Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Exploring Perspectives of Individuals with Disabilities on Stress-Coping

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Exploring Perspectives of Individuals with Disabilities on Stress-Coping

Article excerpt

Physiological responses to stress (e.g., increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, accelerated blood clotting) were once essential for overcoming physical threats to survival (Goldberger & Breznitz, 1993). In today's world, insidious psychosocial threats and pressures-juggling multiple and often competing demands, navigating hostile commuter routes, working longer hours-are more typical yet elicit the same response (Shields, 2003). When repeatedly evoked, stress damages mental and physical health, and ultimately may lead to premature death (Lazarus, 1999). Over 20 years ago the growing pervasiveness of this threat grabbed headline attention with stress being dubbed the "epidemic of the eighties" and leading health concern in the United States (Stress!, Time, 1983). Since that time, the escalating pace of daily life and pressures to meet a myriad of perceived demands have made stress a worldwide, social and individual endemic (Brisbois, 2003). The volume of research in this area and its appeal in the popular media reflect the ubiquitous nature of stress and the enormity of its impact on people's relationships, work productivity, health, and life quality, generally. Indeed, stress is recognized as a universal human phenomenon that transcends key social axes such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, and ability (Garnets, 2002; Iglesias & Cormier, 2002; Noonan et al., 2004). Consequently, it is not surprising that stress management has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise and a common area of research interest in a number of academic disciplines (e.g., rehabilitation medicine, management; Mascott, 2004).

From a research perspective, much of our existing knowledge about stress management, or stress-coping as it is commonly referred to in the literature, is based on studies of white, middle class members of society (Groomes & Leahy, 2002; Waiters & Simoni, 2002). People from different backgrounds and life circumstances have not received a great deal of attention, which leaves significant gaps in understanding. This is problematic as stress-coping is not a singular concept but one that involves highly complex processes that are influenced by multiple factors-individual, social, economic, societal/structural, cultural and political-which often converge and in doing so become increasingly difficult to manage (Janssen, Schuengel, & Stolk, 2002; Turk & Monarch, 2002).

As a contribution towards closing this gap, the present paper documents results from an exploratory, qualitative study in which we examined the ways in which men and women with physical disabilities cope with stress. In adopting this focus, our intention was not to suggest that people with disabilities are inherently different, but to acknowledge that disability, as one aspect of identity, introduces another factor that influences, alone or in interaction with other stressors (e.g., social, economic, societal/structural, cultural and political), stress-coping. This work is particularly relevant given the importance of stress management in rehabilitation counselling (Putnam, et al., 2003), and calls for better grounding of programs and interventions in the real life experiences of individuals with disabilities (Elliot, Kurylo, & Rivera, 2002).

Review of Related Literature

Stress management is a key component in many rehabilitation services and programs (Putnam et al., 2003). One reason for this emphasis is that while likely to encounter sources of stress similar to their counterparts without disabilities, evidence suggests that individuals with disabilities experience: (a) a broader range of stressors (Bramston & Fogerty, 2000), and; (b) unique stressors that tend to be chronic in nature and intensified by factors specific to one's disability (Groomes & Leahy, 2002).

In the disability literature, stress-coping is often addressed as a sub-concern in broader analyses of health and adjustment to disability. …

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