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Stress Management

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Stress Management

Stress is unavoidable for most people. It is a fact of life that, many years ago, ensured the survival and still to this day offers beneficial effects alongside its pitfalls.

Stress management is one of the most significant areas in psychology. It is a combat therapy against all types of stressors that we encounter in our daily lives. It comprises of using your mental and physical energy to manage/practice self-care and relaxation techniques in the face of stressful situations. Stress management strategies either reduce the intensity of stress a stressful event causes or overcomes it completely.

Stress Management managing stress and anxiety StudySmarter

Stress management, Flaticon

What are stress management techniques?

We will take a look at the major stress management techniques that include drug therapy, psychological therapy, gender differences in managing stress and anxiety and the importance of social support in coping with stress.

There are a number of benefits of managing stress, some are as follows:

  • Reduced anger and good relations with others
  • Reduced anxiety and higher productivity
  • Transparent and focused thinking pattern
  • The better physiological and emotional health situation.

The role of social support in stress management


Social support is the comfort and support that you can seek in your family and friends to stand firm in the face of stressful situations. Social support depends on the culture you are living in and sometimes your gender (a general notion that females tend to receive more social support than males). Schaefer et al. (1981) outlined three types of social support that you have access to in your immediate social network.

Instrumental support

It refers to providing social support to the person through practical means, enabling them to deal with other more critical aspects of the stressor.

It can provide mental relief if you offer someone a drive to the hospital (if the stressor is a health emergency). Similarly, offering financial support, important information, or resources to someone can also provide instrumental support.

Esteem support

Esteem support refers to providing support by increasing the person’s self-confidence and value in their eyes, so they feel motivated and can cope with the stress.

For example, reminding someone of their strengths and achievements through difficult times in the past or using meaningful phrases like, ‘I know you can handle this’.

Emotional support

Providing sympathy and warmth to the person going through stress. Emotional support makes the other person feel like they can depend on their sources of social support for comfort and emotional wellbeing.

Using meaningful phrases like ‘I am here for you’, or ‘You can count on me for anything you may need’, or offering a hug, for instance.

Stress Management Managing stress and anxiety social support StudySmarterManaging stress and anxiety: social support, Flaticon

Research evidence for social support

Stachour et al. (1998) studied the effects of quantity and quality of social support on people’s mental and physical health under stress. They measured the quality of social support via a questionnaire that measured all three types of social supports and measured the quantity of social support through the number of interactions with the close social network. Stachour et al. (1998) concluded that quality played an important role compared to quantity on the physical and mental health of the sample.

  • Cohen et al. (2015) studied if hugs as a source of physical contact could reduce stress-related illnesses, such as a cold. A total of 404 healthy participants were contacted for 14 consecutive days through phone, asking the following:

    1. The number of hugs they got each day
    2. They used the daily interpersonal conflicts the sample experienced to measure stress levels.

    The participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their perceived level of social support. The participants were also exposed to a viral flue to assess any symptoms of illness.

    Findings: participants who received more hugs and social support had less risk of illness. Participants who received more hugs if they got sick showed fewer adverse symptoms. However, participants with more interpersonal conflicts were more likely to experience illnesses.

Stress Management Managing stress and anxiety through social support StudySmarterManaging stress and anxiety through social support, Flaticon

Evaluation of social support

Social support has both its strengths and weaknesses.

  • Social support is more valuable if individuals ask for it themselves rather than having it forced on them. A person might feel a rush of anxiety if the source of social support insists on accompanying them to their doctor’s appointment. It is unfair to conclude that social support will always reduce stress as there may be individual differences.

  • There might be cultural differences in seeking social support. Tayler et al. (2004) compared Asian Americans and European Americans and concluded that Asian Americans were less likely to seek social support when stressed comparatively.

  • Cohen and Wills (1985) supported evidence for social support. They found out that people can reduce the negative effects of stress through social support as it wards off the intensity of the stressor.

Drug therapy as a stress management strategy

Drug therapy is another direct technique used as a stress management tool. It helps in reducing the intensity of a reflex action that our body produces as a response to the stressor. Two types of drugs categories used to manage and reduce stress are Beta-blockers and Benzodiazepines.

Beta-blockers

This group of drugs usually works on the peripheral nervous system and manages noradrenaline and adrenaline hormones (hormones behind the fight and flight system). As a response to acute stress, the adrenal medulla produces adrenaline. The adrenaline is carried to the heart, where it fuels the beta receptors, increasing the blood pressure and the heart rate of a person in stress. Beta-blockers, such as propranolol, work by blocking the effects of adrenaline. The heart beats more slowly, for instance.

Benzodiazepines (BZs)

This group of drugs works on the central nervous system and promotes different neurotransmitters such as GABA. Benzodiazepines (BZs) enhance the effects of GABA neurotransmitters in some areas of the brain, which in turn inhibits the actions of other neurotransmitters, replacing them with chlorine ions. BZs increase chlorine ions levels and help them enter into neurons, reducing the effect of other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.

Essentially, GABA helps keep you calm, and BZs increase your reactivity to GABA. Hence, BZs make you feel calm.

Davidson et al. (1993) tested sustained-release adinazolam on a group of people with panic disorders and agoraphobia. He discovered that 69.7% of the participants suffering from the disorder showed improvement compared to only 39.6% placebo participants.

Stress management Beta blockers and bezodiazepines used for stress management StudySmarter

Beta-blockers and benzodiazepines used for stress management, Flaticon

Evaluation of drug therapy

Using drug therapies comes with its benefits and costs.

  • The use of drug therapy is time and cost-effective, especially in emergencies, which is why it is famous among patients. Consider Kahn et al. (1986), where when compared to a placebo, BZs were superior in helping treat panic disorders (in the short term, essentially). Although validity issues exist as the unmasking of treatment, publication bias, and high dropout rates occurred.

  • These drugs are helpful to contain the severe symptoms in time and allow the patient to begin psychological therapy.

However:

  • Prolonged usage of such drugs may increase dependence on them, and patients may get used to the normal dosage requiring more drugs with time to reduce the same amount of stress.

  • BZs have more severe long term side effects compared to beta-blockers. However, both drugs may cause some common side effects like nausea, drowsiness or depression.

  • Life may be a reel of constant stress, and drugs can only provide temporary relief for many. It is important to have the skills to combat stress with psychological therapy to cope with life stressors.

  • It is easier to use than biofeedback, which is internal physical interactions that we have certain control over, as biofeedback requires expertise and equipment).

Psychological therapy: stress inoculation therapy and biofeedback

Psychological therapy includes two main types of therapies stress inoculation therapy and biofeedback. Both these therapies stem from cognitive behavioural therapy and follow a stepwise process.

Stress inoculation therapy (SIT)

This stress management technique allows the individual to identify the cause of stress and any irrational thinking that comes with it. Meichenbaum (1985) curated the idea of Stress Inoculation Therapy (SIT).

Once the cause and the irrational thoughts are identified, the next step is learning the cognitive and behavioural skills that may aid stress management.

SIT offers three steps to managing stress and anxiety:

  1. Conceptualisation stage: the patients are guided by analysing different aspects of a stressor and understanding how it affects their lives and responses to the stressor.

  2. Skill learning and rehearsing stage: the patient is taught some stress coping strategies, including relaxation techniques, practising control, etc.

  3. Practical application: the patient learns to put his learning to the test while engaging with real-life situations. It also teaches the patients to perceive any setbacks from the real world situation as challenges rather than failures.

Research evidence for SIT

Holcom (1986) divided psychiatric patients suffering from anxiety and depression into three different groups:

  1. Group 1, which received SIT only

  2. Group 2, which received SIT and drugs

  3. Group 3, which received drugs only.

Findings: group 1, which received SIT only, showed improvement (from anxiety and depression), and even after three years, very few ended up in the psychiatry ward again. This proves SIT has long term effectiveness.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback uses technology to allow the patients to identify and respond to their physiological responses, such as by monitoring increased heart rate as a result of a stressful situation. In short, biofeedback allows you to manage the physiological symptoms of stress (operant conditioning).

It uses technology in three different ways:

  • Skin conductance response (SCR) for measuring sweating

  • Electromyogram (EMG) for measuring muscle tension due to stress

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) for measuring brain activity.

The client becomes aware of their visible physiological responses such as heart rate through technology like ECGs (Electrocardiogram) and learns to readjust it to normal by practising small stress management techniques, like muscle relaxation or long breathing.

Next, the patients will apply these coping strategies in the real world during stressful situations. There are around eight to ten sessions, which may require follow-ups. Each session lasts around an hour, and improvement begins after the ninth or the tenth session.

Stress Management Heart Rate Managing Stress Biofeedback StudySmarterHeart rate, Flaticon

Evaluation of psychological therapy for stress management

Psychological therapies also come with their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Greenhalgh et al. (2009) found in a meta-analysis of 36 studies that biofeedback could not show significant improvement on physiological effects of stress like hypertension (constant high blood pressure). However, some patients reported feeling slightly better, contributing to its credibility as a stress management technique. They checked this report compared to the placebo patients and cognitive behavioural therapy.

  • Biofeedback techniques effectively treated symptoms of stress after 28 days, as doctors who taught them to the patients reported. Reducing stress as a result of biofeedback was measured through a questionnaire, showing the effectiveness of this stress management technique (Lemaire et al., 2009).

  • Biofeedback (requires specialised equipment) and SIT (requires expert psychologists) are expensive. However, they have long-term effectiveness with no side effects like drug therapy.

  • According to Berger (2000), SIT is flexible as it can be applied to most individuals suffering from different types of stress, such as examination stress in his experiment.

  • The effectiveness of SIT may be lost if the patient is not cooperative (it requires a lot of self contemplating to identify their stressors) and/or leaves the treatment in the middle of their sessions.

The role of gender differences in stress management

Men and women may have gender and cultural differences in stress management. Peterson et al. (2006) investigated how individuals suffering from infertility coped with stress. He highlighted that women used confrontation strategies to cope, focusing more on social support alongside escape/avoidance techniques, and men used distancing, planning and solving techniques.

In short, women were emotion-focused, and men were problem-focused (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984).

Problem-focused techniques

This technique refers to finding direct and practical ways to solve a problem or situation by either reducing its intensity or eradicating the root cause.

For example, following strict discipline eliminates the chances of being late for appointments.

Emotion-focused techniques

This technique allows you to handle any negative effects of stress indirectly to avoid the situation through creative ways to reduce stress.

For example, taking up more work from the office to keep busy and avoid thinking about a problem or meditation.

In short, redirecting the focus on the extra or trivial tasks to avoid facing the situation directly.

Why are there gender differences in stress management?

According to Tayler et al. (2000), men make use of the ‘fight and flight’ mechanism more compared to females who make use of the ‘tend and befriend’ mechanism. Considering the evolutionary perspective, women are incompatible with the ‘fight and flight’ mechanism, putting their children in danger.

Hence they use the protective and calming mechanism ‘tend and befriend’, which strongly links with the oxytocin hormone.

Both genders have oxytocin hormones responsible for fostering social bonds and affiliation behaviours in humans. According to Tayler et al. (2000), oxytocin reduces the effect of cortisol levels (stress hormone) in women, which helps them maintain their stress levels, showing that negative effects of stress may last longer in males compared to females.

The female hormone estrogen promotes oxytocin, whilst the androgen hormone in males tends to repress its effects, which may be the reason why men are a little more aggressive than women.

Another reason why men are linked to aggression is that when a stressor appears, a hormone called vasopressin is produced in men that is also related to aggression, and androgen enhances its effects.

Research evidence on gender differences in coping with stress

According to role constraint theory, males and females face stressors that can sometimes be similar or different in nature. However, their coping strategies will be different. For instance, problem-focused tactics are more applicable to work-related stressors, and emotion-focused tactics are more linked to relationship stressors.

According to the research by Ptacek et al. (1994), women seek more social support sources compared to men, using emotion-focused strategies. In contrast, men tend to use problem-focused strategies when coping with stress.

Evaluation of gender differences in coping with stress

Research into the gender differences in coping with stress has its strengths and weaknesses.

  • Higher levels of oxytocin predict strong social bonds. According to Feldman et al. (2007), women with increased oxytocin levels were able to enjoy strong bonds with their newborn babies, which validates the evolutionary perspective of the ‘tend and befriend’ mechanism in women (Taylor et al., 2000).

  • Females were reported to use the emotion-focused strategy only when recalling past events. Otherwise, this strategy was absent when reporting a current event.

  • The use of motion-focused and problem-focused techniques may still depend on the situation and cannot be attributed to just one gender. It is difficult to conclude that only females or males will use certain strategies, considering that both genders use social support as a stress management technique in different stressful times.


Stress Management - Key takeaways

  • Stress management comprises of using your mental and physical energy to manage/practice self-care and relaxation techniques in the face of stressful situations.
  • Stress management techniques include biological therapy, psychological therapy, gender differences in managing stress and anxiety and the importance of social support in coping with stress.
  • Drug therapy helps in reducing the intensity of a reflex action that our body produces as a response to the stressor. There are two types, beta-blockers and benzodiazepines.
  • Two types of psychological therapies are SIT (stress inoculation therapy) and biofeedback.
  • SIT allows the individual to identify the cause of stress and any irrational thinking that comes with it. Biofeedback uses technology to allow the patients to identify and respond to and control their physiological responses, such as increased heart rate when in stress.
  • Social support is the comfort and support that you can seek in your family and friends to stand strong in the face of stressful situations.
  • There are three types of social support; esteem, instrumental and emotional support.
  • Gender differences occur within stress management techniques and coping with stress. Emotion-focused strategies are related to women, whereas problem-focused strategies are related to men.
  • The female hormone oestrogen (supporter of ‘tend and befriend’ mechanism) enhances the oxytocin hormone levels, while the male hormone androgen suppresses them.

Frequently Asked Questions about Stress Management

Four stress management techniques are:

  1. Drug therapy (benzodiazepines and beta-blockers)
  2. Physiological therapy (SIT and Biofeedback)
  3. Social support
  4. Role of gender differences in coping with stress

There are a number of benefits of managing stress, some are as follows:

  • Reduced anger and good relations with others
  • Reduced anxiety and higher productivity
  • Transparent and focused thinking pattern
  • The better physiological and emotional health situation

Final Stress Management Quiz

Question

What is stress management?

Show answer

Answer

Stress management is a combat therapy against all types of stressors that we encounter in our daily lives. It comprises of using your mental and physical energy to manage/practice self-care and relaxation techniques in the face of stressful situations. Stress management strategies either reduce the intensity of stress a stressful event causes or overcome it completely.

Show question

Question

List the stress management techniques.

Show answer

Answer

  • Drug therapy 
  • Psychological therapy  
  • Gender differences in managing stress   
  • Social support in coping with stress

Show question

Question

Define social support.

Show answer

Answer

Social support is the comfort and support you can seek in your family and friends to stand firm in the face of stressful situations.

Show question

Question

What are the three types of social support outlined by Schaefer et al (1981)?  

Show answer

Answer

  • Instrumental support 
  • Emotional support  
  • Esteem support

Show question

Question

What is the difference between esteem and emotional support?

Show answer

Answer

Esteem support refers to providing support by increasing the person’s self-confidence and value in their eyes, so they feel motivated to survive the crises. In contrast, emotional support means providing sympathy and warmth to the person going through stress to make the other person feel they can depend on their sources of social support for comfort and emotional wellbeing.

Show question

Question

Provide an argument in favour of social support as a stress management strategy.

Show answer

Answer

Cohen and Wills (1985) supported evidence for social support. They found out that people can reduce the negative effects of stress through social support as it wards off the intensity of the stressor.

Show question

Question

Define beta-blockers as drug therapy.  

Show answer

Answer

Beta-blockers usually work on the peripheral nervous system and manages noradrenaline and adrenaline hormones (hormones behind the fight and flight system).

Show question

Question

How do beta-blockers work?

Show answer

Answer

As a response to acute stress, the adrenal medulla produces adrenaline. The adrenaline is carried to the heart, where it fuels the beta receptors, increasing the blood pressure and the heart rate of a person in stress. Beta-blockers, such as propranolol, work by blocking the effects of adrenaline.

Show question

Question

How do benzodiazepines work as drug therapy?

Show answer

Answer

Benzodiazepines (BZs) enhance the effects of GABA neurotransmitters in some areas of the brain, which in turn inhibits the actions of other neurotransmitters, replacing them with chlorine ions. BZs increase chlorine ions levels and help them enter into neurons, reducing the effect of other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.

Show question

Question

Provide one argument against drug therapy.

Show answer

Answer

Life may be a reel of constant stress, and drugs can only provide temporary relief for many. It is important to have the skills to combat stress with psychological therapy to cope with life stressors.

Show question

Question

Briefly elaborate on three steps of SIT.

Show answer

Answer

  1. Conceptualisation stage: the patients are guided by analysing different aspects of a stressor and understanding how it affects their lives and responses to the stressor.
  2. Skill learning and rehearsing stage: the patient is taught some stress coping strategies, including relaxation techniques, practising control, etc.
  3. Practical application: the patient learns to put his learning to the test while engaging with real-life situations. It also teaches the patients to perceive any setbacks from the real world situation as challenges rather than failures.

Show question

Question

What is biofeedback and which technology is used to help reduce stress?

Show answer

Answer

Biofeedback uses technology to allow the patients to identify and respond to their physiological responses, such as by monitoring increased heart rate as a result of a stressful situation. In short, biofeedback allows you to manage the physiological symptoms of stress (operant conditioning). 

It uses technology in three different ways:

  • Skin conductance response (SCR) for measuring sweating
  • Electromyogram (EMG) for measuring muscle tension due to stress
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) for measuring brain activity.

Show question

Question

How does biofeedback work?

Show answer

Answer

The client becomes aware of their visible physiological responses such as heart rate through technology like ECGs (Electrocardiogram) and learns to readjust it to normal by practising small stress management techniques, like muscle relaxation or long breathing.


Next, the patients will apply these coping strategies in the real world during stressful situations. There are around eight to ten sessions, which may require follow-ups. Each session lasts around an hour, and improvement begins after the ninth or the tenth session.

Show question

Question

How are psychological techniques for reducing and managing stress expensive?

Show answer

Answer

Biofeedback (requires specialised equipment) and SIT (requires expert psychologists) are expensive. However, they have long-term effectiveness with no side effects like drug therapy.

Show question

Question

What role does oxytocin play in gender differences?

Show answer

Answer

According to Tayler et al. (2000), oxytocin reduces the effect of cortisol levels (stress hormone) in women, which helps them maintain their stress levels, showing that negative effects of stress may last longer in males compared to females. The female hormone estrogen promotes oxytocin, whilst the androgen hormone in males tends to repress its effects, which may be the reason why men are a little more aggressive than women.

Show question

Question

Provide one argument in favour and against gender differences as a stress-coping strategy. 

Show answer

Answer

Higher levels of oxytocin predict strong social bonds. According to Feldman et al. (2007), women with increased oxytocin levels were able to enjoy strong bonds with their newborn babies, which validates the evolutionary perspective of the ‘tend and befriend’ mechanism in women (Taylor et al., 2000).


Females were reported to use the emotion-focused strategy only when recalling past events. Otherwise, this strategy was absent when reporting a current event.

Show question

Question

Analyzing different aspects of a stressor and understanding how it affects our lives and responses to the stressor is an example of which stage of Stress Inoculation Therapy (SIT)?

Show answer

Answer

Conceptualisation stage

Show question

Question

Learning stress coping strategies, including relaxation techniques, and practicing control are part of which stage of Stress Inoculation Therapy (SIT)?


Show answer

Answer

Skill learning and rehearsing stage

Show question

Question

Engaging with real-life situations is part of which stage of Stress Inoculation Therapy (SIT)? 


Show answer

Answer

Practical application

Show question

Question

Offering financial support, important information, or resources to someone is an example of which of Schaefer et al (1981)'s types of social support?


Show answer

Answer

Instrumental support

Show question

Question

Increasing someone's self-confidence by reminding someone of their strengths and achievements is an example of which of Schaefer et al (1981)'s types of social support?


Show answer

Answer

Esteem support

Show question

Question

Providing sympathy and warmth to someone through a hug or meaningful phrases is an example of which of Schaefer et al (1981)'s types of social support? 

Show answer

Answer

Emotional support

Show question

Question

Two types of drugs categories used to manage and reduce stress are:

Show answer

Answer

Beta-blockers and benzodiazepines

Show question

Question

Psychological therapy includes which two main types of therapies?


Show answer

Answer

Stress inoculation therapy and biofeedback

Show question

Question

This therapy uses technology to allow patients to identify and respond to their physiological responses in order to reduce stress.

Show answer

Answer

Biofeedback

Show question

Question

This stress management technique refers to finding direct and practical ways to solve a problem or situation by either reducing its intensity or eradicating the root cause.

Show answer

Answer

Problem-focused technique

Show question

Question

This stress management technique allows you to handle any negative effects of stress indirectly to avoid the situation through creative ways to reduce stress.


Show answer

Answer

Emotion-focused technique

Show question

Question

True or False: According to Tayler et al. (2000), men make use of the ‘fight and flight’ mechanism more than females.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or False: According to Tayler et al. (2000), females make use of the ‘tend and befriend’ mechanism more than males.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or False: Emotion-focused stress management strategies are related more to men.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False: Problem-focused stress management strategies are related to women.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

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