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A Brief Description…

‘Stress’ as a word has expanded from formerly denoting relative force used to cause strain, into being a category widely used within the informal arena of everyday life. As Spradley and Philips (1972) point out, its usage “has been adopted by nearly every discipline which deals with man and his behaviour” (1972:518); indicating multiple interpretations used to apply to a broad domain.

Definitions of stress in existing literature range from, a breach in human resilience which leads to the necessary readjustment of an individuals’ behavioural pattern to meet changing environmental, social or internal circumstances (Spradley & Phillips, 1972; Thoits, 1995; Wainwright & Calnun, 2002); to, a psychological or physiologically perceived imbalance between the ability of an individuals’ resources to meet demand, which in turn threatens homeostasis (balance) and leads to uncertainty (Brown, 1981; Jacobson, 1986; Sunderland & Cooper, 1990; Olsen, 1993; Thompson & Dey, 1998). Researchers agree however that the stress process is a difficult variable to operationally define due to its many conceptual components which lead to a wide variety of explanatory definitions (Pearlin, 1989; Beehr, 1995; Wainwright & Calnun, 2002).

For our purpose stress is represented as neither good nor bad but as being a necessary aspect of life. When analysed in a mechanical context stress can be viewed through the analogy of necessary force for moving an object; for example a motor vehicle, where ‘revs’ denote the amount of stress and changing gear denotes adjusting to that stress. A certain amount of revs ‘stress’ are necessary to propel the vehicle in a given direction; lack of revs will result in a stationary position with no movement, consistently high revs without changing to a higher gear ‘adjusting to the stress’ will result in parts of the engine burning out as the car exceeds its recommended amount of range, “the right degree of stress is valuable as it energises and stimulates us” (Goodwyn, 1997:80).

It is only when the demands surrounding circumstances are perceived as either too low, suggesting under-load, or too high, suggesting over-load, that recurrent strain may lead to problems associated with stress (Chapman, 1969; Cox, 1978; Sutherland & Cooper, 1990; Thoits, 1995; Goodwyn, 1997).  In 1974 Lauer analysed recurrent strain by viewing stress as associated to changes and the rate at which they occur in an individuals’ life; he found that “if change is perceived to be desirable, the relationship between rate and anxiety is greatly reduced though not eliminated” (1974:513).

Bibliography and Further Reading:

Spradley J.P. & M. Phillips (Jun 1972) Culture and Stress: A Quantitative Analysis American Anthropologist,New Series, Vol. 74, No. 3, 518-529

Thoits P.A. (Jun., 1982). Conceptual, Methodological, and Theoretical Problems in Studying Social Support as a Buffer against Life Stress. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, Vol. 23, No. 2, 145-159

Wainwright D. & M. Calnan (2002) Work stress: the making of a modern pandemic. Buckingham: OUP

Brown D.E. (Mar., 1981), General Stress in Anthropological Fieldwork. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 83, No. 1, 74-92

Jacobson D.E. (Sept., 1986) Types and Timing of Social Support Journal of Health and Social Behaviour Vol. 27, no. 3, 250-264

Sutherland V.J. & C.L. Cooper (1990) Understanding Stress: a psychological perspective for health professionals London: Chapman and Hall

Olsen D. (Jul.-Aug., 1993) Work Satisfaction and Stress in the First and Third Year of Academic AppointmentJournal of Higher Education, Vol. 64, No. 4, 453-471

Thompson C.J., & E.L. Dey. (May-Jun., 1998) Pushed to the margins: Sources of stress for African American College and University Faculty  The Journal of Higher Education Vol.69, No. 3, 324-345

Pearlin L.I. (Sept., 1989) The Sociological Study of Stress Journal of Health and Behaviour Vol. 30, No. 3, 241-256

Beehr T.A. (1995). Psychological Stress in the Workplace. London: Routledge

Goodwyn A. (1997) Developing English Teachers: The Role of mentorship in a Reflective Profession. Buckingham; Philadelphia: OUP

Chapman P.C. (Oct 1969) Stress in Political Theory. Ethics Vol. 80, No.1, 38-49

Cox T. (1978) Stress. London: Macmillan

Lauer R.H. (Jun., 1974) Rate of Change and Stress: A test of the “Future Shock” Thesis. Social Forces, Vol. 52, No. 4, 510-516

Eriksen T.H. (2001). Small Places, Large Issues, an Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology 2ndEdition, London: Stirling

Helman C. (2001) Culture Health and Illness, 4th edition. London: Arnold

Berkman L.F., T. Glass, I. Brissette & T.E.Seeman (2000) From Social Integration to Health: Durkheim in the New Millennium Social Science & Medicine Vol.51, 843-857

Turner R.J. (1981). Social Support as a Contingency in Psychological Well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour Vol. 22, (December):357-367

House J.S. (winter, 1987) Social Support and Social Structure Sociological Forum Vol. 2, No. 1, 135-146

House J.S., D. Umberson & K.R. Landis (1988) Structures and Processes of Social Support Annual Review of Sociology Vol. 14, 293-318


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