New Psychological Research Identifies 5 Categories of Stress-Related Beliefs
A new article published in the Journal of Health Psychology tries to catalog the different ways people think about and relate to stress.
“The word stress – like success, failure or happiness – means different things to different people and, except for a few specialist scientists, no one has really tried to define it although it has become part of our everyday vocabulary” , explain the researchers. led by Christopher Kilby of Macquarie University in Australia. “This study identified five broad themes of stress-related beliefs. Collectively, these beliefs suggest that people conceptualize stress as a change in how their body functions in terms of mental, emotional, and physical abilities.
The five themes identified by the researchers were (1) cognition, (2) emotion, (3) physical health, (4) interpersonal relationships, and (5) behavior. This was based on a series of interviews where the researchers asked participants to discuss their experience with stress, including its sensations, causes, purpose and consequences. The five categories of stress-related beliefs are described below.
Cognitive elements of stress beliefs
All of the participants interviewed by the researchers discussed some aspect of the relationship between stress and thought. For example, some participants talked about how cognition can influence feelings of stress. One respondent said, “If I get caught in really bad traffic, I get frustrated and stressed out because I just start going through things that might be going through my head.”
Other participants discussed how stress influences their thought patterns. One respondent said, “I think too much when I’m stressed. So if I’m in a normal mood, I think it’s fine. But if I’m stressed, I’ll think everything means something.
A majority of respondents surveyed (63%) said that stress negatively impacts their ability to think clearly (e.g., “I will make less thoughtful decisions that won’t be very good”), while others noted that stress helps them “fit in” on important tasks.
Some respondents indicated that stress served as a cue for them to pay attention to important things (e.g., “If you’re stressed about something, then you know you care about it.”) .
A few participants mentioned that stress makes them more selfish because they lack the ability to meet the needs of others during times of stress. About three-quarters of participants noted that stress is associated with increased thought intrusion and rumination.
Finally, all respondents raised the idea that stress and time are related to each other. Some indicated that stress is a pervasive part of their lives while others indicated that it comes and goes. Unsurprisingly, many participants shared how lack of time exacerbates feelings of stress.
Emotional elements of stress-related beliefs
Almost all participants (94%) mentioned that stress influences their emotions in some way. Most respondents indicated that stress produces negative emotional states such as anger, irritability, sadness, jealousy or panic. For example, one respondent commented, “My mood is starting to change […] I will be a little angry and a little lively with my family and friends.
Positive emotional states, such as excitement and optimism, were also noted. A respondent comments: “After playing, I am on a good foot. I have a lot of adrenaline. It’s definitely because of the stress that I feel so good after playing.
Physical health elements of stress-related beliefs
All participants discussed the relationship between stress and physical health, but its effects varied from person to person. Some participants noted changes in appetite (increase and decrease), sleep patterns (increase and decrease), increased heart rate, increased body temperature, feelings of exhaustion/adrenaline, stomach cramps, dry skin, headache, nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, and acne/warts. One participant commented, “I can feel my physical body temperature rising [when stressed]. It’s really obvious to me.”
Interpersonal Elements of Stress-Related Beliefs
Most participants (89%) reported changes in stress levels in response to presence and interaction with certain people. One respondent commented: “Sometimes other staff come into the workplace and make it stressful. If you are stressed, then everyone is stressed.
Others have reported that talking to other people alleviates their stress. One participant said, “I would have to find someone to talk to about it, because that’s what I do when I’m stressed and panicked, I talk to someone. They tell me about it, and I let off steam, and that’s about when most of the feelings dissipate.
Behavioral Elements of Stress-Related Beliefs
All participants described at least one instance of stress influencing their actions and behaviors. For example, some participants noted how stress causes them to concentrate or prepare for an upcoming task, such as an exam. Others mentioned that it makes them doubt their confidence (e.g., “Stress is really bad in some ways because it makes you feel like you’re going to do worse than you are Actually. “).
Others have pointed out that stress alters the way they cope with difficult situations, such as engaging in ritual or superstitious practices. Many respondents cited specific coping strategies used to counter stress, such as playing music, resting, exercising, or reassessing the stressful situation.
Conclusion: By developing a better understanding of what stress means to different people, the authors hope their work will lead to better treatments for stress and anxiety. “Research by others is currently investigating what the optimal set of beliefs about stress might be,” the authors state. “Early findings suggest that a mix of positive and negative beliefs about stress is necessary for us to detect threat where threat exists, but without losing sight of the challenges and benefits of stress.”
A full interview with Christopher Kilby exploring his new research on stress-related beliefs can be found here: What’s the right way to think about stress?