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Stress is a epidemic

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    The purpose of this essay is to discuss, considering the literature discussed in this module, the topic ‘Stress is an epidemic in the twenty-first century and impacts on peoples live in many different ways’. A definition of stress will be provided from several sources and linked to how it affects our overall health. The essay will examine common causes of stress in our society and how it has an impact on the individual physiologically, emotionally and behaviourally. Some explanation for why stress has now become as prevalent in western society as to be called an epidemic will mentioned. A discussion of the emergence of self help strategies and the many things that fall under the umbrella of positive psychology will be undertaken in some depth and some helpful strategies to alleviate stressors will be provided. Where appropriate, relevant references will be used to back up and strengthen all arguments and points presented.

    Stress has become so wide spread in society today that it has been described by many as a health epidemic. Carson & Buskist (1997) describe stress as “A pattern of physiological, behavioural and cognitive responses to stimuli (real or imagined) that are perceived as endangering to ones well being” (p.539). Collins (2010) describes and epidemic as “affecting many people in an area, example; stress has now reached epidemic proportions”.

    Atkinson (1979) makes a link between stress and frustration, conflict, and the inability to achieve a desired outcome or goal. He also goes on to elucidate the different ways stress affects people and how they respond to it. Atkinson (1979) explains the idea of learnt helplessness which he discovered by doing experiments with dogs in which the dog was placed in a situation in which it was helpless to avoid an electric shock. Later when the Dog was given the opportunity to avoid the shock, the dog made no attempt to avoid it. This theory is characterised in practise by the presence of apathy, withdrawal and inaction.

    There are many things that can potentially cause stress, these things are called stressors. Some stressors are predicable or voluntary and others are sprung upon a person with no apparent warning. Stress can be short lived and acute or it can be constant and long term. The depth and intensity of stress that is felt by an individual is not dependant on the event, rather, its more dependent on the beholders personal feelings and experiences, for example one person may be terrified of dentists whilst another may not be affected at all. Similarly, a person who doesn’t have children may be as stressed by the loss of a pet, as a parent would be by the loss of a child, although the parent would not find the loss of a pet any where near as stressful as the loss of their child. This demonstrates Weiten, Lloyd, Dunn & Hammer (2009) theory that, “Stress lies in the Eye of the Beholder” (p72).

    Weiten et al. (2009) noted that there are two appraisals of stress, primary and secondary. Primarily a person assess whether an event is threatening or harmless, if it is harmless then there is no stress caused. Secondly, if the event is perceived to be threatening then the person must decide weather they can cope with the perceived threat, if the person decides they have the necessary resources to cope with the threat be it through self- efficacy, social support, hardiness, optimism, predictability and control or the ability to laugh at yourself, then there is no stress if they decided they don’t have these necessary attributes to cope then stress can develop.

    Some common causes of stress are; any sort of change, conflict, indecisiveness, pain, identity issues, work, pressure of many types, frustration, and many more. Stress comes from many areas such as home, school, the workplace, socially and more. It has become increasingly rampant in western society as the general pace has of everyday life has inclined at a rapid pace. There is progressively more pressure everyday to do things more efficiently, in less time and with less resources and cost (Weiten et al, 2007).

    Stress is linked to health in several ways and Atkinson (1996) explains that many medical cases today can be related to stress in some way shape or form. Furthermore, stress can affect health physiologically, emotionally and behaviourally.

    According to Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome (1956 as cited in Carlson & Buskist, 1997) exposure to chronic stress produces a series of three physiological reactions: alarm, resistance and exhaustion and these three things can manifest very differently in different people. The alarm phase usually involves a reaction from the autonomic nervous system, heightened heart rate, blood pressure and respiration this stage often referred to as the fight or flight response, if the stressor is removed the body will return to normal, if not the body enters the resistance stage. During the resistance stage the body tries to lessen the impact the alarm stage has had by restoring lost energy and bodily damage. If the stress continues past the resistance phase the body becomes depleted of resources and stress related diseases may manifest, such as allergy, high blood pressure and heart disease.

    Emotional responses to stress can be anger, fear, sadness, guilt, shame and many more but in the case of sever and prolonged emotional stress it is explained by Horowitz (1986, as cited in Atkinson et al, 1979) that anxiety related symptoms may appear such as obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been observed that people who have experienced sever prolonged stress can develop cognitive disorders and may have memory problems as they get older (Carlson et al, 1997). Behaviour is often dictated by our physiological and emotional state, as stress often automatically affects these it goes hand in hand that behaviour is often going to be affected as well. Road rage, aggressive behaviour and violence are some behaviour manifested by stress as withdrawal and passivity.

    In western society there are a myriad of things which affect peoples stress levels, it has almost become part of western culture. As a result, of recent times there has been a marked rise in the many things we can do to help cope with and reduce our stress levels. Many of these things fall under the umbrella term of positive psychology. Positive psychology is as described by Maddux (2002) emphasizing general positivism, interpersonal skills, perseverance, well-being, happiness, satisfaction and wisdom. It wants to teach people how to manage themselves, be aware of their physiological and emotional reactions and how to turn those things into positive and empowering behaviours through equipping people with the skills needed to carry out their own inner healing. Of course there are going to be times when a professional is needed but the aim is to re-empower the individual to learn to cope and start the healing process and at the same time avoid any negative impacts from stress.

    Covey (1989) describes part of this concept as “the principles of balanced renewal” (p287). In this chapter Covey (1989) explains the four dimensions of self that must always be preserved and enhanced to maintain a healthy balance and to cope with stress and pressure, they are; physical, social/emotional, spiritual and mental. He explains within the physical dimension it is essential to look after your stress levels and one of the best ways he finds, is to exercise and eat well. In today’s western society almost everybody that lives a high stress life has a gym membership, many corporate buildings have their own gym on site so employees can exercise whenever they like, and the health and exercise industry has exploded over the last twenty years and is steadily growing.

    Within the realm of social/emotional health he describes the human need for empathetic communication with ourselves and with others. In today’s society pressure has become a major contributor to stress and he suggests that perhaps if pressure directed inward and outward could be relieved then stress may be relieved as well. Spiritual health differs from person to person for some it may be a religious base others it may be a moral base with no religious ties, whatever it is for the individual Covey (1989) explains that time must be taken regularly to sit and reflect on your core, your center, your commitment to your value system, as this is where many derive their inspiration and strength from. Again, spiritualism in all its forms has engulfed western society in a huge way of late. There are any meditation and relaxation centres, there are all different types of alternative therapies available claiming to uplift and renew.

    There are even compact disks with recording of the sounds of nature available to listen to whilst in the traffic on the way to work. Many people today practice meditation, yoga, tai chi, reiki and more bringing balanced and centeredness into their lives. There is also the mental dimension which is described by Covey as the basically keeping the mind active, he explains that once school and tertiary education is finished, many stop feeding their minds and like muscles if they are not constantly used they will suffer atrophy and cease to work as well. To avoid this he suggests reading interesting books, to limit television shows, to explore new subjects, to think analytically and to write. Weiten et al, (2007) mentions many of these practice’s and categorizes them as, relaxation training & aerobic training would be physical and spiritual. Whilst appraisal and problem solving strategies would be related to mental, and final emotional strategies would be social/emotional.

    In today’s western society and culture, in the twenty first century, stress has become an epidemic. It seems that every corner we turn we are faced with a new hurdle, and that every hurdle we jump is higher than the last thus causing increasingly more stress which we must learn to weave into our lives relatively seamlessly, therefore the need for stress relieving outlets has grown to massive proportions and we are forever searching for a way to balance our stress. Within this essay we have discussed the definitions of stress and how it manifests in our society.

    The link between health and stress has been explored in physiological, emotional and behavioural terms. The fact that perception plays a huge part in our processing of potentially stressful stimuli has been acknowledged and sources of stress have been identified. Furthermore, positive psychology and coping strategies have been highlighted and some examples of stress relieving activities were provided. Theories from several sources have been used to strengthen and clarify arguments. Yes, the stress of living in today’s society is heightened and it does affect people very differently, but if we spend some time getting to know ourselves and how we react to stress we can find a way to manage and cope with it proactively and effectively.


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    Collins Free Online Dictionary, (2010). Epidemic Retrieved January 29, 2010 from

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    Maddux, J. E. (2002). Stopping the ‘madness’: Positive psychology and the

    deconstruction of the illness ideology and the DSM. In C. R. Synder, & S. J. Lopez

    (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 13-25). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Weiten, W., Lloyd, M. A., Dunn, D. S., & Hammer, E. Y. (2009).

    Psychology applied to modern life: Adjustment in the 21st century (9th Ed.).

    Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

    Pippa McFall 167-021 p1

    Pippa McFall 167-021 p1

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