A new study published in the Journal of Health Psychology aims to compile a list of different ways that people think about and relate to stress.
“The term stress — comparable to success, failure, or pleasure – means various things to various individuals, and no one has really tried to define it although it has become an integral part of our everyday lexicon,” study researcher Rebecca Robles, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Lehigh University, said in a statement.
“This research discovered five primary stress beliefs themes. Collectively, these assumptions suggest that individuals perceive stress as a change in their body’s mental, emotional, and physical capabilities.”
Category of stress
The five issues that the researchers discovered were
- Physical health
- Interpersonal connections
This was determined after conducting interviews with participants who discussed their experience with stress, including its symptoms, causes, purpose, and consequences.
The following are the five types of stress
People who believed in the cognition theme thought of stress as a mental condition.
It affects how people think, which can lead to a variety of both positive and negative consequences.
For example, according to the study’s authors, one student said that stress is “just an overload of thoughts rushing through your head” and another described it as “needing to be doing something all the time.”
The study’s authors summarized this theme, writing: “Such feelings of distraction and obsessiveness are the typical cognitive symptoms associated with stress.
The participants in this study appear to endorse the idea that stress results from mindlessness, preoccupation, and distraction.”
People who believed in the emotion theme thought of stress as a psychological or emotional state.
People under stress experience intense feelings and emotions, which can vary from feeling overwhelmed to feeling angry. Stress is also commonly associated with negative moods, such as sadness, anxiety, irritation, and anger.
The study’s authors summarized this belief by writing: “When asked to provide an example of stress, participants frequently included references to strong feelings.
They also emphasized that such feelings were difficult to deal with and hard to control.”
People who believed in the physical health theme thought of stress as a condition that physically affected their bodies. Such consequences may include feeling exhausted or losing sleep, eating too much or too little, and hurting oneself.
The study’s authors summarized this viewpoint by writing: “This category includes references to physical sensations that result from stress.
Participants generally described stress as causing pain in certain areas of the body (e.g., the head, stomach) or problems with sleeping.”
People who believed in the interpersonal connection theme thought of stress as being tied to social relationships.
Having good interpersonal relationships is an important part of managing stress because people with strong connections are more likely to have someone they can talk to when times get tough.
These participants reported that stress hurt their relationships and kept them from connecting with others, and they felt that their relationships were jeopardized when times got tough.
The study’s authors summarized this theme by writing: “Interpersonal connections are a central part of our lives.
In regards to stress, the participants in this study appear to endorse the importance of relationships in managing stress. Those who have supportive social networks may be better equipped to deal with stress.”
People who believed in the behavior theme thought of stress as a condition that affected their actions and behaviors.
Being stressed made it harder for them to concentrate, take risks, or complete tasks—and working under conditions that were too stressful was seen as counterproductive.
The study’s authors wrote: “Some participants believe that stress inhibits their ability to make decisions and complete tasks. Several other participants think of stress as an inhibitor of risk-taking and assertiveness.”
What causes stress
People who believed in the cause theme thought of stress as tied to factors outside of themselves.
These participants saw stress as largely out of their control (a factor that came from the environment or the workplace) but also recognized that their reactions to it were within their control.
What’s important about this theme is not what people said but, rather, what they didn’t say. While many participants agreed that stress was caused by things like:
- Workplace environment,
- Getting too little sleep,
- Having financial problems
The study’s authors summarized this theme by writing: “This category includes references to external factors that cause stress.
The cause of stress is seen as stemming from factors outside of one’s control (e.g., the workplace, negative events). Participants appear to recognize that while some instances of stress are beyond their control, how they react to stress is within their own control.”
Stress management techniques
Some people who believed in the behavior theme reported using a variety of stress management techniques to help manage stress. A few examples of these techniques include
- taking breaks from work or other busy activities.
- talking with friends,
- creating boundaries between work and home life
- exercising regularly, and
- staying organized.
How we react to stress
People who believed in this theme viewed stress management as a way of controlling their reactions to stressful situations. They saw themselves in charge of how they responded emotionally, mentally, and psychologically to outside stressors. A few examples of the types of responses participants described when they thought about themselves managing their reactions included
- Being open-minded,
- Identifying sources of stress,
- Being optimistic,
- Balancing work with life,
- Staying patient with others,
- Trying to see things from other people’s perspective, and
- Remaining grateful.
The study’s authors noted that this theme “is about taking charge of one’s emotions and thoughts during stressful times. Participants in this category appear to take full responsibility for how they react to stressors within their control.”
The study’s authors summarized the results of their qualitative analysis by writing: “In general, participants’ stress management techniques appear to fall into three main categories corresponding to [the] cause [of stress], behavior [in response to stress], and how they view themselves in terms of managing reactions.
Behavioral responses included taking breaks, planning ahead, and exercising. The main cause of stress reported was the workplace environment and external events.
Finally, stress management appeared to be about taking charge of one’s emotions and thoughts during stressful times.”
The study’s authors noted that their findings suggest that people view managing stress like other skills: “They need to be learned and practiced.”