So far we have talked about psychology as being a topic worth studying because it looks into human behaviour and why it presents itself in the way that it does. I have explained that all that we will discuss throughout this course will in some way relate to you, your family or those that you know or will come across in your lifetime. But the examples I have used so far may or may not have related to you depending on your upbringing or personal circumstances.
But our studies now bring us to the point where we need to don the psychologist’s hat and analyse a specific bit of human behaviour so that we can see how psychologists approach their research and come up with the conclusions that they do. Therefore I want us to investigate the issue of ‘stress’. As a topic, this will not be a difficult one to demonstrate to you with regard to linking it with human, and more importantly, your behaviour.
All I have to tell you to do is recall the lead up to and the day of your GCSE exams. Most, if not all will have experienced stress, and some may have even made themselves ill because of it, but definitely you will have witnessed a lot of stress going on around you in the exam hall. Pale faces, people feeling sick, anxious conversations prior to the exam, tears afterwards, anger at the wrong questions being asked, and annoyance at the lack of revision that had taken place because there would always be time for that (except there wasn’t because you didn’t set aside any!)
Stress is a word that we readily use as a way of explaining why our behaviour is not at its best. “I’m stressed. Stressed about work; about my relationships; about others expectations of me; my expectations of myself; my ability to cope; my finances; my career; my future …….” The list is sadly endless, as we all seem to have different, though often similar, things that stress us. It would appear that we all get stressed at times, and some are stressed frequently or even continuously. It is also evident that most of us do not enjoy stressed feelings, though there are a strange few that get a buzz out of hanging from a large rubber band bungee jumping off the Bristol Suspension Bridge. Odd bunch!
But if we asked people to explain what ‘stress’ is, most would end up discussing issues to do with internal physical and mental feelings, but would probably not pursue the discussion to its natural end. For a clear definition of stress to be found it would require a study of the various small details of biological change within a stressed individual as well as a good understanding of the mental processes involved at the time the person was stressed. Over the next few lessons we will attempt such an investigation.
Stressed out by Stressors
Anything that causes an individual to feel stressed is known as a stressor. It can be an object like a hypodermic needle or it can be psychological issue like fear of the dark. It would probably not be too difficult for you to make a list of things and issues that cause you stress. In the ‘physical’ section I would write things like ‘a new group of year twelve psychology students at the start of a new year’, ‘someone physically threatening me’, ‘my bank statement saying ‘overdrawn’ at the start of the month’, ‘seeing blood’ (especially mine), ‘large dogs’. On the psychological side I would say ‘the fear of non-acceptance’, ‘having to face failure’, ‘being misunderstood’.
Now it is immediately obvious that some of the above would not apply to everyone, and almost definitely would not apply to you e.g. meeting ‘a new group of year twelve psychology students at the start of a new year’. Though it has to be said that some of the students in the group might have felt a little stressed about joining the group, hoping that they would get on well with the teacher (no chance!), be accepted by the others in the group and hopefully do well in the subject.