THEORIES EXPLAINING STRESS AND ANXIETY

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Summary of The Ways or Means by which Stress is Developed

 If psychologists completely understood how stress and fears developed, we would know how to produce and reduce a phobia or an anxiety state. We don't. There seems to be a wide variety of life experiences which result in some form of stress, fear, anxiety, or psychosomatic illness. It would be convenient if life were simpler but it isn't. Perhaps a summary will help you review the ways you might become stressed and anxious

Environmental factors and processes

Constitutional or physiological processes

Learning processes

Cognitive learning processes

Unconscious urges and processes

 The list could go on and on. My intention isn't to give you a "complete list" of sources of stress. I merely want you to realize there are many possibilities to explore, if and when you go looking for the sources of one of your anxieties. Be open-minded. Explore every trail. You may discover very different, unique sources. Look in every nook, consider every possibility. It can be an interesting investigation into the workings of your mind.

Summary of the Effects of Stress and Anxiety

 The effects or consequences of stress are also numerous; they are both positive and negative. First, the desirable results:

  1. We need and enjoy a certain level of stimulation...a certain number of thrills. It would be boring if we had no stresses and challenges. Some people even make trouble for themselves to keep from getting bored.
  2. Stress is a source of energy that can be directed towards useful purposes. How many of us would study or work hard if it were not for anxiety about the future?
  3. Mild to moderate anxiety makes us more perceptive and more productive, e.g. get better grades or be more attentive to our loved ones.
  4. By facing stresses and solving problems in the past, we have learned skills and are better prepared to handle future difficulties.
  5. Anxiety is a useful warning sign of possible danger--an indication that we need to prepare to meet some demand and a motivation to develop coping skills. Janis (1977) has studied one aspect of this process by observing patients scheduled for surgery. He found that patients with mild "anticipatory fear" adjusted better after the surgery than those who were traumatized or those who denied all worries.

 Other researchers have found personality differences: some deniers do well post-operatively, others do not. This lead to an investigation of how to prepare different personality types for surgery, i.e. how to help the patients prepare to deal with a serious, painful stress, by Shipley, Butt, Horowitz, and Farbry (1978). They studied two personality types: repressors (deny feelings; "Forget about it; it's in the doctor's hands") and sensitizors (open to feelings; "What are the risks? I'm scared. Will it hurt a lot?").

 One group of patients was shown an informative film about the medical procedure; a second group saw the same film three times. A third group didn't see it at all. There were repressors and sensitizers in all three groups. The results? The sensitizers were quite anxious if they hadn't seen the film, but the more they saw it the less stressed they became. Thus, for sensitizors it is helpful to have a realistic, detailed view of what will happen and to know the hazards as well as the help and support available. But what about the repressors who start out "dumb and happy?" Without the film, they are much more relaxed during the painful medical operation than the sensitizors, but with one prior viewing of the film, their heart rate during the operation was very high, considerably higher than even the unprepared sensitizors. However, if repressors had seen the film three times, they were fairly relaxed during the medical procedure. Thus, some people--repressors--need to deny and avoid and think of other things or have lots of advanced warning, information, practice, reassurance and support in preparing for a stressful event.

 You should note two things: (l) this study involves a rare event--a life-endangering time when someone else is in control of your life. There is little you can do except try to keep your panic under control. (2) This study involves only one personality factor from among hundreds and only one approach to allaying fears from among hundreds. But it illustrates the complex kind of information you and I need to run our lives most effectively. We need more scientific knowledge, and a willingness to learn and use that knowledge in our own lives.

 The negative effects or consequences of stress and anxiety

  1. Several unpleasant emotional feelings are generated--tension, feelings of inadequacy, depression, anger, dependency and others.
  2. Preoccupation is with real or often exaggerated troubles--worries, concerns about physical health, obsessions, compulsions, jealousy, suspiciousness, fears, and phobias.
  3. Most emotional disorders are related to stress; they either are caused by stress and/or cause it or both. This includes the concerns mentioned in 1 & 2 and the many psychological disorders described in an Abnormal Psychology textbook.
  4. Interpersonal problems can be a cause or an effect of stress--feeling pressured or trapped, irritability, fear of intimacy, sexual problems, feeling lonely, struggling for control, and others.
  5. Feeling tired is common--stress saps our energy.
  6. Many bad habits (e.g. procrastination, see chapter 4) and much wasted time are attempts to handle anxiety. They may help relieve anxiety temporarily but we pay a high price in the long run.
  7. Psychosomatic ailments result from stress--a wide variety of disorders are caused by psychological factors, maybe as much as 50% to 80% of all the complaints treated by physicians.
  8. High stress almost always interferes with one's performance (unless it is a very simple task). It causes inefficiency at school and on the job, poor decision-making, accidents, and even sexual problems. In chapter 4 we discussed achievement needs and how test scores relate to anxiety. Sarason (1975) found that students with high test anxiety do more poorly on exams, especially important tests, than less anxious peers, but they profit more from the teacher's hints, suggestions, and advice about taking the test. Janda (1975) observed that males with sexual anxiety had difficulty perceiving the difference between warm, friendly, approachable women and cold, aloof ones. Other males notice the difference easily.
  9. Anxiety and fear causes us to avoid many things we would otherwise enjoy and benefit from doing. People avoid taking hard classes, trying out for plays or the debate team, approaching others, trying for a promotion, etc. because they are afraid. It's regrettable. Let's do something about it.


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