The issues surrounding psychosocial health and some of the main causes of stress in modern society.

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This essay will explore the issues surrounding psychosocial health and some of the main causes of stress in modern society. Stress is one of the predominant aspects in life that one can be sure of encountering at some stage. Events that cause stress are called stressors; how we then react to the stressful situation is known as a stress response. Stress can be a threat to the quality of life and ones psychological well-being. This essay will discuss the nature of stress, its effects and causes and the different techniques used to manage stress and deal with it.

Defining stress and recognising the causes.

Wingate sees stress as any influence which disturbs the natural equilibrium of the body. This includes physical injury, exposure, deprivation, all kinds of disease and emotional disturbance. (Wingate, 1972). A more recent definition has defined stress as a pattern of psychological, behavioural, emotional and cognitive responses to real or imagined stimuli that are perceived as preventing a goal or endangering or otherwise threatening well-being (Carlson, 2007). Stress is not classified as an illness, but if it is excessive and ongoing, it can cause ones physical and mental health to deteriorate. This may lead to depression, nervous breakdown or even heart disease. Stress presents itself in many forms in everyday life; often it is stimulating or motivating but usually proves to cause adverse physical and psychological effects (Bernstein, 2005). We feel stress as a result of demands that are placed upon the mind  and the body. Our reaction is called the generalised stress reponse. (CUPE, 2003). There are many factors that can cause people stress. These are known as stressors. There are many demands that are placed on people today from changes in lifestyle and social developments. Some of the primary drivers include:

  • Lack of exercise and activity which leads to a rise in obesity.
  • Augmented levels of alcohol consumption.
  • Pressure to conform to ‘norms' and peers as a result of increased consumerism.
  • Breakdown in the family unit leading to the increase of one parent or lone parent families.
  • Changes in the workplace brought about by the economic downturn e.g. redundancy.

How it affects us?

The reactions of human beings to these stressors are known as stress responses. “Seyles primary concern was for the physiological mechanism and this has led to a close assosiation between response- based and physiological models of stress.”(Cox, 1978:5).

According to Seyle, there are three stages to the general adaption syndrome. The first stage is the alarm stage. The second is the stage of resistance and the final stage is known as the exhaustion stage or the point of collapse.”The occurrence of this stress syndrome can be pathogenic and cause diseases of adaptation, affecting one or other of the organ systems involved in its functions” (Cox, 1978:58). Bodily reactions can include the substantial enlargement of the adrenal cortex, shrinkage of the thymus and lymph glands and ulceration on the stomach and duodenum (Seyle, 1976). 

“Individuals under stress are more likely to increase their intake of cigarettes and alcohol, adopt unhealthy eating habits, exercise less, and experience less sleep and increased use of illicit drugs” (Cohen, 1988). Drawing from my placement training, I found women experiencing miscarriage to be understandably very emotional and these were very stressful situations for them. “It may be necessary to seek the cause of a woman's miscarriage, especially if this happens repeatedly. Miscarriage has been found to be significantly correlated with stressful life events” (O' Hare & Creed 1995). Events such as bereavement, death of a spouse, divorce or pregnancy are all common event that people find stressful. These are to mention but a few. However positive events can be considered stressful to some also as they may have to make major adjustments in their life. Different people can react differently to these events. Some of these differences are linked to age and cultural background (Masuda &Holmes, 1978). Studies of groups such as, family carers for Alzheimer's victims, divorced men and woman, patients suffering with depression and widowers, show that they all displayed poor immune systems in comparison to other community counterparts (Kiecolt-Glaser, 1987).

Managing Stress

Stressful situations can cause a state of physical and emotional discomfort that will prompt one to release the distress. “The term coping is used to refer to the process by which a person attempts to manage stressful demands”. (Atkinson et al, 2009:525). This takes two major forms. ‘Problem-focused coping' is when a person can concentrate on the problem or event that has occurred and try to alleviate it. The second form is when a person is motivated to release the emotions related with the stressful event. “This is called emotion-focused coping.”(Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). These coping strategies play an important role in a persons physical and psychological health when they are confronted with stressful issues in everyday life. (Endler N.S, 1990)

As mentioned above, people that endure a stressful event feel agitated and distressed and can have symtoms for up to 6 weeks. A lot of people will recover from it but some may continue to have these symtoms for months or even years to follow. This can be classed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD). One that suffers from PTSD may feel depressed,anxious,griefstricken or angry. Physical symtoms may include diarrhoea, headaches, aches and pains and palpatations. PTSD is a common occurance in people that have witnessed major traumatics events such as hurricanes or earthquakes. “A study of children in South Carolina who survived Hurricane Hugo in 1993 found that, three years after the hurricane a third still experienced a sense of detachment and avoided thoughts or feelings associated with the hurricane” (Atkinson et al, 2009:509). “A quarter of children were irritable and angry, and 20% experienced chronic physiological arousal (Garrison et al., 1995). “Similar rates of PTSD were found in survivors of a large earthquake in Taiwan” (Lai et al., 2004). Psychotherapy can be an effective way of alleviating PTSD. It is a process in which the individual is encouraged to remember the specific event and talking through it and trying to make sense of it. Talking to friends or family, keeping hopeful and perhaps consulting with a doctor will also help.


Stress is a threat to psychosocial health and well being and to the very quality of life itself. Few of us are immune from stress during our lives and it is important to understand the nature of stress, its effects and how we manage it.


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