Stress management techniques

The application of research into stress management can be divided into two categories; physiological methods and cognitive therapies. However, the usefulness of both variations of stress management techniques has been disputed by many psychologists. Biofeedback is a physiological method of stress management and is a technique employed in order to reduce the activity of the autonomic nervous system and therefore the physical manifestations of stress.

The participant learns how to control involuntary or voluntary muscles that are not normally controlled, which reduces the effects of stress in terms of the illnesses associated with it. There are three stages in biofeedback. Firstly, the individual learns of their own physiological activity by way of a mechanical measure, for example a blood pressure or heart rate monitor or an EEG which looks at brain waves. Secondly, the participant is trained in strategies that research has found to reduce stress, for example relaxation training, in quiet conditions. This is so that the participant can master such strategies without additional stress. Finally, the participant will transfer this knowledge into everyday situations.

Research has shown that biofeedback has been successful in producing long term and short term reductions in heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature and brain wave rhythms, for example Budzgnoski’s study that looked at anxiety headaches. This suggests that the research that led to the employment of biofeedback as a method of stress management was useful. Miller and Dicara’s study supports the claim that biofeedback is a useful technique.

Miller and Dicara [1967] questioned whether bodily responses could be learned through operant conditioning. They completely paralysed 24 rats and artificially respirated them. The rats were in one of two groups; half of them were rewarded when their heart rate increased, half were rewarded when it decreased. The rewards where given by artificially stimulating the part of the brain that produces sensations of pleasure.

At first, rewards were given for random instances, but gradually, longer and larger change was required [shaping]. They found that in the “fast” group rats increased their heart rates from 422 bpm to 510 bpm, whereas the “slow” group decreased their heart rate from 400 bpm to 316 bpm. Such significant differences were found in all but two of the groups of rats that were investigated. As the rats were paralysed they could not be using any voluntary control and therefore control of involuntary muscles [in this case the heart] could be learned via operant conditioning.

This supports the idea of biofeedback because it suggests that the claim that biofeedback can allow participants to control involuntary muscles [for example heart rates, blood pressure and brain waves] is true because it is possible to learn such control. However, the usefulness of this study to support biofeedback is limited primarily by the fact that it cannot be assumed that principles that apply to rats can be generalised to humans in the same way. Behaviourist psychologists may suggest that the same stimulus-response links are apparent, however other psychologists highlight that the level of cognitive influence is much greater in humans than in other animals and this may affect the level of control achieved. Also, attempts to replicate this study have never been as successful, for example Dworkin and Miller [1985].

Biofeedback as a technique of stress management has been criticised by Gatchel [1997] who claimed that the suggested therapeutic efficiency of it had been severely exaggerated or even wrong as the benefits through the reduction of stress may be because a sense of control has been re-established and not due to any purely physical means. Also, it has been suggested by other psychologists that it is hard to distinguish whether it is biofeedback or the relaxation training involved in it that has led to its beneficial effects. Attanasio highlighted that individual differences are not accounted for in the method of biofeedback. Attanasio et al [1985] studied a biofeedback programme that reduced muscle contraction headaches and found that children experienced greater benefits than adults. This was possibly due to the observation that children were more enthusiastic and less sceptical than adults and so was arguably more willing to try hard to succeed.

A second physiological method of stress management is the employment of anti anxiety drugs. These work because the body produces hormones that create anxiety, however, these can be countered by using other chemical substances to intercept and reduce this activity. Barbiturates were developed to act as depressants on the central nervous system and long acting barbiturates reduce anxiety effectively. However, as they act on the entire central nervous system they have the effect of also making the participant feel slow or depressed. Barbiturates also have a number of other side effects and tend to be addictive.

Patients who stopped taking the drugs often reported symptoms of delirium, irritability and increased sweating. This therefore highlights the limitations of drug therapies as a method of stress management, although a second form of drug was produced in order to act more effectively as knowledge of stress and the nervous system grew. Benzodiazepines, including Librium and Valium were brought in to replace barbiturates and work at the synapses between neurones where neurotransmitters would normally be released but they reduce this activity, particularly of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin.

Benzodiazepines have shown to be successful, however inappropriate prescriptions can lead to physiological and psychological dependency as they should only be offered for short periods of time. They also have a great number of side effects; Ashton [1997] showed how they can react unpredictably with alcohol. The most recently developed anti anxiety drugs are buspirones which facilitate the effects of serotonin, and have some advantages over benzodiazepines, for example it does not lead to a sedative effect and there are no marked withdrawal symptoms. However, Goa and Ward’s research shows that they can produce other side effects such as headaches and depression. Drug therapies may therefore reduce the effects of stress and anxiety, however their usefulness as a stress management technique is limited by the number of undesirable side effects and their tendency to lead to physiological and psychological dependency.

Outline and evaluate two physiological approaches to stress management. One physiological approach to stress management is drug therapy. Drug therapy targets the symptoms of stress, two such drugs are Benzodiazepines and Beta-blockers. Benzodiazepines reduce nervous system activity, this happens because the …

Physiological approaches to stress management use techniques designed to change the activity of the body’s stress response system. Two physiological methods for stress management include drugs and biofeedback. There are two types of drugs that ca be used in stress management; …

Stressors are events that throw the body out of balance and force it to respond triggering the stress response. Stress management is the attempt to cope with the effects of the stressor through the reduction of the stress response. This …

There are two main approaches to stress management these are the physical approach and the psychological approach The physical approach One way of coping with stress is the use of drugs. Drugs are related to the bodily processes involved in …

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