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Measuring stress levels of staff

1586 words (6 pages) Essay in Psychology

20/04/17 Psychology Reference this

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There are several ways in which stress can be measured for example by self report, biochemical and physiological methods

Self report methods

Stressful life event scales – measures stress prospectively through the reported life change for example Holmes and Rahe’s Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS). They examined 5000 patient records and made a list of 43 life events that seemed to precede illness. Nearly 400 participants were asked to rate each item in terms of the amount of stress it produced, and an random value of 500 was assigned to marriage as a reference point. The results were averaged and divided by ten to get a measure of the individual events in terms of life change units representing the degree of stress caused by events. Their research using SRRS suggested that life events were associated with various physical illnesses.

Self-perception of stress – measures subjective feelings of stress associated with negative or positive life events for example Sarason et al.’s (1978) Life experiences Survey (LES).

The SRRS provides a relatively quick measure of a variety of stressor stimuli and the LES takes into account the subjective cognitive appraisal. This method however has a limitation in that subjective measures may be unreliable, change over time and confuse the causes and effects of stress.

Biochemical methods

This methods measure stress through chemical testing for example through blood and urine sample testing to measure changes in stress-related hormones, catecholamines (such as epinephrine) and corticosteroids (such as cortisol). For example, Kiecolt-Glaser (1984) studied human responses to stress using examinations where researchers took blood samples from 75 1st year medical students one month before their final examination and again on the first day of their final exams after they had completed two of the exams. Kiecolt-Glaser et al found that natural killer cell declined between the two samples confirming that stress is associated with a reduced immune response.

These methods provide direct, reliable, objective and quantitative data on stress responses. There is a limitation however in that these methods are expensive, require specialist equipment/skill and ignore subjective perceptions (‘positive’ stress produces less cortisol). The measure can be affected by factors like caffeine or anxiety.

Physiological methods

There are many physiological responses that can be measured. This is done through monitoring of machinery like heart monitors and skin conductance polygraphs and stress is measured through its associated autonomic nervous system changes in heart rate and blood pressure.

Change in heart rate – measures the increase or decrease in the number of heart beats per minute. Heart rate can be measured with an electrocardiogram (ECG) which measures electrical activity across the skin associated with the electrical activity of the heart. It increases when a person is under stress and decreases as one relaxes. It is also affected by the intensity of the emotional response; it increases with position emotions and decreases with negative emotions . In response to unexpected stimuli, heart rate decreases, known as the orienting effect, and increases with defensive responses, i.e. fight-or-flight response.

Change in skin conductance -measures the change in the conductivity of a person’s skin.

As stress increases, sweat increases on the palms hence increased conductivity. Higher levels of skin conductance have also been shown during learning and have also been shown to increase with the presentation of an unexpected stimulus. It is measured on the fingertips of the participant.

Change in skin temperature -measures the change in temperature on the extremities of the body. As stress increases the temperature in the extremities decreases as heat moves to the body’s core thus the temperature measured on the fingertip decreases. Skin temperature reactions can be measured by placing a thermostat at the end of one of the fingers and holding it in place with thin porous tape.

Other measures include EEG recordings of cortical activity, electromyogram measurements of facial muscle tensions, respiration rate and blood pressure.

Physiological measures have an advantage in that they are more objective than subjective – a continuous measure, so time-varying qualities of presence can be observed. They have some limitations however, in that several different stimuli could produce the same changes and physiological levels also vary widely from person to person. Skin temperature is slow to change and therefore one has to be exposed to the stimulus for several minutes. There is also the cost of the physiological monitoring equipment and trained personnel.

I would recommend the company to use the self report method of measuring stress as it would be the most appropriate for a company because it is the least expensive and the staff would not need to take a day off to go and see a specialist. It would also take less time and it is convenient.

Physiological and psychological methods of stress management that the company could introduce to its staff:

There are many approaches which can be used to reduce stress levels. Psychologists distinguish two broad types of coping strategies; psychological and physiological.

Physiological method:

Biofeedback- This is a technique involving the use of recording electrodes and monitors to measure physiological responses like blood pressure and muscle tension in the head and neck. Signals are amplified and displayed to the client on a screen or through headphones. The client is trained on how to control involuntary muscles, or voluntary muscles that are not normally controlled using techniques like relaxation and meditation. This introduces autonomic nervous system activity thus the bodily sensations associated with stress and this would reduce the consequent effects of stress in terms of illness.


Biofeedback has produced significant long-term reductions in stress in everyday life.

The use of monitors helps the person learn effective techniques to reduce arousal and they can use them independently of the technology (Holroyd et al., 1984)

It does not have side effects unlike drugs

It is voluntary and not invasive

According to Attanasio et al. (1985), it helped teenagers and children with stress related disorders to gain control over symptoms of migraine headaches. They benefited more than adults possibly because they were more enthusiastic and less sceptical.


There is cost of technology and time is needed by the trainer and client to learn how to reduce arousal.

There is some doubt as to whether the feedback is actually necessary as some studies show that the benefits of biofeedback could be gained from other relaxation methods.

It does not directly focus on causes of the stress-related problems but treats the symptoms.

It is more successful with some people than others (individual differences), for example with children rather than adults.

Psychological methods

Stress inoculation training (SIT) – Meichenbaum (1985) proposed a form of cognitive therapy to deal with stress. His stress inoculation training aims to manage stress using a cognitive-behavioural method of providing clients with strategies and skills to deal with the particular stressors in their lives. He suggested that an individual should develop a form of coping before the problem arises rather than afterwards. There are three main phases in stress inoculation training:

Conceptualisation – the therapist discusses the nature of the problem with the individual and a relationship is established. The client is educated about the nature and impact of stress so that he understands the effect of their existing coping mechanism. Self-defeating attitudes and coping mechanisms are identified through curious questions in order to guide the client to understand their cognitions and behaviour.

Skills acquisition and consolidation – The individual learns various techniques for reducing stress, such as relaxation and self-instruction by using coping self-statements, positive thinking, social skills, methods of attention diversion and time management. These are taught and practised in the clinic and then gradually rehearsed in real life.

Application and follow through – clients are given opportunities to apply the newly learned coping skills in different situations, which become increasingly stressful. Various techniques may be used for example imagery, modelling and role playing. The exposure to real stressors is graded and follow- through procedures employed to ensure that any warning signs of relapse are dealt with.


It is very flexible, it consists of a wide variety of cognitive and behavioural techniques tailored to the individual needs of the client.

It is fairly effective in reducing the stress experienced in moderately stressful situations, the stress of chronic pain, performance anxiety, specific phobias, work related stress, competition stress and stress before surgery.

It deals with causes not symptoms, it offers a joint attack; skills to cope with current problems, and skills and confidence to cope with future problems.

The focus on acquisition of skills provides long-lasting effectiveness as they are taught, practised and followed through and are tailored to the needs of the individual.


This method is of less value when treating individuals who are highly stressed or exposed to very stressful situations.

It is time consuming and requires high motivation. The training programme requires a lot of time, effort, motivation, money and the lengthy therapy would only suit a limited range of determined individuals.

It is unnecessarily complex – it is possible that the range of activities could be reduced without losing much of the effectiveness.

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