Thesis Statement about Stress

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Key theorists prominent in the recognition of stress include physiologist Walter Cannon in 1914, and endocrinologist Hans Selye continued its development in 1936. These theorists have defined the term stress and played a major role in its evolution. Stress Science: Neuroendocrinologyedited by Dr. George Fink describes in detail both theorists’ ideas about stress. Finks's analysis of stress begins with Walter Cannon’s concept of homeostasis, where he describes the stability of an organism in relation to its internal environment (Fink 2009). This development in the study of stress led to Cannon formulating the phrase “fight or flight”, which could be considered an introduction to the physical response to stress.

The meaning of homeostasis has not changed over the last eighty years, the general understanding is the stable state of equilibrium (Greenfield, 2003). For myself, I find change challenging and sometimes have trouble adapting to dramatic changes in my life. I found myself in a mixed state of mind when reading Greenfields Homeostasisarticle, in one part I found myself relating to the scared and predictable person he was describing, a person manifesting homeostatic impulses tends to feel tense and uneasy about change, or even the thought of change’ (Greenfield, 2003). The other part wanted to embrace change so I did not see myself that way and be more accepting of changes within my life.

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There are many authors and researchers interested in Cannon’s theory of stress, Goldstein and Kopin (2007) discuss Cannon’s ideas through the Evolution of Concepts of Stress, Seaward describes in detail the four stages of the fight or flight response and Shelley Taylor and her colleagues (2000) propose an alternative response for a female’s reaction to stress in the study Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: tend and befriend, not fight-or-flight.

The fight or flight responses our body experiences when stressed can be triggered when our territory or space is invaded and when we feel scared in a situation. Seaward describes the four stages of fight or flight being; when one of the five senses sends a message to the brain such as a scream. Next, the brain will determine whether the situation is threatening or not. If the brain believes that the situation is non-threatening, the response is over and the body goes back to a stable state. However, if the brain does determine that the situation is threatening the brain activates the nervous and endocrine systems to prepare for the fight or flight. The body will stay in this activated state till the brain believes the threat is over and the body returns to homeostasis (2006).

Shelley Taylor (2000) identified that a female’s reaction could be different from a male’s reaction when faced with a stressful situation. As discussed, Cannon's theory of fight-or-flight could predominantly be based on a male’s reaction to stress. Taylor et al propose that “human female response to stress (as well as those of some animal species) are not well characterized by fight-or-flight, as research has implicitly assumed, but rather are more typically characterized by a pattern we term “tend-and-befriend” (Taylor et al., 2000). They argue that females may have a naturalistic urge to protect their offspring from harm or trauma and therefore may feel that they do not want to put themselves and their offspring in jeopardy or they may not be in a position to flee a threat (2000).

Taylor suggests that men and women respond to stress differently. The “tend and befriend” response created by Taylor provides a counter theory to Cannon’s fight-or-flight response (Taylor, 2000). Taylor and her team’s investigation into already existing knowledge and research showed that information surrounding stress was predominantly male-driven and therefore provided inaccurate results for women under stress. Taylor suggests, “women’s instincts lead them to protect their offspring (“tending”) and turn to others for support (“befriending”)” (Pitman, 2003). This theory offers a viable explanation for women’s reactions during stressful situations, however, critics have noted a lack of feminist theory within her writing.

Through Taylor’s writing, she provides an array of benefits linked to the “tend and befriend” response. To ensure the survival of the species, whether animal or human, tending and providing protection to offspring during a stressful situation is vital. Befriending and coming together in a group to receive and offer support is also beneficial for our mental and physical health during stressful events (Taylor, 2006).

P B Persson and A Zakrisson also found limitations within Cannon’s fight-or-flight theory. They suggest that in the modern day, it would not be appropriate to attack your boss or flee from your office if under pressure (2016). Persson and Zakrisson also suggest, “this back-firing of our biological system vs. our work life may result in stress-related illness” (Persson and Zakrisson, 2016). Due to the fact that we simply cannot run away from stress, this project looks to establish alternate devices for expressing, and relieving stress.

There are many items and devices available to purchase on the market directed at people suffering from stress. Websites, such as Amazon and eBay sell a variety of products geared towards relieving stress for all age groups. These products include fidget spinners, fidget cubes, vibrating massage tools, and acupressure massage tools. The fidget objects are designed to keep the hands busy and distract us from a stressful situation. The massage tools such as Theracane or Body Back Buddy are used to ease one’s tension in parts of the body, such as the back, shoulder, or neck.

The Theracane and Body Back Buddy are both lightweight handheld objects. Like its name suggests the Theracane is in the shape of a cane and has six knobs to target tense areas. The Body Back Buddy resembles an “S” shape, with eleven trigger point therapy knobs, this tool offers relief from stress and tension in muscles. Though it seems to be an improved extension of the Thera Cane, the Body Back Buddy has evolved since 2005. The “S” shape offers perfect balance when utilizing the trigger points knobs on various parts of the human body. The shape also allows for muscle relief in hard-to-reach places.

Aside from hand-held objects, there are pieces of furniture that also aid in stress management. The versatility of the Exocetchair by Stephane Leathead allows the users to create the desired shape for the body or the person’s needs. The chair is made from vertical wooden slats that encompass a metal cylinder at the base of the chair. The cylinder acts as a hinge so that slats of wood can change shape. The subtle curve of the wooden slats mimics the curve of the human spine, providing back support for the user.

While the term “stress” is more commonly linked to negative connotations, eustress is a form of positive stress. The understanding of eustress is underdeveloped (Nelson & Simmons, 2015), however, it is described as being a good and healthy form of stress. Eustress is a good type of stress that allows an individual to feel excited and motivated. While this feeling may only be short-term, our bodies and emotions are more equipped to deal with this type of stress. Nelson and Simmons suggest, ‘We believe that most individuals not only prefer eustress, they actually savor, or enjoy with appreciation, this positive response to aspects of demands they encounter at work’(Nelson & Simmons, 2015). Some examples of eustress could include; getting married, taking a holiday, receiving a promotion at work, and retiring.

Distress is a negative response to stressors that are more commonly studied due to its effects on health (Nelson & Simmons, 2015). Nelson and Simmons describe distress as dysfunctional and negative, the opposite of eustress. It is the bad stress that comes into our lives as a result of the death of a spouse or loved one, injury or illness, and unemployment. This form of stress can be all-consuming and may cause anxiety which, could be both short and long-term. Distress can lead to an individual’s decreased performance in both the workplace and home life and could result in mental and physical problems.

An individual’s distress could be formed by a range of biological, cognitive, and social processes when interacting within an environment (Matthews, 2016). Humans differ in their response to stress, their vulnerability to stressors could depend on their resilience and self-regulation in challenging situations. Many factors can influence distress, Matthews states, ‘distress reflects both situational influences, such as life events, and intrapersonal influences such as personality traits’ (Matthews, 2016). The factors could include, environmental, such as traumatic events and ill health. Other influences include, physiological, cognitive, and social. Due to distress being such a broad term for a range of responses to stress, it is hard to determine a means of assessment (Matthews, 2016). Matthews suggests that an individual could experience distress both on an acute emotional state level and as a chronic condition. There are three timescales that distress could be assessed, the first being a temporary state of distress lasting only a few minutes. The second is longer and could last up to weeks or even months and the individual is generally experiencing an episodic state of distress that could be a result of a life event. The third assessment is described as a personality trait, such as anxiety which may stabilize over decades.

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a precursor of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and although they experience similar symptoms such as avoidance, individuals experiencing acute stress disorder may have a strong emphasis on dissociative symptoms (Bryant, Harvey, Dang, Sackville & Basten, 1998). Healthline.com describes acute stress as a condition of an individual’s psychological state caused in response to a traumatic event. Causes of the particular stress could include death and threats of death and potential injury to the individual or others. Individuals at risk could include those who have experienced or witnessed past traumatic events, individuals who may have a history of acute stress disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder, and individuals who may already have a history of mental problems. Individuals experiencing acute stress may feel numb or detached, feel anxious and irritable, and may avoid people, places, activities, and conversations. People suffering from this stress could also experience recurring images, thoughts, nightmares, illusions, or flashbacks. This type of re-experience may prolong the stressed state.

Academic stress is characterized by three types of stress; acute stress, episodic stress, and chronic acute stress. Acute stress is the result of recent or anticipated stress and is one of the most common stressors experienced by students. Episodic stress is identified as acute stress that occurs frequently and sometimes in a pattern. Chronic acute stress can be seen as never-ending stress that breaks an individual down. The symptoms of academic stress are divided into four categories; physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. These manifestations could be the results of a number of causes including; moving away from home, academic demands, finances, and post-graduate plans. For most students, attending university could be the first time moving out of home and away from a support group, this in and of itself would place a great deal of stress on the individual.

The second part of my literature review analyses the concept of art therapy; what it is, the mediums and methods involved, and where and how this type of therapy may evolve in the near future. Within this review, I also want to look at visual art versus craft in relation to art therapy. Researchers such as Malchiodi paint a detailed picture of what art therapy is and how it has grown over the past 70 years, whereas Bucciarelli highlights the potential of a transdisciplinary approach to art therapy. I also want to look into art therapists working in the field, these include; Amanda Chambala and Nicolette Bodewes.

Art therapy is based on the creative process of art making and enables the participant or client to express their thoughts and emotions through nonverbal communication (Campbell, 2010; Malchiodi, 2011). This type of expression allows clients to self-evaluate their strengths and weaknesses by creating a visual communication of their mental state (Chambala, 2008). Art therapy appears to be a beneficial alternative to traditional forms of psychiatric therapy, the client may feel that it is a less intimidating form of expressing their emotions and feelings.

It is a general understanding that art therapy is interdisciplinary and crosses the lines between a range of fields. Bucciarelli suggests that art therapists utilize different approaches from various fields, such as, ‘visual arts, counseling, art education, rehabilitation, anthropology, neuroscience, and the study of creativity to create “art therapy”’ (Bucciarelli, 2016). The mediums used in art therapy are constantly evolving and keeping up to date with contemporary times. Some traditional forms include drawing, painting, and sculpting, however, with the influence of technology art therapists also use; filming, photography, and other forms of imaging making during sessions. The needs of the individual must be considered and although these tools have the potential to express one’s emotion, not all tools are ideal for all people or situations.

There has been much debate on the differences between art and craft in the art therapy domain. In the mid 70’s Ulman, Kramer, and Kwiatowska suggested that craft lacks self-confrontation and benefits from perfectionism, they also ‘propose that art and craft activities should have their own separate workspaces because art is more emotionally demanding and thus more challenging than craft’ (Hyland Moon, 2010). I disagree with this statement. For this master's project, my practice lies somewhere between traditional art therapy methods and handmade craft, I find myself putting the same emotion into both categories. In the contemporary art world, Adamson explains, ‘although the crafting of a work is associated more with the concern for detail and quality, tactile encounters, and materiality, it no longer is seen as primarily focused in manual labor and devoid of the conceptual, intellectual, and emotional processes associated with art’(Adamson, 2007; Hyland Moon, 2010). Kapitan suggests ‘traditional craftspeople believe that their materials have memory and show the maker’s feelings and struggles’ (2011, pp94). However, in a survey conducted by Futterman Collier, where over 800 women handcrafters were surveyed, the results suggested that while the creative work was therapeutic and stress relieving, their discipline requires them to put aside negative emotions, so as to not make mistakes. The pieces that I create have a meaning behind them. In everything that I create, I have an emotional connection, whether it be expressing my emotions and feelings through the technical intricacies of making a ring or showing my frustrations by hand-forming a sculpture from clay, or expressing my thoughts through drawing.

The use of clay and fiber art are prominent materials that I use in my practice. Malchiodi describes the interaction with clay as “three-dimensional thinking” and promotes the use of tactile senses (2011). The versatility of clay is endless, there are many ways clients can work with this material, such as subtracting or adding to the clay, working, reworking, destroying, and rebuilding. Hyland Moon suggests that clay can be more interpretive than blank paper due to the client physically manipulating the material (2010). I also explore the collaboration of fiber art and natural materials in my practice. Traditional fiber art materials include; sewing, weaving, knitting, crocheting, batik, embroidery, and quilting. One thing about fibre art that resonates with me and potentially other women is the maternal connection associated with it for example, my mother taught me how to knit and her mother taught her.

Nicolette Bodewes Tools for Therapy is an interactive toolkit for clients to use during psychotherapy sessions. Her project is made up of white basic building blocks such as cylinders, cubes, and beams, as well as a set of twelve more complex objects. These more complex objects are influenced by the Jungian Archetypes created by psychologist Carl Jung and are in the forms of pyramids, egg shapes, and spheres. They are also made from different materials, including; wood, cork, marble, rubber, leather, porcelain, brass, and tin to name a few. Each material and form has a different meaning to each client and through using this toolkit they are encouraged to interpret the tangible and tactile forms to find a new level of communication. By using this toolkit, the clients may feel less intimidated and more open to expressing their thoughts and emotions.

Amanda Chambala is a practicing art therapist and anxiety suffer (2008). She designed an art therapy program for adults who were hospitalized in a psychiatric unit that ran for 8 weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, the clients were invited to exhibit their work, which served as a space for informing the public about the nature of anxiety (2008). The therapy program explored clients identifying their anxiety through drawing and developing coping strategies for panic and worry through drawing and painting. Chambala explains, ‘Overall, art making allowed clients to experience some form of containment and identification with regard to their excessive worries, to identify their personal strengths and weaknesses through creative expression, and to leave treatment with tangible reminders of their personal coping strategies’(Chambala, 2008).

Art therapy has evolved with contemporary times, but like many things can develop further. As stated above, art therapy is generally described as an interdisciplinary field, however, Bucciarelli proposes a transdisciplinary field, she states, ‘Art therapy viewed as a transdisciplinary field embraces unity with diversity, collaboration within autonomy, and innovation that still honors art therapy’s historical roots’ (Bucciarelli, 2016). There are six themes of transdisciplinary art therapy; unified, autonomous, holistic, collaborative, flexible, and innovative. If art therapists view art therapy as a transdisciplinary field, they can look beyond theoretical differences.

Through researching and understanding aspects of the broad term stress, I have been able to self-evaluate and identify my own physical symptoms of stress.

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Thesis Statement about Stress. (2023, September 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/thesis-statement-about-stress/
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