Stress always sounds like a frequently used bad word. If you ask a fellow student, a parent, a family member, or a coworker how they feel, “stressed” is usually one of the common words they might use in description along with sleepy, exhausted, and burnt out.
To get technical, stress results from things that happen in our environment, according to the transactional model of stress. Unfortunately, this model implies almost anything can cause stress, “people, events, and situations” (Gruman, 2017). Those categories mentioned are called stressors and there are many things that fall into those three categories.
In these situations, our brains appraise the situation. Appraisals can happen consciously or subconsciously. When this happens think of fight or flight. Either we can think this situation is threatening to us or it’s something we can conquer or get over. We also have secondary appraisals that evaluate and assess our resources to determine how we handle the stressor.
Appraisals can be different for everybody even if it’s the same situation. For example, if I saw a snake (it could be at PetSmart), I would immediately appraise the situation to be threatening. My secondary appraisal would be my resources, my legs to move away from the aisle or my car keys to escape just in case the snake escaped its cage. My husband on the other hand, would appraise the situation as something he could overcome or may not be stressed by the situation at all. If we were looking at the same snake however, his stress maybe because of my reaction to the snake, not the snake itself. What can stress one person out may not phase another.
Appraisals can also change over time. Another personal example, at one point I used to be terrified of dogs. I had been bitten as a child. If I saw a dog, my subconscious appraisal was that the situation was threatening, and I would cry, scream, and beg to leave whatever place the dog(s) were. About 7 years later my cousin, whom I was very close with, got a dog. His gentle nature and my constant appearance in his home changed my appraisal. I no longer saw the situation as threatening. Later on, I grew to be a dog lover with my own two spoiled puppies.
This is an example of coping. Coping is “thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that people engage in when trying to reduce stress” (Gruman, 2017). In essence this means what do you do to reduce the stress that the event, person, or situation caused.
In my last example, I unknowingly was involved in problem-focused coping which is exactly how it sounds. I faced my problem head on to reduce the power it had to stress me out. Did I consciously think “Hey, you really have got to get over your fear of dogs. It’s ridiculous.” No, I did not, I was 10. But I did think, “I want to be around my older cousin more so if that means dealing with her dog then fine.” Pepper was a gentle lovable dog, he made it easy to start to look forward to his cuddles when I saw him. Pepper himself didn’t make my fear of dogs obsolete, but his nature did help me cope. Eventually he was a point of stress relief and now so are my dogs.
There is another type of coping called emotion-focused coping. It deals with how people try to regulate their own emotions in order to reduce the effects of stress. It’s commonly thought of in terms of things we can not change, however, it’s important to note that this does not mean that we avoid the stress. Avoiding stress can lead down a destructive pathway which could possibly bring on more stress.
I experienced emotion-focused coping when I found out that Pepper died. I do not like to be sad, but I let the emotion come forth and I also thought about all the things Pepper opened me up to. Because of Pepper I have two dogs that I love so much. I learned how to take care of an animal because of him. I also learned how to train a dog and instill obedience. My dogs have a better life because of my own interaction with Pepper.
If you notice my end results in both dog examples was that they lead to a healthy outcome. Using the coping methods appropriately lead to a healthy management of stress. Other coping mechanisms for stress management are relaxation training, expressive writing, and using cognitive behavioral therapy to identify stressors, discuss appraisals, and practice coping strategies (Taylor, 2018). Stress may not cause illness; however, it can greatly exacerbate it. Other factors affect stress like socioeconomic status, negative events. Stress can also impact sleep and the time frame to recover from the physiological effects on stress on the body.
To reduce the likelihood of developing chronic stress or incur any of the negative effects of stress it’s important to also have a support system. Social support according to Taylor is information from others that one is loved and cared for, esteemed and valued, and part of a network of communication and mutual obligations. This means that people are better able to cope and have healthier outcomes with social support.
There are difference types of support such as tangible assistance, which is like a monetary gift or someone physically helping you move. Informational support is getting advice or information on situations we’ve never faced before such as getting marital advice as a newlywed. Emotional support is what we receive from people that love and care about us and our well being. Though this doesn’t list all types of support, these are just a few things to possibly reduce our haste to stress out.
Stress is something that can’t be avoided. Our bodies were made to respond to it for our survival, but it can be managed so that it won’t take over our lives and our health. Let’s make use of all of those strategies to keep up healthy and thriving.
Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (2017). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.
Taylor, S. E. (2018). Health Psychology. New York: McGraw Hill Education.