Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Positive Stress: Review of Relevant Theories and an Alternative Conceptualization

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Positive Stress: Review of Relevant Theories and an Alternative Conceptualization

Article excerpt

Eustress receives very little treatment in the literature. As Mesler (1996) stated there are "relatively few studies, and no adequate models, proposing the concept of eustress and its associated regenerative qualities". Moreover, it is interesting to note that three major reviews of occupational stress and management interventions (De Frank and Cooper, 1987; van der Hek and Plomp, 1997; van der Klink et al., 2001 ) made no mention of any possible positive aspect or effect of stress. Finally, a search of PsycINFO for the year's 1960 to 2010 using stress as a keyword yielded 72,889 citations. A search using eustress as a keyword yielded 29 citations nine of which were unpublished dissertations. However, quite to the contrary, the concept of eustress gains significant coverage in the popular press and is frequently covered in basic management texts (e.g. Certo, 2003; Lussier, 2002; Schermerhom, 2003) as that amount of stress that increases performance. Therefore, eustress has taken "forgranted" status among managers as the optimum amount of stress.

Distress receives some treatment in the popular and scholarly literature. However, there would seem to be no systematic treatment of distress as contrasted with eustress. Thus, as usually employed in research or in common parlance, the broader construct of stress has become synonymous with distress. Therefore this paper strives to reconstruct the theoretical construct of eustress by move ahead in this direction.

Eustress verses distress: Early Explanations

"Stress" as a term has been susceptible to many different interpretations in the literature. "Stress" has been referred in literature as external influences acting on individuals (Selye's stressors) (Selye, 1956), physiological reactions to such influences (Selye's original stress concept) (Mayer, 2000; Selye, 1956), psychological interpretation of both the external influences and the physiological reactions (Code & Langan-Fox, 2001; Selye, 1983), and adverse behavioral reactions exhibited in work, or social situations, or both (Richmond & Kehoe, 1999; Vasse et al., 1998). This multiplicity in the use of stress-related constructs has contributed even greater confusion over the concept of eustress. Thus, for consistency over usage of terms, this paper 'Stressor' will denote the external force or situation acting on the individual, and stress will denote the deformation or changes produced in the individual as a result of those forces. The term strain, although deemed more appropriate, will not be used to maintain consistency with common usage in the management literature.

Selye (1964) was the first to use the term "stress" to describe a set of physical and psychological responses to adverse conditions or influences. Originally the syndrome ofjust being sick (Selye, 1936), covered the response of an organism to a wide range of chemical, biological, or physical stimuli. Later as a term to cover this typical response Selye used the word "stress", an engineering term for a force which causes deformation in bodies. Selye (1956) used the term "stressor" to describe the external force or influence acting on the individual and "stress" to denote the resulting reaction; this terminology was later adopted by many others (e.g. Code and Langan-Fox, 2001 ; Maslach, 1998; Quieket al., 2001).

Some authors have used stress to denote such external forces and strain to denote the resulting reaction (e.g. Edwards, 1998), while others failed to clearly define how they were using the terminology at all (e.g. Smit & Schabracq, 1998; Wiholm et al., 2000). Furthermore, some have simply used stress as a blanket term covering the whole process of external influence, appraisal, reaction, and effect (e.g. Deary et al., 1996).

Even at the most basic level of terminology a problem has existed in distinguishing between independent, intervening, and dependent variables where stress research is concerned (Cooper, 1998). …

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