Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

Reinventing the Stress Concept

Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

Reinventing the Stress Concept

Article excerpt

Studies that attempt to models stress have been limited by the ambiguity surrounding the stress concept. To address this conceptual lacuna, this article proposes a new approach to conceptualizing stress. Through a historical survey of ideas relating to stress, clarity will be brought to the conception of stress through a synthesis of insights on the nature of stress arousal, particularly focusing on the dynamic of generation of stress in the mind. Stress, resulting from both positively and negatively appraised events, is experienced in proportion to the certainty with which we assess an impact to something to which we have attachment (Sanskrit, upãdãna ), whether physical or ideological. Ultimately, this ancient conception of the psychological dynamic of stress has borne fruit in philosophy, religion, and psychotherapy, making it a sound candidate for a fundamental psychological conception of stress.

Keywords: stress; coping; attachment; mindfulness; meditation; cognitive appraisal; Eastern philosophy; Buddhism; anxiety

Considering the pervasive nature of the phenomenology of stress in the human experience, it is difficult to find an individual without a working knowledge of the concept of stress, at least in the Western world. Even the conceptualizations of stress are not such that they vary dramatically from person to person. Despite this, no consensus is evident in the academic community with respect to using the term stress (Friedman & Silver, 2006). While it has been noted by researchers that individuals vary in their appraisal of the same event as stressful/nonstressful (Pearlin, Menaghan, Lieberman, & Mullan, 1981), the psychological dynamic underlying the link between antecedent events and the generation of a stressful mental state is not well understood. Researchers have pointed to a subjective phenomenology of stress that varies on an individual basis (Breznitz & Goldberger, 1993), at times describing our reactions to events as being a function of our individual "needs, values, perceptions, resources, and skills" (Aneshensel, 1992, p. 16). Even though the concept is not well understood itself, since the presence of stress can be identified, it is considerably easier to go forth with the empirical work and examine the effects of this phenomenon on the body. This resulted in a body of research that dealt predominantly with the physiological effects of stress on the body (Pearlin, 1993). While this work is certainly of considerable value since it contributes to our understanding of physiological processes and psychosomatic effects, we are limited by our lack of clarity with the concept of stress itself.

Additional clarity to the stress concept and to its most fundamental dynamics would be of great benefit to the community of stress researchers at large. The very persistence of this concept's ambiguity points to deep definitional difficulty. There is something fundamental about the stress concept that is not well understood. Providing clarity to this topic is something that will not come easily by backpedaling from specific empirical facts to more general descriptions of the concept. Examining empirical evidence of the psychosomatic effects of stress tells us a great deal of how the mind affects the body but tells us little about the mind's appraisal of the events from the onset. Even considering the neurophysiological interplay of chemicals tells us only so much at the present time since our knowledge of the neurochemical landscape extends only speculatively to the arena of consciousness and cognitive appraisal.

As a result of these concerns and constraints, additional theoretical consideration is the most likely candidate for advancements in understanding the concept of stress. To do so, this article first examines the history of the stress concept, outlining our psychological and physiological knowledge of it. Next, the process of coping and the role of emotional habits is explored. …

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