Stress in 21st century

This essay will attempt to show a positive correlation between stress and behaviour. Stress may well be of epidemic proportions in the 21st century, however, research conducted over the latter part of the 20th century indicates that at least the beginnings of a stress epidemic was evident in those later years. An accepted definition of stress is “any circumstances that threaten or are perceived to threaten one’s wellbeing and thereby tax one’s coping abilities”. (Weiten, Lloyd, Dunn & Hammer, 2009)’.

Research into stress epidemiology started in 1936 with the work of Hans Selye, one of the pioneers of stress being accepted as a psychological issue, rather than a physical or psychosomatic one. Other more recent research has highlighted the effects of everyday stressors on our physical and mental health (Seta, Seta & McElroy, 2002). Others, e. g. Lazarus and Cohen (1977) have investigated the detrimental effects of environmental stress on human behaviour. Stress is a term which has been used by researchers to describe a number of different conditions and means different things to different branches of medicine.

There are however, variables which are commonly regarded as being components of what is called ‘stress’ in the pyschological and psychosocial sense of the word. They include anxiety, depression, panic disorder, hostility; Type A behaviour, acute and chronic life events, social isolation, environmental issues, workplace issues and lack of social support. (Bunker, S. Colquhoun. D. , Esler, M. D. , Hickie, I. B. , Hunt, D. , Jelinek V. M. , Oldenburg B. F. Peach, H. G. , Ruth, D. , Tennant, C. C. and Tonkin, A. M. 2003).

Type A behaviour pattern refers to a number of personality trait characteristics, including rushed, ambitious and competitive behaviour, impatience, hostility, and intolerance. (Friedman 1974). Research into stress epidemiology was pioneered in 1936 by Dr Hans Selye. This research was followed by another publication in 1950 (Selye 1950). At this time stress was starting to be recognised as a psychological condition, not a physical one nor a psychosomatic illness but it was nowhere near as prevalent as it is in the 21st century. Selye’s theory was that in addition to the sympathetic nervous system, other bodily functions, e. . immune system, reproduction and digestive systems are impaired by stress. These systems continue to have impaired function whilstever the source of stress is impacting on the person, resulting in an inability to fully recover their functions if stress is prolonged or recovering in due course when the stress is short-term. If the immune system is suppressed for any great length of time, then a person is more likely to become recurrently ill. According to Selye, this is one reason why some people are more prone to illness than others. (See Appendix 1).

Selye’s theory has its detractors, though. One example of this is Serge Doublet (2001) who states, inter alia, in a personal communication “The claim of a suppressed immune system implies that the system is shut off. This is far than being supported by research. A temporary small reduction in lymphocytes or T cells does not make that much difference. Most of the studies on the effects of stress are correlation studies where the ‘stressor’ is assumed and the effect is also assumed. No cause and effect relationship has even been established. In the latter part of the 20th century it became evident that there was an increase in everyday stressors occurring. Minor routine irritations, such as losing the car keys, missing the train or bus, being financially unable to cope, family arguments or overcrowded conditions at work or home can all be the cause of a significant decline in a person’s mental or physical health (Kanner,Coyne, Schaefer & Lazarus, 1981). Other studies have shown that everyday stressors can have a cumulative effect on physical and mental health (Seta et al 2002; Seta, J. J. Seta, C. E. , Wang, M. A. 991). (See Appendix 2) It would appear that there does not need to be an incidence of major stress, such as earthquakes, bushfires, floods and cyclones to adversely effect mental and physical health, (Carr, 2000). Although stress occurs in everyday situations, the amount of stress experienced by an individual is determined by the coping mechanisms of that individual and how he perceives the stressor. Thus, two people facing identical stressors may have entirely different responses. It is difficult therefore to measure stress in terms of fixed responses. (Lacey, 1967; Mason, 1975).

Two particular stressors which can affect wellbeing and behavioural patterns are environmental and workplace stress. Each is particularly relevant to 21st century because each is a factor of normal daily life. The environment affects every person and the majority of adults in developed countries spend a considerable amount of time in the workplace. Environmental stress can be broken up into four main categories – cataclysmic events, stressful life events, daily hassles and ambient stressors (Baum, A. , Singer, J. E. & Baum, C. 1982; Campbell 1983; Lazarus R. S. and Cohen J. 1977). Cataclysmic vents include natural disasters e. g. floods and fire, war and imprisonment. They also include technological disasters such as Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident. Stressful life events include marriage, divorce, or a change of job, the birth of a child or death of a family member or friend. Daily hassles may include crowded or cancelled trains, an argument with one’s spouse or teenager, competing priorities at work and home. Examples of ambient stressors are noise, overcrowded accommodation, heat and cold. The cataclysmic events which have occurred in Australia within the past few months, i. . the Ingham floods in Queensland and the bushfires in Victoria’s Gippsland District are prime examples of stressors over which neither the victims nor the survivors had any control. The coping mechanisms employed by each person to deal with their losses and grief have been shown in television reports to be highly individual. Some of the survivors have displayed reactions which suggest that they have had prior experience in developing and utilising their own coping mechanisms which allow them to deal with the current stress (Moss, 1973).

Their behaviours are suggestive of either having been survivors of other major environmental disasters or they have been conditioned to stress through other major life events. The conclusions drawn by Milgram (1970) that rural people and urban people have developed differently because of the necessity for urban people to adapt to the high level of information required to survive urban living, in that they filter out unnecessary information (e. g. he presence of victims of crime and those needing assistance (homeless), are belied by the response of urban Australians to the plight of these flood and fire victims and survivors. This is indicative of the response expected by the research carried out by Fischer (1976) and Korte (1978). When environmental stressors are a factor in daily life, responses to those stressors may include behavioural changes. Urban overcrowding and poverty are stressors likely to lead to frustration and tension, which may in turn lead to use of alcohol, nicotine or other drugs, culminating in family violence and other crimes.

The use of these stimulants to alleviate stress has its own physiological implications, especially during prolonged or excessive use. There have been many studies which have shown that greater anxiety, tension and nervousness can occur as can stress, under adverse conditions. (Lazarus, 1966; McGrath, 1970a). Other researchers have found that there can be more negative interpersonal interaction during times of stress. Negative behaviours include aggression, hostility, and lack of co-operation. Another area which is directly affected by stress is decision making.

Studies conducted by Janis (1982) and Janis and Mann (1977) have concluded that decision makers under stress tend to make their decisions by focussing on one or two of the main factors, whilst disregarding other relevant data. Yet another factor which is important is that prolonged failure to control environmental stressors may lead to learned helplessness. Research has shown that people who have been exposed to uncontrollable environmental stressors are more likely to give up on cognitive tasks which require frustration tolerance (Cohen, 1980). Both verbal and non-verbal indicators of stress have been identified and categorised.

Verbal indicators may include repetitive speech, use of the words ‘um’ and ‘ah’ frequently, rapid speech, confused words or sentences. Use of the words ‘hopeless’ or ‘worried’ may also occur, an indicator of anxiety or tension. Body language is usually a good indicator of stress. Crossed arms, the body leaning back, lack of eye contact are all signs of stress. (Siegman, 1982). There have been many studies on the effects of high density residential settings on behaviour and stress. Studies from 1976 onwards have indicated that there is an association between high residential density and psychological distress or social withdrawal. Evans, 2001; Evans G. W. , S. J. Lepore, A. Schroeder 1996; Siddiqui R. N, Pandey, J. 2003; Baum A. and Paulus, P. , 1987; Evans, G. W. , S. J. Lepore, A. Schroeder, (1996). Included as Appendix 3 is an excerpt from the studies of Siddiqui et al (2003). Research on children in high density settings, conducted by Loo (1978) and Sundstrom (1978) have shown that both aggressive behaviour and social withdrawal can occur. Where density levels are high enough to produce overcrowding and extreme discomfort, it would appear that the tendency to withdraw from others may take precedence over aggression and hostility.

Social withdrawal has been noted to include reduced eye contact, increased physical distancing, less initiating of conversations (Baum et al 1987; Sundstrom, 1978). The effects of workplace stress have also been closely studied. The effects of stress according to Singh (2006) at p. 85 indicate that it can cause increases in injury, decreased productivity, absenteeism, lack of job satisfaction, feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety and lack of concentration. Lack of concentration can be a factor in increased injuries as well as a decrease in productivity.

According to Singh (2006) again, research has shown that people who are exposed to high levels of stress in the workplace are almost five times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. A recent survey of workers in Germany has shown that some 2 million Germans take medication for workplace stress and 800,000 take stimulants on a regular basis to enhance workplace performance. The survey also showed that the number of stress-related sick days taken by German employees rose by almost 8% in 2008. The survey looked at those engaged in jobs involving greater stress, less security and the pressure to achieve results.

Academics in particular were prone to use medication to enhance their ability to combat fatigue and increase performance. (Berliner Zeitung 13/02/2009). Stress can also lead to behavioural changes such as poor eating habits, increased smoking and alcohol consumption, sleep disorders, rapid speech and fidgeting. (Singh, 2006 p 85). Singh goes on to say at p87 that as organisations grow in size and become more globally competitive, so do the levels of stress grow proportionally. Conflict in the workplace can be equally as stressful as the workplace environment, lack of resources, unsatisfactory working conditions (e. . overcrowding, too hot or too cold, shift work, pay inequalities). Conflict arises when individuals or groups have incompatible goals. If left unresolved, it can lead to anger, hostility, resentment and sometimes even physical violence. (See Appendix 4) Yet stress is not necessarily a negative thing. Lack of stress in itself can be negative because it does not allow for challenges. Lack of stress can lead to boredom, underachievement and a lack of motivation to achieve goals or finish a project. One example of positive stress is the fight or flight response to a perceived threat.

This stress can help to make physical changes to the body by slowing down the parts of the body unnecessary to face or flee the threat and activating those parts which will be needed. Positive stress can also be responsible for helping a person to face up to challenges, change and decision-making. The conclusions drawn by the research presented in this essay are that negative stress has become an ever-increasing concern in this century and it has far-reaching consequences ranging from depression to family and workplace violence. The essay has hown that much research has been conducted on the effects of workplace stress and environmental stress. Examples of this research are contained in Appendices 1 to 4 and each serves to strengthen the correlation between stress and behaviour. The importance of maintaining a healthy environment to reduce stress is clearly set out in Daniel Stokol’s “Establishing and Maintaining Healthy Environments Toward a Social Ecology of Health Promotion”, is one of many examples which have led me to conclude that stress can result in adverse health, both physical and mental and lead to behavioural changes.

WORD COUNT 2084 REFERENCES Baum, A. , Singer,J. E. & Baum,C. (1982) Stress and the Environment. In G. W. Evans (Ed), Environmental Stress (pp 15-44). New York. Cambridge University Press Baum, A. and Paulus, P. (1987) Crowding in D, Stokols & I. Altman (Eds), Handbook of Environmental Psychology. New York: Wiley Berliner Zeitung, Study: Pill Popping for Work Stress Endemic in Germany Article 13/02/2009 as reported in Deutsche Welle DW-World. DE Bunker, S. Colquhoun. D. , Esler, M. D. , Hickie, I. B. , Hunt, D. , Jelinek V. M. , Oldenburg B. F. Peach, H. G. , Ruth, D. , Tennant, C. C. and Tonkin, A. M. Stress” and coronary heart disease: psychosocial risk factors National Heart Foundation of Australia position statement update Medical Journal of Australia, 2003 , 178 (6): 272-276 Campbell, J (1983). Ambient Stressors, Environment and Behaviour, 15, 355-380 Carr, V. J. , (2000) Stress Effects of Earthquakes, Encyclopaedia of Stress Vol 2, San Diego Academic Press. Cohen, S. After Effects of stress on human performance and social behaviour: A review of research and theory. Psychological Bulletin, 88, 82-108 Doublet, S. (2001), excerpt from a personal communication cited in http://www. guidetopsychology. com/stress.

Accessed on 02/08/2009 Evans, G. W. , (2001) Environmental Stress and Health In A. Baum, T. A. Revenson & J. E. Singer (Eds) Handbook of Health Psychology Mahwah N. J. Erlbaum Evans, G. W. , S. J. Lepore, A. Schroeder, (1996) , The Role of Interior Design Elements in Human Responses to Crowding, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70, 41-46 Fischer, C. S. (1976). The Urban Experience New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanich Fleming, I. , Baum, A. , & Weiss, L. (1987), Social density and perceived control as mediators of crowding stress in high-density residential neighborhoods. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 52(5):899-906.

Friedman M, Roseman RH. (1974) Type A behaviour and your heart. New York: Knopf. Janis, I. (1982). Decision Making under Stress, in L. Goldberger & S. Breznitz (Eds) Handbook of Stress (pp 69-87) New York: Free Press Janis, I. & Mann, L. (1977) Decision Making. New York: Free Press. Kanner, A, J Coyne, C. Schaefer, R. S Lazarus,(1981) Comparison of two modes of stress measurement: Daily hassles and uplifts versus major life events. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 4, 1-39. Korte, C. (1978) Helpfulness in the urban environment. In A. Baum, J. E. Singer & S. Valins (Eds) Advances in Environmental Psychology Vol 1,( pp 85-110).

Hillsdale, N. J: Erlbaum Lacey, J. I. (1967). Somatic response patterning and stress: Some revisions of activation theory. In M. H. Appley & R. Turnbull (Eds), Psychological stress ( pp14-37) New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. Lazarus, R. S. (1966). Psychological Stress and the Coping Process. New York: McGraw-Hill. Lazarus, R. S. and Cohen J. (1977) Environmental Stress in J Wohlwill & I. Altman (Eds) Human Behaviour & Environment (pp 90-127). New York: Plenum Loo, C. (1978) Issues of crowding research: Vulnerable participants, assessing perceptions and developmental differences. Journal of Population, 1, pp336-348

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