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PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Unit 2: Stress
Learning objectives
This learning section will help you to:
Define the concept of stress
Understand the stressors and the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)
Explain individual differences in response to stress
understand the types and the sources of stress
Understand different responses to stress and stress management techniques
Life is full of circumstances and events that produce threats to our well-being. Our attempts to
overcome these circumstances produce various types responses that may result in health
problems. Therefore, inability to successfully adjust and adapt to the demands of the
environments can lead to stress. Stress is an inescapable part of modern life. Many students do
not need much introduction to the concept of stress. They are no strangers to the stress that
accompanies worrying about assignments and the exams, money matters, and relationship
(Cacioppo & Freberg, 2013).
This unit will help you understand the concept of stress. The discussion introduces the learner to
different types and the sources of stress. It also looks at various responses that people exhibit in
the face of stressful adversity. To conclude this unit, we discuss the stress management
techniques that people can use to cope with the debilitating effects of different stressors in their
Defining stress
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
The term stress is derived from the Latin word ‘stringere’ to mean hardship, strain, adversity or
affliction. Lazarus and Folkman (1984, p. 19) defined stress as a ‘particular relationship between
the person and his environment, that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her
resources and endangering his or her well-being.’ Simply stated, stress is an unpleasant
emotional state that results from the perception of danger (Cacioppo & Freberg, 2013).
Understanding stress and stressors
Stress is one of the things that are guaranteed to happen in life. Unpleasant events such as work
pressures, marital or financial problems naturally produce stress. But so, do travel, sports, a new
job, dating and other positive activities (Coon & Mitterer, 2012). Hans Seyle (1936) introduced the
concept of stress into the life sciences in 1936. He regarded stress as the non-specific response
of the body to any demand made upon it. He named this set of responses the General Adaptation
Syndrome (GAS). The GAS has been widely held as a comprehensive model to explain the stress
phenomenon. This model is discussed below.
Stress is woven into the fabric of life. The events or situations that create stress are called
stressors and they come in many forms. Exam failure, accidents, or just having a bad day can
be very stressful. When people feel that the stressors exceed their ability to cope, the results can
lead to physical, psychological or behavioral problems (Bernstein et al., 2012; Shahsavarani et
al., 2015). What all stresses have in common is that they disrupt or threaten to disrupt daily
functioning and cause people to make adjustments (Bernstein et al., 2012). Post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) is associated with frightening and distressing events such as traumatic
experience from one’s childhood, war, poverty, sexual abuse etc. The victims of PTSD can have
strong feeling of guilt, emotional numbness, constant worry, depression and can even retrieve
traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
Although stress can be dangerous if it is prolonged or severe, but it is not always bad. Stressors
can be mild and temporary or severe and long-lasting. Some positive stressors, such as getting
married, having a baby, or finding a better job can be stimulating, motivating, and desirable (see
section 2.5.3 below). Therefore, stress in its positive form, can have desirable effects in the lives
of the people. Furthermore, positive stress is considered as an important factor to motivation,
adaptation, and reaction to surrounding environment (Shahsavarani et al., 2015).
Stress may either be caused by environmental factors (external) or may be caused by the
perceptions of the individual (internal). The latter form, in turn can produce anxiety, and/or other
negative emotions and feelings such as pain, sadness, etc. and result in serious psychological
disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). External factors are not in their essence
stressful or threatening; it is an individuals’ perceptional systems that interpret them as such
(Shahsavarani et al., 2015). Stress could be classified according to the nature of the stressor, its
influence on individual, and the exposure time of the stressor. Table 2.1 below demonstrates
these classifications.
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Types of stress classification
According to the nature of a stressor
Physiological stress
Psychological stress
Physical/behavioral stress
According to stress influence on individual
Positive eustress
Negative distress
According to the duration of exposure to a stressor
Acute stress (short-term)
Chronic stress (long-term)
Table 2.1 Classifications of stress (Own construction, 2021).
As stated before, it is important to note that stressors are inherently neutral. Meaning that a single
stressor can cause either positive or negative stress depending on an individual’s interpretation
or perception of the stressor as a threat and the judgement of their ability to cope with it (Eredoro
& Egbochuku, 2019).
The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)
The GAS proposed by Seyle (1976) suggests that physical responses to stress occur in a
consistent pattern and are triggered by the effort to adapt to any stressor. The model explains
reactions to stress in three stages. Figure 1.1 below demonstrates the GAS process of stress.
Figure 2.1 The GAS process of stress.
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Alarm/mobilisation stage - the first stage of the GAS involves some version of the flight-orfight syndrome. The body mobilises its resources for resistance after a brief initial shock
(Weiten & Hassim, 2016). If you have ever experienced a near accident or other sudden,
frightening event, then your immediate physical responses to the stressor included rapid
breathing, increased heartbeat, sweating, and so on. In the face of a mild stressors such as
overheated room, the reaction may simply involve change in perspiration that help the body
regulate its temperature. More severe stressors prompt more dramatic alarm reactions,
rapidly mobilizing the body’s adaptive energy (Bernstein et al., 2012).
Resistance stage - if the stressors persist, the resistance stage begins. The signs of the initial
alarm reactions fade away as the body begins to settle in to resist the stressor on long-term
basis (Bernstein et al., 2012). Throughout the body, a number of glands begin to manufacture
hormones that protect the individual in many ways (Santrock, 2003). Outwardly, everything
seems normal but, this appearance of normality is costly; the body is better able to cope with
the original stressors, but its resistance to other stresses is lowered (Coon & Mitterer, 2012).
Exhaustion stage - continued stress leads to exhaustion, in which the body’s resources are
drained and stress hormones are depleted (Coon & Mitterer, 2012). This stage involves the
onset of tissue damage and the signs of a disease begin to show (Shahsavarani et al., 2015).
It brings signs of physical wear and tear, especially in organ systems that were heavily
involved in the resistance process. For example, if adrenaline and cortisol, which help fight
stressors during the resistance stage remain at high levels for extended time, they can
damage the heart and blood vessels (Bernstein et al., 2012).
The GAS therefore, makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the stress process. It
also explains how people respond to the stressors that they encounter in their daily lives.
Stress reactions are the physical, psychological, and behavioral responses that occur in the face
of the stressors. In other words, stress involves a transaction between the people and their
physical and psychological environments. The transaction can be influenced by the stress
mediators. The mediators include variables such as the extent to which people can predict and
control their stressors, how they interpreted the threat involved, the amount of social support they
perceive as available, and their stress coping skills. The mediating factors can either minimised
or magnify the impact of the stressors (see figure 1.2 below). In other words, stress is an everchanging process in which the nature and intensity of our responses depend not only on what
stress occur but, also on how we think about them and how much confidence we have in our
coping skills and stress-coping resources (Bernstein et al., 2012).
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Stress mediators
Life events & daily hassles
Cognitive appraisal
Catastrophic events
Sense of control
Acute & chronic stress
Coping resources
Stress responses
Figure2.2 The stress transaction (Own construction, 2021).
Many stressors have both physical and psychological components. For example, students are
challenged by psychological demands to do well in their courses, as well as by the physical fatigue
that can result from a heavy load of academic work, classes, combined perhaps with a job and
family responsibilities (Bernstein et al., 2012).
Activity 1
According to the GAS, which stage involves the physical signs of wear and tear
and the onset of a disease begins to show?
The GAS explains the stress process in three stages. Each stage is marked by a
distinct, but related aspects to the other stages. When people are exposed to high level of stress
and can no longer cope with it, the symptoms of physical deterioration begin to show. This occurs
during the exhaustion stage, whereby the body’s resources have been depleted and the signs
of failing to cope are evident.
Resilience: Individual differences in response to stress
You might have observed that under the same stressful circumstances, some people seem very
calm and others appear to be in a state of panic. What determines these individual differences?
People differ in resilience - the ability to adapt to life’s challenges in a positive way (Cacioppo &
Freberg, 2013). Resilient people do not ignore feelings of sadness or stress but, they harness
their inner strength to enable them to remain optimistic and carry on with life. Some psychologists
refer to individual differences in the ability to cope with stress as resulting from a personality trait
of hardiness or hardy personality - a personality style marked by a sense of commitment, control,
and the perception of problems as challenges (Santrock, 2003). People with hardy personality
seem to be unusually resistant to stress. They experience less threat or disruption in response to
the normal stress of life. Hardiness combines commitment, control, and challenge. People with
high commitment see the world as interesting and seek involvement rather than withdrawal. They
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
believe that they have control over their lives and they can influence the course of events around
them. They tend to perceive life as a series of challenges rather than as threats or problems.
Other factors contributing to individual differences and resilience are cognitive skills, social skills,
and flexibility in response to new situations.
Individual differences in resilience might also have their roots in emotion. People who are
generally more positive in mood tend to build the resources they need, including strong social
networks to sustain them at difficult times (Cacioppo & Freberg, 2013). Other cognitive styles
such as those of disease-resistant personalities, help insulate people from many effects of stress.
One important component of the disease-resistant personality is dispositional optimism - the
believe or expectation that things will work out positively. Optimistic people tend to live longer, to
experience fewer health consequences following major stresses, and have more diseaseresistance than pessimistic people (Bernstein et al., 2012).
In contrast, people who lack resilience tend to feel overwhelmed, helpless, and victimized by their
circumstances. They become more vulnerable to negative coping strategies including alcoholism
and drug abuse to escape their problems (Cacioppo & Freberg, 2013). The degree that people
experience stress varies, depending on various intra-psychic and interpersonal factors. People
that are vulnerable to stress tend to experience more health-related problems and difficulties in
interpersonal relations when compared to those that are less susceptible to stress (Baqutayan,
2015). Therefore, this means that stress affects people in different ways, depending on a number
of dispositional and situational factors.
Types of stresses
There are many conditions in our social environments that may lead to the experience of stress.
These stresses can be classified in terms of their nature and duration.
2.5.1 Acute stress
Sometimes stress can be brief and specific to the demands and pressures of a particular situation,
such as a deadline, or facing a difficult challenge (Australian Psychological Society - APS, 2012).
Acute stress manifests from recent events or from the expectations of future events. Symptoms
of acute stress may include, among others, anger, irritation, headache, muscle tension, increase
in blood pressure, and rapid heartbeat (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
Some people seem to experience acute stress repeatedly. This is referred to as episodic acute
stress. These repetitive stress episodes may be due to a series of very real stressful challenges
(APS, 2012). For example, losing a job, then developing health problems, followed by difficulties
in personal relationships. This means that the lives of the victims of acute episodic stress are so
disordered and filled with chaos and crisis. Such people are always too busy, taking too much on
themselves and not being able to organise properly. Usually, they do not see anything wrong with
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
the way they conduct their lives, blaming their woes onto other people and external events.
However, episodic acute stress can be addressed with certain lifestyle changes (Eredoro &
Egbochuku, 2019).
Chronic stress
This type of stress arises from long lasting events and circumstances that are beyond one's
control. It is long-lasting, debilitating and can be seen in people suffering from adverse situations
such as disdained career, endless poverty, and unhappy marriage (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
It exerts unfavorable effects on the physical and psychological health conditions of the individuals
(APS, 2012; Kapur, 2021), usually leading to burnout - a state of physical and emotional
exhaustion that includes feelings of hopelessness, chronic fatigue and low energy (Santrock,
2003). It's the kind of stress that wears people down; they don't see a way out of the problem,
and it makes their life miserable on a regular basis. Some chronic stress stems from traumatic or
childhood experiences that have been internalised and remain forever painful and present. This
stress can result in suicide, violence, heart attack, stroke, or cancer (Eredoro & Egbochuku,
Low level of stress might be desired, useful, and even healthy. Eustress is the good or positive
stress that involves a positive cognitive response that an individual exhibits toward a stressor. It
occurs during moments in an individual’s life when a certain degree of motivation is required to
overcome potentially difficult obstacles. Thus, it is beneficial by helping the individuals to improve
their lives. Eustress is fun, exciting and energizing in that it motivates one to complete a task or
achieve a goal. Some benefits of eustress include increased creativity and productivity, improved
self-esteem, and health benefit like stimulation of immune system for optimum operation. It can
also lead to feelings of satisfaction, fulfilment, accomplishment, well-being and wholeness.
However, it is important to note that positive stress depletes the body's reserves just as much as
negative stress does. Therefore, overexposing oneself to positive stressor without effectively
managing it can transform positive stress into negative stress, thereby inducing exhaustion
(Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
Stress, in its positive form, can improve biopsychosocial health and facilitate performance.
Furthermore, eustress is considered as an important factor to motivation, adaptation, and reaction
to surrounding environment (Shahsavarani et al., 2015).
Distress, also known as bad or negative stress is the type of stress that is harmful and detrimental
to people. Distress could manifest in maladaptive response to stressful situations. Thus, it may
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
result when an individual fails to cope with the demands of the situation (Eredoro & Egbochuku,
2019). High level of stress could result in biological, psychological, and social problems and even
serious harms to people (Shahsavarani et al., 2015). It may lead to poor decision making and
may manifest itself in anxiety, hallucination, delusions, recklessness, decrease pleasure in sexual
activities, obsessive thought or compulsions. It could also lead to manifestation of physiological
or behavioral symptoms, such as high blood pressure, aggression, overdrinking, as well as other
negative coping mechanisms (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
In a group discussion on myUnisa with your e-tutor and peers, reflect on different
types of stresses and explain which stress you often experience and why.
NB: Please note that it is compulsory for you to have this discussion.
Sources of stress
Stress originates from many sources which can either be environmental, social, psychological, or
even from significant life events. Understanding these sources can help in coping adequately,
reducing and even relieving stress from our lives (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
Personality as a source of stress
In a landmark study of heart problems, Friedman and Rosenman (1983; in Coon & Mitterer, 2012),
classified people as either type A personality - a personality type with an elevated risk of heart
disease; characterized by time urgency, anger, and hostility, or type B personality - a mellow,
laid back personality type with a low-cardiac-risk (Cacioppo & Freberg, 2013; Coon & Mitterer,
2012). People with type A behavioral pattern are more likely to develop coronary diseases
because they are excessively competitive, hard-driven, ambitious, impatient, and at times, display
hostility and anger towards other people (Coon & Mitteter, 2012; Santrock, 2003). Furthermore,
they hurry from one activity to another, racing the clock in self-imposed urgency. As they do so,
they feel a constant sense of frustration and anger, which is strongly related to increased risk for
heart attack (Coon & Mitterer, 2012). Because some societies place so much importance on
achievement, competition, and mystery, it is not surprising that many people develop type A
personalities. Conversely, the healthier people who are commonly relaxed, and easygoing display
type B behavioral pattern (Santrock, 2003).
Environmental sources of stress
This refer to the aspects of our environment and surrounding that cause stress (Eredoro &
Egbochuku, 2019). Many circumstances that we encounter in our lives - large and small - can
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
produce stress. But often the everyday pounding of being overloaded with work, dealing with
difficult situation, or being frustrated produces damaging stress (Santrock, 2003).
Life events and daily hassles - these events tend to be the main environmental sources of
stress. Life events or changes are any significant alterations in one's living circumstances
that require adjustment (Weiten & Hassim, 2016). Some studies have found that life changes
- both good and bad - can increase susceptibility to illness. People who experience clusters
of stressful life events are more likely to become ill than they normally would (Santrock, 2003).
Major changes in our surroundings or routines require us to be vigilant, on guard, and ready
to react over long periods. These can be quite stressful (Bernstein et al., 2012). Positive life
changes, such as a getting married, having a child, changes in personal relationships,
changes at work, changes in finances can be stressful even when the changes are welcomed
(Weiten & Hassim, 2016).
People face ongoing stresses at work or at home that do not involve major life changes. Such
minor but frequent stresses are called daily hassles – which are day-to-day annoyances (Coon
& Mitterer, 2012). Whether we experience life events of a minor form such as getting a traffic
ticket, doing poorly in an exam, or we experience major life events such as, the death of a loved
one or serious illness, stress is a fact of life (Santrock, 2003).
Frustrations - they occur in any situation in which the pursuit of some goal is thwarted. In
essence, you experience frustration when you want something that you cannot have.
Everyone has to deal with some form of frustration. Fortunately, many frustrations are brief
and insignificant but, some frustrations can be the source of significant stress. Traffic jams
and difficult daily commutes for instance, are a routine source of frustration that can elicit
anger and physical symptoms. Failures and losses are the two common kinds of frustrations
that are often highly stressful. Everyone fails in at least some of their endeavors. Some people
make failures almost inevitable by setting unrealistically high goals for themselves. Losses
can be particularly frustrating because people are deprived of something that they are
accustomed to having (Weiten & Hassim, 2016).
Conflict - some stress researchers have studied conflict as a specific type of environmental
stimuli. Conflict occurs when two or more incompatible behavioral impulses or motivations
compete for expression (Weiten & Hassim, 2016). The types of conflict involve:
Approach - approach conflict: a conflict that occurs when a person must choose between two
attractive (desirable) stimuli or circumstances (Weiten & Hassim, 2016). For example, should I go
out with friends to a party, or go out with my partner to a movie? This is the least stressful type of
conflict because either choice leads to a positive result (Santrock, 2003; Weiten & Hassim, 2016).
This type of conflict tends to be the easiest to resolve. When both options are positive, the scales
of decision are easily tipped one direction or the other (Coon & Mitterer, 2012).
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Avoidance - avoidance conflict: in this type of conflict, a choice must be made between two
unattractive, repelling goals or alternatives (Weiten & Hassim, 2016). For example, a young
woman finds herself with unwanted pregnancy but does not want to do an abortion either. This
conflict has both ‘damn if you do’ and ‘damned if you do not’ quality. Thus, both choices are
negative and not choosing any option may be equally impossible or undesirable (Coon & Mitterer,
2012). This clearly indicates that avoidance - avoidance conflict is more unpleasant and highly
Approach - avoidance conflict: in this conflict, a person is attracted to, and repelled by, the same
stimulus or situation (Coon & Mittere, 2012). For example, imagine you are offered a job promotion
with lucrative benefits but, you would have to move to a city where you don't want to live. This
conflict often produces vacillation. Thus, you go back and forth several times, burdened by
indecision (Weiten & Hassim, 2016). Ambivalence - mixed positive and negative feelings - is the
main characteristic of this type of conflict (Coon & Mittere,2012). Some more realistic example of
this conflict is when you want to marry someone whose family you strongly disapprove of. This
conflict tends to elicit both positive and negative emotions at the same time.
Pressure - at one time or another, most people have remarked that they are under pressure.
Pressure is a stressful condition that occurs when one has to meet certain expectations or
demands to behave in a certain way (Coon & Mitterer, 2012; Weiten & Hassim, 2016). You
are under pressure to perform when you are expected to execute tasks and responsibilities
quickly, efficiently and successfully. Pressures to conform to others’ expectations are also
common in our lives. For example, people in the business world are expected to dress in
certain ways, teenagers are expected to adhere to their parents’ values and rules (Weiten &
Hassim, 2016). All these issues tend to create pressure in an individual’s life and calls for
adjustment to be made.
Overload - sometimes daily hassles can also result in a stress reaction called overload.
Sometimes stimuli become so intense that we can no longer cope with them. For example,
persistent high level of noise overload that interfere with our daily functioning can be stressful
(Santrock, 2003). Overload can also occur with work and may lead to burnout - a state of
physical and emotional exhaustion that includes feelings of hopelessness, chronic fatigue,
and low energy (Santrock, 2003). Burnout occurs when a person is physically,
psychologically, and emotionally drained. Burned out people tend to experience cynicism,
detachment, and feelings of reduce personal accomplishment. Burnout may occur in any
situation but, it is especially prevalent in emotionally demanding helping professions such as
nursing, teaching, social work child care, counseling, or police work (Coon & Mitterer, 2012).
Socio-cultural sources of stress
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Socio-cultural factors help to determine which stresses individuals are likely to encounter whether
they are likely to perceive events as stressful or not and how they believe stresses should be
confronted (Santrock, 2003).
Acculturative stress - Moving to a new place with a different culture can be a stressful
experience for some people. Acculturative stress refers to the negative consequences that
result from contact between two distinct cultural groups. For example, many individuals who
have immigrated to the United States have experienced acculturative stress (Santrock, 2003).
In sociological definitions, culture is anything which in transmitted from a given generation to
the next one without any intervention of genetic and heredity factors. The most important
elements of any culture are its norms and values. Almost every element of culture can
(in)directly influence individual/social stress and result in increase and/or decrease of it
(Shahsavarani et al., 2015). When people experience a cultural change, they can adapt in
one of the four ways:
Assimilation: it occurs when individuals relinquish their native cultural identity and adopt an
identity that helps them blend into the larger society. If enough individuals follow this path, the
non-dominant group is absorbed into the established mainstream society. Sometimes
assimilation occurs when many groups merge to form a new society (Santrock, 2003).
Integration: it implies that people move into the larger culture but, they maintain many aspects of
their distinctive cultural identity. In this circumstance, and number of ethnic groups all cooperate
within a larger social system (Santrock, 2003).
Separation: it refers to self-imposed withdrawal from the larger culture. If imposed by the larger
society however, separation becomes segregation. People might maintain their traditional way of
life because they desire and independent existence (as in separatist movement), or a dominant
culture may exercise its power to exclude other cultures (as in slavery and apartheid) (Santrock,
Marginalisation: it refers to the process by which nondominant groups lose cultural and social
contact with both their traditional society and the larger, dominant society. Thus, the essential
features of one's culture are lost but they are not replaced by those of the larger society. Thus,
marginalisation involves feelings of alienation and the loss of identity (Santrock, 2003).
From the above discussion, it is clear that marginalisation is the least adaptive response to
acculturation. Although separation can have benefits under certain circumstances, it may be
stressful for individuals who seek separation while most of the members of their groups seek
assimilation. Integration and assimilation are healthier adaptations to acculturative pressures but,
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
assimilation means some cultural loss, so it may be more stressful than integration (Santrock,
Poverty - can cause considerable stress for individuals and families. Chronic conditions such
as inadequate housing, dangerous neighborhoods, burdensome responsibilities, and
economic uncertainties are potent stressors in the lives of the poor. Ethnic-minority families,
as well as female-headed families, are more likely to be poor. Many African Americans and
female heads of households are particularly vulnerable to long-term poverty (Blank, 2018;
Lichter, 1997). Further, poverty means having to depend on many overburdened and
unresponsive bureaucratic systems for financial, housing, and health assistance, which may
contribute to a poor person's perception of powerlessness - itself a factor in stress (Santrock,
In a group discussion on myUnisa with your e-tutor and peers, reflect on the
environmental sources of stresses and explain which source of stress you often
experience and why.
NB: Please note that it is compulsory for you to have this discussion.
Stress responses
Different people tend to respond differently to stressful situations. These responses encompass
a variety of psychological and physical (behavioral) patterns that help each individual to deal with
the stressors.
2.7.1 Physiological responses - this type of response to stress is associated with the events
and situations that cause a disturbance in the equilibrium (homeostasis) of the body (Eredoro &
Egbochuku, 2019). The sympathetic nervous system is activated as primary response to stress
and regulates many physiological functions of the body. In the process of stress response,
hypothalamus secrets various hormones, including the corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH)
that is responsible to stimulate pituitary gland and the initiation of the intensively-regulated
pathway of stress response. Pituitary gland secrets hormones such as Adrenocorticotrophic
hormone (ACTH) to bloodstream, which balances the intensively-regulated response to stress.
The amygdala has role in emotional processes and acts as a regulator of feelings, such as anxiety
and fear, during the stress response. Adrenal glands are directly responsible for producing the
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
stress hormones, such as the cortisol, which is important during the time of stress response
(Shahsavarani et al., 2015).
2.7.2 Psychological responses - psychological stress occurs when an individual perceives
that the environmental demands tax or exceed his or her adaptive capacity (Eredoro &
Egbochuku, 2019). The psychological stress is related to psychological problems such as anger,
depression, trauma, anxiety and frustration (Kapur, 2021). These responses can appear as
changes in emotions and thoughts (cognitions), along with changes in behavior. Reductions in
the ability to think clearly or to remember accurately are typical cognitive stress reactions.
Sometimes these problems appear because of ruminative thinking - the repeated intrusion of
thoughts about stressful events. Overarousal created by stressors can also lead to a lack of
attention, making it harder see a full range of possible solutions to complex problems. Stress may
also impair judgement and decision-making process. People who normally consider all aspects
of a situation before making a decision may, under stress, act impulsively (Bernstein et al., 2012).
2.7.3 Physical/behavioral responses - physical stress is the stress that affects the physical
health conditions of the individual thereby, requiring adjustments to be made (Kapur, 2021). When
facing a stressful situation, the body responds by activating the nervous system and releasing
hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones cause physical changes in the body
which help us to react quickly and effectively to get through the stressful situation (APS, 2012).
These reactions are part of the general pattern known as fight-or-flight reaction (Bernstein et al.,
2012). The hormones increase the heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, metabolism and muscle
tension. While these physical changes help us try to meet the challenges of the stressful situation,
they can cause other physical or psychological symptoms if the stress is ongoing and the physical
changes don’t settle down. These symptoms include, among others, headaches, sleep
disturbances, indigestion, diarrhea, and fatigue (APS (2012).
Stress management and coping
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Stress management is a predetermined action aimed at controlling the level of stress. It involves
taking charge of one's thoughts, emotions, and lifestyle as a whole. Stress management
encompasses the use of a wide variety of techniques and psychotherapies that adequately equip
one to cope effectively with stress. According to Lazarus and Folkman (1984), coping is defined
as constantly changing cognitive and behavioral effort to manage specific external and internal
demand that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resource of the person. In other word,
coping as a process seeks to help one master, minimise or tolerate stress, whereas stress
management enhances coping (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
The APS (2012) provided the following advice on managing stress:
Make time to practise relaxation. This will help the body and nervous system to settle and readjust.
Trying some of the following:
• Learn a formal technique such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga.
• Make time to absorb yourself in a relaxing activity such as gardening or listening to music.
• Plan things to do each day that you look forward to and which give you a sense of pleasure,
like reading a book.
The impact of the stressors can be reduced by using effective coping methods. After appraising
the situation as threatening, we have three options that involve thinking and acting in ways that
that help us to cope with the stressors.
2.8.1 Problem-focused coping - it is aimed at managing or correcting the distressing situation
itself. An example involves making a plan of action or concentrating on the next step (Coon &
Mitterer, 2012). This kind of coping helps individuals to take control of the stress, seek relevant
information, or the needed assistance in tackling the situation. Problem-focused coping provides
a long-term solution by dealing with the root cause of the stress. However, it is not possible to use
problem focused coping in all situations (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019). Hence, different situations
would require different forms of coping.
2.8.2 Emotion-focused coping - this kind of coping involves our attempts to control our
emotional reactions to the stressful situation (Coon & Mitterer, 2012). Thus, an individual alters
his or her emotions in order to tolerate or eliminate the stress. For example, a distressed person
may distract himself by listening to music, or workout, or seeking emotional support from others.
The strategies of emotion-focused coping when employed helps one to feel better but, do not
proffer a solution to the source of the distress thereby providing a short term relieve (Eredoro &
Egbochuku, 2019).
2.8.3 Relationships-focused coping - this helps to maintain and protect social relationships in
response to stress. This type of coping has both positive and negative aspects. For example,
people caring for Alzheimer’s patients, which can be highly stressful, exhibited positive coping
(empathy, compromise), as well as negative coping (ignoring, blaming, and withdrawal)
(Cacioppo & Freberg, 2013).
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
The choice of a coping method results from the interactions between a person and the situation.
People can use two or more of these techniques at the same time, depending on the situation.
These coping techniques or methods are important and beneficial to the individual, when they are
put into operation in an effectual manner (Kapur, 2021).
Activity 2
When James is stressed, he tends to take a walk in the park to reduce the stress.
What kind of coping does this refer to?
People exhibit different coping styles during stressful situations. Some people,
like James, would take a walk in the park or listen to soothing music. This is the emotionfocused coping, whereby a person may alter his or her emotions in order to tolerate or eliminate
the stress.
Stress management techniques
Stress management techniques when practiced on a regular basis, help to bring about relaxation
response in the body. Relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the
physical and emotional response to stress. Stress management techniques are highly beneficial
to people who are already experiencing the symptoms of stress (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
Physical exercise
Our encounter with stressful situations often increases the body's level of stress hormones such
as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are metabolised during physical activity to restore
the body and mind to a calm, relaxed state. Physical exercise (figure 1.3) warms and relaxes cold
tight muscles and tissues which contribute to the feeling of stress (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
Figure 2.3 Physical exercise
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Physical exercise develops and maintains a healthy body which directly reduces stress as well
as increasing blood flow to the brain, stimulating nervous system to release hormones that have
a positive effect on how we feel, and improving the quality of sleep (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
In coping with physical stress, various measures such as diet, and medical check-ups on regular
basis, should be considered. These measures contribute in a significant manner in coping with
physical stress and preventing it from assuming a major form (Kapur, 2021).
Visualization/Guided Imagery
Visualisation, or guided imagery (figure 1.4) can be regarded as a mental vocation which
comprises the arousal of perceptual experiences across the sensory modalities to induce a state
of relaxation in the body (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
Figure 2.4 Visualisation
Such visualisations or imaginations could involve picturing oneself in a tranquil, serene and
relaxing setting with all its detail that is particularly appealing and soothing. It could be a real
setting that one has actually visited in the past or a total product of one’s imagination. Examples
of such setting could be beach, the park, or the forest (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
If performed right, meditation (figure 1.5) can induce a deep state of relaxation and tranquil mind.
It helps to quieten the mind, master or even eliminate completely the negative thought patterns
which are often the fundamental cause of stress (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Figure 1.5 Meditation
Meditation can also enhance one’s resilience level as well as make one less reactive to stress.
This result in an enhanced physical and emotional well-being and an overall improvement of
health (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019). Moreover, Kapur (2021) maintained that relaxation
techniques, such as yoga and meditation can help to deal with stress.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
This relaxation technique (figure 1.6) is a mind-body practice. It consists of directing the person's
attention to certain muscle group, contracting it, keeping the contraction for a period, and then
relaxing. This process is repeated with different muscle groups, in order to experience the feeling
of relaxation throughout the body (Silveria et al., 2020). Such muscle group could include those
of the arms, legs, chest, abdomen, neck, back, and so on (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
Figure 2.6 Progressive muscles Relaxation (PMR),
The mental component of PMR requires a person to focus on the distinction between the feeling
of the tension and relaxation (Essa et al., 2017; Varvogil & Darviri, 2011). When using this
technique, one should be extremely cautious not to cause harm to self while tensing muscles.
With regular practice, PMR helps to recognise what tension and complete relaxation feels like in
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
different part of the body. This allows an individual to spot and counteract the first signs of muscle
tension that accompany stress (Eredoro & Egbochuku, 2019).
PMR increases body’s immunity and sense of well-being through endorphins release. People with
anxiety, depression, stress, tension headaches, insomnia, muscle spasms; lower back pain, and
fatigue can achieve positive results using this technique. An awareness of the relaxing sensation
is one of the greatest gains realized with progressive muscle relaxation (Essa et al., 2017).
Relaxation methods are very powerful tools for dealing with stress, depression and anxiety by
giving the body/mind the chance to make its own healing. Relaxation methods retrieve harmony
and help to create these conditions for optimum living (Essa et al., 2017).
In a group discussion on myUnisa with your e-tutor and peers, reflect on different stress
management techniques and explain which technique(s) you often use and why.
NB: Please note that it is compulsory for you to have this discussion.
Stress is one of the most common cause of physical and mental ill-health. It is an inevitable part
of life and it affects people in different ways. Our understanding of the stress helps to determine
which coping mechanisms to call forth in an attempt to reduce the impact of the stressors.
Therefore, the types of stresses and the causes of stress are important to help us to determine
how to respond to stressful situations in our lives. It is also important to note that effective
management of stress can greatly counteract the debilitating effects of stress on our physical and
mental well-being.
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Acculturative stress: is a stress caused by many changes and adaptations required when a
person moves to a foreign culture.
Alarm stage: the first stage of the GAS, in which the body mobilises its resources for resistance
after a brief initial shock
Approach/approach conflict: a conflict in which a person must choose between two attractive
stimuli or circumstances.
Approach/avoidance conflict: a conflict involving a single stimulus or circumstance that has
both positive and negative characteristics.
Avoidance/avoidance approach: a conflict in which a person must choose between two
unattractive stimuli or circumstances.
Daily hassles: any distressing, day-to-day annoyance.
Dispositional optimism: the believe or expectation that things will work out positively.
Emotion-focused coping: a response to stress that targets the negative emotions arising from
the situation.
Exhaustion: the third stage of GAS, characterised by the depletion of physical and
psychological resources.
General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): a three-stage pattern of responses triggered by the
effort to adapt to any stressors.
Hardy personality: a personality style associated with superior stress resistance that involves
commitment, control, and the perception of problems as challenges.
Marginalisation: is the process by which nondominant groups lose cultural and social contacts
with both their traditional society and the larger, dominant society.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a pattern of adverse and disruptive reactions following
a traumatic event.
Problem-focused coping: a response to stress designed to address specific problems by
finding solutions.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): a method for producing deep relaxation on all parts of
the body.
Relationship focused coping: a response to stress designed to maintain and protect social
Relaxation response: is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional
response to stress.
Resilience: an ability to adapt to life’s challenges in positive ways.
Resistance: the second stage of GAS, characterised by coping with ongoing stress.
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Ruminative thinking: the repeated intrusion of thoughts about stressful events.
Stress management: the application of behavioral strategies to reduce stress and improve
coping skills.
Stress reactions: the physical, psychological, and behavioral responses that occur in the face
of the stressors.
Stress: an unpleasant emotional state that results from the perception of danger.
Stressor: Any event or situation that creates stress.
Type A personality: a personality type with an elevated risk of heart disease; characterized by
time urgency, anger, and in some cases, hostility.
Type B personality: a mellow, laid back personality type with a low-cardiac-risk.
PYC1502/Unit 2: Stress/OER 2022
Australian Psychological Society - APS (2012). Understanding and managing stress.
Baqutayan, S.M.S. (2015). Stress and coping mechanisms: A historical overview.
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