methods of stress reduction
Physiological responses to stress may also be reduced through
relaxation. Jacobson (1938) observed that people
experiencing stress tended to add to their discomfort by tensing
their muscles. To overcome this, Jacobson devised
progressive relaxation. In this, the muscles in some area
of the body are first tightened and then relaxed. Typically the
patient starts with their feet and gradually works their way up
the body, relaxing each set of muscles in turn.
person becomes aware of muscle tension and can differentiate
between feelings of tension and relaxation, the technique can be
used to control stress-induced effects. Progressive relaxation
lowers the arousal associated with the alarm reaction and
reduces a number of recurrent heart attacks. However,
progressive relaxation only has long-term benefits if it is
incorporated into a person's lifestyle as a regular procedure
activity and exercise
(1953) conducted (pardon the pun) a study of London bus drivers
and conductors, (people that used to collect tickets on buses in
the good old days. See an episode of ‘On the Buses’ for further
information). He found that the conductors, who moved around
the bus collecting fares, were far less likely to suffer from
cardiovascular disorders than the sedentary drivers. An obvious
criticism of the study is that many other factors may result in
drivers being more stressed than conductors. Although Morris'
study was correlational, subsequent research has confirmed that
physical activity and exercise are beneficial in stress
reduction (Anshel, 1996).
almost certainly reduces some of the more dangerous effects of
stress. Remember that the 3Fs response is preparing the body
for action. By taking action in the form of exercise you are
burning off some of the energy the body is mobilising. High
blood sugar levels are therefore reduced, circulation is
improved and the heart muscles strengthened. Psychologically,
exercise might also be therapeutic, since sustained exercise can
reduce depression and boost feelings of self-esteem (Sonstroem,
techniques for stress reduction (psychological)
called ‘cognitive’ since they concentrate on people’s
perceptions of stress and the way they think about the stressful
situation and their ability to cope. Hardiness and stress
inoculation encourage patients to recognise their irrational or
negative thoughts and perceptions and replace them with more
positive and realistic ideas.
years cognitive therapies have evolved into CBT (cognitive
behaviour therapies) with a greater emphasis on changing
clearly differ in their abilities to resist a stressor's
effects. One characteristic that apparently helps resist stress
is hardiness (Kobasa, 1979). According to Kobasa,
'hardy' individuals differ in three main ways (see your earlier
notes on this).
they have more direction to their lives.
interpreting any stress as making life more interesting, and
amount of stress experienced can be regulated.
in hardiness tend to be healthier even though the levels of
stress that they’ve suffered have been similar to less hardy
individuals. (Pine 1994). Maddi, a colleague of Kobasa, has
devised a series of programmes for increasing hardiness. These
include ‘HardiTraining’ and HardiWorkshops.’
suggestions for increasing hardiness:
Focusing. Patients are taught
to recognise the symptoms of stress such as heightened heart
rate and muscle tension.
Reliving stressful encounters.
Patients are asked to think about recent stressful situations
that they’ve overcome and to consider better ways of dealing
with similar situations in future.
that challenges can be coped with. Suggests that circumstances
that we feel are beyond us should be avoided! (At last sensible
advice!). However she does propose that in this situation we
take on a different challenge that is within our capabilities so
that we experience the positive aspects of dealing with stress.
procedure has been used to reduce drop out rate and increase
levels of graduation in university students and on Olympic
swimmers to ensure higher levels of commitment and reduce
process is notoriously slow since it’s first necessary to tackle
long standing habits and make alterations to personality.
Meichenbaum's (1976, 1985) stress inoculation therapy
assumes that people sometimes find situations stressful because
they think about them in catastrophising ways. Stress
inoculation therapy aims to train people to cope more
effectively with potentially stressful situations. It is
similar to hardiness and has three stages.
therapist and patient exploring the ways in which stressful
situations are thought about. Typically, people react to stress
by offering negative self-statements like 'I can't handle
this'. This makes the situation worse.
acquisition and rehearsal,
attempts to replace negative self-statements with incompatible
positive coping statements. These are then learned and
practised. (See examples that follow, practise a few if you so
and follow through
involves the therapist guiding the person through progressively
more threatening situations that have been rehearsed in actual
stress-producing situations. Initially the person is placed in a
situation that is moderate to cope with. Once this has been
mastered, a more difficult situation is presented.
Meichenbaum et al (1982), the 'power of positive
thinking' approach advocated by stress inoculation therapy can
be successful in bringing about effective behaviour change,
particularly in relation to anxiety and pain.
and reinforcing self-statements used in stress inoculation
Preparing for stressful situation
is it I have to do?
can develop a plan to deal with it.
Don’t worry. Worry won’t help anything.
negative thoughts; just think rationally.
Handling a stressful situation
step at a time, you can deal with it.
Relax, you’re in control, you can deal with it.
Coping with the feeling of being over-whelmed.
will be over shortly.
not the worst thing that can happen.
Label your fear from 0 to 10 and watch it change.
keep the fear manageable.
Reinforcing self statements
worked, you did it!
can be pleased with the progress you’re making.
wasn’t as bad as you expected!
was able to do it because I was well prepared.
Horan (2004) reported the case of law students who received 4
weekly sessions of SIT each lasting 90 minutes. They recored
lowered levels of anxiety and an improvement in the grades of
SIT is seen
as particularly effective since it provides patients with
techniques that can be used on future stressors and anxieties.
Evaluation of cognitive methods
Some methods have been successful in reducing the ill
effects of stress, for example Carver & Humphries (1982) showed
that they reduced the incidence of CHD.
Their main advantage over other interventions such as
drugs is that they try to deal with the problem of stress
directly, teaching people how to identify stress and develop
effective techniques for dealing with it.
methods also consider the needs of the individual and if used
properly can be tailored to a person’s specific situation.
However, some stressful situations are completely out
of the control of the individual for example a repetitive job or
having to travel to work or traffic jams etc. In such cases
stress reduction is the best that can be hoped for.
In some cases companies have been criticised for
setting up such stress management courses as a cheap or easy
option rather than trying to tackle the real causes of the
stress. In so doing they are laying the blame squarely on their
employees rather than facing up to their own responsibilities.
question asks for psychological methods concentrate on the
cognitive methods above and below. There’s far more to describe
and discuss than there is with relaxation, meditation etc.
Stressed out :-)