distress). In case of Eustress, causes are life events such as job promotion and winning a competition, which are cognitively assessed to be positive. In most cases, however, stress is usually used in reference to the negative form – distress. In this respect, understanding the association between the stressor and the response is critical to establishing the link between stress and illness. Seyle identifies a stressor as “an agent that produces stress at any time” (53). Accordingly, various life events could become stressors but whether the response generated is eustress or distress, is a subject of cognitive appraisal an individual accords the stressor, which in turn is a subject of an individual’s conditioning (Selye 54). In this respect, an event that is distressing to one individual may not elicit such a response in another individual because of the differences in endogenous (e.g. age and genetic) and exogenous (e.g. social influences) conditioning factors between any two individuals (Selye 54; DeLongis, Folkman and Lazarus 487). Although total elimination of stress is impossible (Seyle 1976), what approaches for managing stress aim at is to mitigate the levels of distress and promote eustress.

Since conditioning factors of an endogenous nature may be hard to modify, approaches that rely on altering exogenous conditioning factors could provide strategies that manage stress effectively. DeLongis, Folkman and Lazarus (486-495), for instance provide two examples of these – social support and self-esteem. In respect to self-esteem, individuals with a positive appraisal of themselves are less likely to be overwhelmed by the demands presented by stressors such as job losses (DeLongis, Folkman and Lazarus 492; Selye 56). For social support, its perceived availability is important for not only enhancing coping mechanisms, but also moderating the progression of physical and psychological distress into mental illness (DeLongis, Folkman and Lazarus 492). Such stress management approaches help reduce the extent of emotional liability, which is important in progression of stress to chronic levels (Selye 56). Individuals could thus follow structured physical and cognitive activities that increase positive-affect moments and lower negative affect moments in they lives to manage stress effectively. Such activities include engaging in activities such as sports that are a source of joy for one self at least once a day, laughing off situations that could otherwise be a source of distress, and learning to accept ones personality in order to boost ones strengths and mitigate the effect of ones weaknesses.

Although stress is increasingly gaining acceptance as a causative factor of illness, its lack of physical attributes, challenges in research addressing its link to illness and lack of a conventional definition, affect the progress towards developing effective management approaches. The discussions in this paper present such aspects of stress in reference to advancements by Selye and Lazarus. With the perception of stress as a “nonspecific response of the body to any demand” offered by Selye (53), stress could either be of a positive (eustress) or negative (distress) nature. The type of stress one experiences is dependent on ones cognitive appraisal of the stressing aspect (stressor) rather than the nature of the stressor. Such appraisal is influenced by endogenous and exogenous conditioning factors. Since endogenous conditioning factors may prove difficult to alter, effective stress management approaches need to focus on exogenous factors (such as enhanced social support and self-esteem) that, for instance, reduces ones emotional liability.

 Works Cited

DeLongis, Anita, Susan Folkman and Richard S. Lazarus. “The Impact of Daily Stress on Health and Mood: Psychological and Social Resources as Mediators.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 54.3 (1988): 486-495. Print.

Selye, Hans. “Forty Years of Stress Research: Principal Remaining Problems and Misconceptions.” CMA Journal, 115 (1976): 53-56. Print.

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