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Stress Management 

Jennifer Latham Robinson



Stress management encompasses techniques intended to equip a person with effective coping mechanisms for dealing with psychological stress, with stress defined as a person's physiological response to an internal or external stimulus that triggers the fight-or-flight response. Stress management is effective when a person utilizes strategies to cope with or alter stressful situations.

 

Historical foundations

 

Walter Cannon and Hans Selye used animal studies to establish the earliest scientific basis for the study of stress. They measured the physiological responses of animals to external pressures, such as heat and cold, prolonged restraint, and surgical procedures, then extrapolated from these studies to human beings.

 

Subsequent studies of stress in humans by Richard Rahe and others established the view that stress is caused by distinct, measureable life stressors, and further, that these life stressors can be ranked by the median degree of stress they produce (leading to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale). Thus, stress was traditionally conceptualized to be a result of external insults beyond the control of those experiencing the stress. More recently, however, it has been argued that external circumstances do not have any intrinsic capacity to produce stress, but instead their effect is mediated by the individual's perceptions, capacities, and understanding.

 

Models of stress management

 

Transactional model

 

Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman suggested in 1984 that stress can be thought of as resulting from an “imbalance between demands and resources” or as occurring when “pressure exceeds one's perceived ability to cope”. Stress management was developed and premised on the idea that stress is not a direct response to a stressor but rather one's resources and ability to cope mediate the stress response and are amenable to change, thus allowing stress to be controllable.

 

In order to develop an effective stress management programme it is first necessary to identify the factors that are central to a person controlling his/her stress, and to identify the intervention methods which effectively target these factors. Lazarus and Folkman's interpretation of stress focuses on the transaction between people and their external environment (known as the Transactional Model). The model conceptualizes stress as a result of how a stressor is appraised and how a person appraises his/her resources to cope with the stressor. The model breaks the stressor-stress link by proposing that if stressors are perceived as positive or challenging rather than a threat, and if the stressed person is confident that he/she possesses adequate rather than deficient coping strategies, stress may not necessarily follow the presence of a potential stressor. The model proposes that stress can be reduced by helping stressed people change their perceptions of stressors, providing them with strategies to help them cope and improving their confidence in their ability to do so.

 

Health realization/innate health model

 

The health realization/innate health model of stress is also founded on the idea that stress does not necessarily follow the presence of a potential stressor. Instead of focusing on the individual's appraisal of so-called stressors in relation to his or her own coping skills (as the transactional model does), the health realization model focuses on the nature of thought, stating that it is ultimately a person's thought processes that determine the response to potentially stressful external circumstances. In this model, stress results from appraising oneself and one's circumstances through a mental filter of insecurity and negativity, whereas a feeling of well-being results from approaching the world with a "quiet mind," "inner wisdom," and "common sense".

 

This model proposes that helping stressed individuals understand the nature of thought--especially providing them with the ability to recognize when they are in the grip of insecure thinking, disengage from it, and access natural positive feelings--will reduce their stress.

 

Techniques of stress management

 

There are several ways of coping with stress. Some techniques of time management may help a person to control stress. In the face of high demands, effective stress management involves learning to set limits and to say "No" to some demands that others make. Techniques of stress management will vary according to the theoretical paradigm adhered to, but may include some of the following:

 

§          Autogenic training

§          Cognitive therapy

§          Conflict resolution

§          Exercise

§          Meditation

§          Nootropics

§          Relaxation techniques

·                      Fractional relaxation

·                      Progressive relaxation

·                      Stress balls

§          Sexual intercourse

§          Time management

§          Listening to certain types of relaxing music, particularly:

·                      New Age music

·                      Classical music

 

Measuring stress

 

Levels of stress can be measured. One way is through the use of the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale to rate stressful life events. Changes in blood pressure and galvanic skin response can also be measured to test stress levels, and changes in stress levels. A digital thermometer can be used to evaluate changes in skin temperature, which can indicate activation of the fight or flight response drawing blood away from the extremities.

 

Stress management has physiological and immune benefit effects.

 

Effectiveness of Stress Management

 

Positive outcomes are observed using a combination of non-drug interventions:

 

§          treatment of anger or hostility,

§          Autogenic Training

§          talking therapy (around relationship or existential issues)

§          biofeedback

§          cognitive therapy for anxiety or clinical depression




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