‘Sources of modern day stress are frequently psychological therefore it makes sense that attempts to deal with their effects should be likewise psychological in nature’. To what extent have psychological approaches shown to be effective methods of stress management? (18) Psychological approaches to stress are many and varied. The simplest psychological approaches to reducing stress are relaxation and mediation. In general, these are effective in reducing physiological arousal, however the effects can be short lasting unless mediation is a regular feature of the lifestyle.
Stress involves each person’s different perception and assessment of external events and internal thoughts and anxieties. So, the most effective strategies for permanently changing reactions to stressors involve changing perceptions as well as coping techniques. They call these cognitive-behavioural approaches. Kobasa (1986) is a good example of this. Kobasa said people who are psychologically more hardy find it easier to cope with stress. She thought it might be possible to train people to be more hardy. She made up a programme consisting of three techniques.
Focusing, the individual is trained to identify signs of stress such as muscle tension and increased heart-rate, they can then recognize sources of stress. Reconstructing stressful situations, the individual is helped to analyse a recent stressful situation, concentrating on ways it could have come out better and ways it could have turned out worse. Doing this means they would become aware of things that could actually have been worse and allows you to be more positive. The last technique is Compensating through self-improvement. The individual is encouraged to take on challenges they can cope with.
If you are affected by a stressor that cannot be changed or avoided then it is helpful to take on another challenge that can be mastered. This reassures people that they can cope. Sarafino (1990) reports that people who have followed the kind of programme just outlined do score higher on a test of hardiness, report feeling less stressed, and have lower blood pressure than before. Although, some people find this sort of strategy doesn’t work. It requires considerable effort and determination, which are the characteristics of a hardy person.
Meichenbaum (1985) put forward a similar programme. He argued that we should use cognitive therapy before a person becomes very anxious or depressed rather than afterwards. He though people should change the way the individual thinks about their problem, (change the experience of stress) rather than changing the problem itself. He developed stress inoculation therapy. There are three main phases. Assessment, this is when the therapist discusses the nature of the problem with the individual, and solicits the individual’s perception of how to eliminate it.
Teach stress reduction techniques, the individual learns various techniques for reducing stress, such as relaxation and self-instruction. (coping self statements: “If I keep calm, I can handle this situation”) The last phase is Application and follow through. The patient practices stress-reduction techniques in role play, and then uses them in real life situations. Meichenbaum compared his stress inoculation technique to desensitisation. He treated individuals suffering from both rat phobia and snake phobia. Each patient received treatment for only one phobia, using one of the two methods.
He found that stress inoculation, compared with desensitisation, greatly reduced the non-treated phobia. Stress inoculation has proved to be fairly effective in reducing the stress that people experience in moderately stressful situations. However, it is less effective when treating individuals who are highly stressed or exposed to very stressful situations. The approaches above aim to reduce stress by reducing the gap between the demands placed on a person and their perception of their ability to cope. By closing that gap, a person’s confidence increases and the stress they feel is reduced.