Stressors and coping mechanisms: a variation in gender, adolescence and ethnic identity

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Last updated: April 9, 2019

Stress is something that is experienced by everyone at some stage in his or her life.

It is our body’s response to any stimulus and any type of stress can trigger a physiological response. Although there are many definitions of stress (see Selye, 1956; Goestsch and Fuller, 1995; Cohen, Kessler ; Gordon, 1995), a widely applied definition of psychological stress is that of Lazarus and Folkman (1984). These authors define stress as: “..

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. a relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her personal resources and endangering his or her well being” (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984.P. 21). Lazarus and Folkman emphasise the relationship between people and their surroundings, while simultaneously considering the characteristics and resources inherent in both the individual and their environment. As a result it can be argued that the definition is ecological in it perspective. Things that create stress are called stressors.

Stressors can be external-as a result of the environment or internal-in your mind. For something to be stressful, the event must be threatening to the individual in someway (Bird ; Harris, 1990).For example, losing a close family member can be threatening.

A situation that is not under your control or influence is also threatening. It is theorized that it only takes one stressor to lead to depression (Carver ; Sheire, 1994). Carver and Sheire argue that depression can result from a number of losses and worries that occur in an individual’s life. These losses and worries have been referred to as daily hassles (Kanner & Feldman, 1991).

Coping strategiesThe ability to cope is seen as a crucial factor in determining whether someone adapts to life’s stressors. Successful behavioural and or cognitive reactions to stressors are known to lead to heightened feelings of worth and value and a decreased amount of stress and anxiety (Mearns, 2000). West (1994) argues that coping strategies such as cognitive decision-making and problem solving are connected with minor levels of symptoms, unlike avoidant strategies, which are linked with greater levels of symptoms (Blalock ; Joiner, 2000).The ability of an individual to effectively cope has been traditionally classified into 2 types: ‘problem focused coping’, where the individual aims to modify the situation or environment (e. g. , direct problem solving), and ’emotion-focused coping’ where an individual may try to control or reduce the emotional distress being experienced (e. g.

, positive reframing and avoidance; Lazarus ; Folkman, 1984). Lazarus and Folkman (1984) argued that problem focused strategies have a two part component, known as ‘inner-directed coping’ and ‘outer-directed coping’.Inner-directed coping strategies take account of the efforts an individual makes to modify their attitude and way of thinking and try to utilise new skills and responses that could be applied to current situations. Outer-directed coping strategies on the other hand are aimed at changing the current situation or the behaviours of others (Lazarus ; Folkman, 1984). Empirical evidence proposes that problem-focused coping is related to reduced levels of psychological symptoms (wills, 1986), unlike emotion focused-coping, which is related to increased levels of symptoms (Compas, Malcarne and Fondacaro, 1988)On the other hand, the later findings maybe ambiguous as these groupings of coping efforts frequently merge varied strategies that essentially may function in a different way. For example, emotion focused coping normally encompasses coping strategies such as positive reframing of the situation, a possible adaptive strategy, and denial and cognitive avoidance – a probable maladaptive strategy (Glyshaq, 1989) As a result, the comprehensive relationship between these variables need to be considered whilst seeking to understand the development of psychological symptoms and stressors that can cause a build up of strain.Coping strategies- adolescence and gender differences Through out life people experience different emotions and come across different challenges that may put a strain on their life. The transitional period known as adolescence, is a period where individuals have to deal with biological changes related to puberty, social pressures from society, stressors of new relationships as well as any possible financial stressors (Monahan, 1997).

Therefore, studying coping processes during adolescence becomes particularly important, as this may be the first time young people face complex issues, where they may not yet have developed a broad range of coping strategies to reply upon (Patterson ; McCubbin, 1987). Additionally, studying adolescence coping strategies becomes more important as the style of coping with stress that develop during one’s younger years does have some bearing on how they will respond to new life situations in later life (Newcomb, Huba & Bentler, 1986).Research conducted by Perterson (1988) that investigated adolescent’s attitudes and behaviours highlighted the important role that parents can play as educators and models for their children. Additionally, adolescents seek out parents as a first point of call and as principal sources of insight and aid with dealing with life’s stressors (Hunter, 1984). Hunter (1984) pays particular attention to the bond between parent and child, regarding it to be important for development of adolescent’s behaviour, way of thinking, attitudes and allowing for a better insight of stressors.Research conducted with Pakistani adolescents indicated that those adolescents who live with both parents have enhanced ability to develop close relationships with others and had a better social adjustment (Kauser, Alam ; Jamila, 1999).

Moreover, male adolescents in particular were reported as using ventilation strategies more frequently then female adolescents, which included such behaviours as vulgar language, complaining and taking anger out on others. Researches from previous gender studies (e. g. , Pateck, Smith and Dodge, 1994; and Stein ; Nyamathi, 1999) have reported a gender differentiation in use of coping strategies.Pateck et al (1994) reported that females appeared to prefer social support and avoidant strategies compared to males, whilst males favoured sporting activities and turned towards drugs and alcohol as a way of relieving stress (Stein ; Nyamathi, 1999). However, it could be argued that these differences in coping maybe due to role orientation rather then the specific gender itself (Pateck et al, 1994). For example, the variation between genders with regards to coping maybe a sign of the socialisation differences, where males, unlike females, are conventionally expected to show signs of independence, be instrumental as well as ambitious.

Therefore, it is important to study gender roles and the types of stressors experienced separately for men and women. Job stress framework Job stress has come to be regarded as the harmful physical and emotional responses that take place when the requirements of the job do not complement the capabilities, resources, or desires of the worker (Karasek ; Theorell, 1990). Job stress can lead to poor physical and mental health and even injury. A leading model that aims to conceptualises the stressful characteristics of a job and how these can lead to a build up of psychological strain is the ‘demand/control model’.Developed by Johnson, Hall and Theorell (1989), this model proposes that a harmful build-up of strain will take place when increased psychological demands of the job (working at a fast pace, with large amounts of effort, and working through a large volume of work) are accompanied with low control over the work being carried out, defined as ‘decision latitude’ (Karasek ; Theorell, 1990). Decision latitude has come to be defined as powerlessness to make meaningful decisions concerning ones work (known as decision authority) coupled with the inability to use ones full potential at work (known as skill discretion) (Karasek ; Theorell, 1990).Theoretically, having a job that is high in psychological demand and minimal in decision latitude can act as a stressor that may cause a build of strain, leading to depression and or anxiety (Karasek ; Theorell, 1990). A study conducted by Frankenhauser (1983) aimed to investigate whether people experience more stress if they have a little or no control over a situation.

Stress levels amongst two groups of Swedish sawmill workers were measured by testing the amount of stress hormone in the urine.One group was identified as working in an area where they had little control as well as a lack of social contact, where the duties included just feeding timber into machines. In contrast, the other group had more control over their work and more social contact. Frankenhauser (1983) reported that workers who had little control over their work had a high level of adrenaline and noradrenalin in their urine, higher rates of blood pressure and reported suffering from more headaches.

Frankenhauser (1983) concluded that because the work that they were performing was dull and repetitive, they had little or no control over it.The higher level of stress-related illnesses showed that this lack of control caused them to suffer more stress. This study identifies a link between stress and lack of control as well as stress and illness, as the stressed workers suffered more illnesses. However, other variables such as low pay, poorer housing conditions and financial difficulties, which are often associated with monotonous jobs, can not be excluded as they may also act as stressors, causing a build of strain or pressure. Migrant resettlement and unemploymentResettlement in a new country can act as a stressor and create psychological problems.

(Amin, 2002). According to Amin (2002), economic difficulty, racism and the inability to grasp the language act as stressors upon the well-being of migrants trying to resettle. However, According to Denham (2002), racism is not the only resettlement stressor experienced by migrants. Denham (2002) argues that unemployment difficulties also act as stressors that impact on an individual’s psychological well-being. Unemployment is a stressor for everyone, whether a migrant or someone who was born in the country (Kershen, 2000).For migrants, language difficulties and cultural differences (lack of formal education for some migrants were contributing factors for unemployment (Fenton, 1999).

In view of the fact that language and education are central to migrants financial integration, it would make sense for the resettlement countries to assist migrants obtain these skills and assets (Fenton, 1999). Whilst Britain does make language training available to the new migrants, issues such as gender and the nature of work people do produce inequalities in what can be accessed.Research in the past has commonly concerned itself with Blacks and Hispanics when investigating the relationship between discrimination, racism, ethnic identity and its impact on an individual’s psychological well-being. However, in view of the fact that the Indian subcontinent, in particular north Kashmiri Pakistan has become the major source region for immigration to the north of England (Kundnani, 2001), it becomes essential to investigate these issues among the Kashmiri population of Bradford, England. Identity: citizenship, ethnicity and national belonging as stressorsRecent studies that have analysed common perceptions regarding citizenship (Conover, Crew ; Searing, 1991 and Dwyer, 2000) have mainly studied views about the institutions of citizenship, rather than how the citizenship maybe an aspect of their interviewees’ collective identities (Lister, Smith, Middleton, Cox, 2003). A study conducted by Hussain and Bagguley (2001) attempted to provide a detailed analysis of how the British Pakistanis living in Bradford conceptualise their citizenship, ethnicity and identity, after the worst urban riots in Britain since the 1980s.

Using qualitative interviewing techniques, the research aimed to identify whether the Pakistani people living in Bradford maintain different identity claims with regards to citizenship, ethnicity and national belonging. Upon analysis of the interviews, two generations’ different ‘citizenship identities’ were identified. The first generation migrants from Pakistan that were interviewed expressed identities as ‘denizens’, residing in but not belonging to Britain and only remaining because their children are now ‘British’.In contrast the second generation held a strong British identity as British citizens, with the ordinary rights of a British born citizen.

This has lead Lister et al (2003) to claim that citizenship identity is rooted in an individuals personal experiences, and this helps to account for the striking generational variation in citizenship identities that have been uncovered. Hussain and bagguley (2001) argue that the older generation is more stressed because they have not achieved the skills required to speak English fluently.The inability to speak English acts as a stressor, as they do not have to the ability to communicate effectively. Consequently, the older generations have a propensity to speak in their mother tongue, in opposition to the status quo of Britain, resulting in the older generation feeling more isolated and stressed. However, Khan (2000) argues that although the younger generation may have the acquisition of the English language that provides upward mobility, they maybe the ones that are more stressed.

Khan, (2000) suggests that the younger generations encounter more stressors within their life because they are placed in many more situations, like schools, work and dealing with personal life issues where both the western culture and the Asian roots are constantly at a struggle, as a result of their language abilities. In their study, Hussain and Bagguley (2001) ensured that all the respondents were Pakistani and Muslim as those involved in the riots were predominantly from a Pakistani background.Religion was seen to be important as it provided a sense of cultural identity adding to the individual ethnic background. Also, Islam offers a uniquely valuable way of living for young Pakistani people in Britain and no young individual interviewed was totally detached from their parents ethnic, religious and or cultural traditions (Hussain and Bagguley, 2001). However, categorising the whole Bradford population as simply Pakistani Muslims may have its limitations.The population of Pakistanis in this country is extremely diverse with regards to cultural and social backgrounds (Samad and Eade, 2003). The people of Mirpur (Pakistani-Kashmir) are mostly located in Bradford and Birmingham whilst the Pakistanis from the Punjab district of Pakistan are mostly located in Manchester and Glasgow (Shaw, 2001).

Samad and Eade (2003) argue that these regional differences arise from the contrasting views towards the family, caste groups and kinship ties.Therefore, the study by Hussain and Bagguley (2001) could be criticised for lacking construct validity, as their definition of a ‘Pakistani’; appears to be vague, not taking into account the different cultural differences that exist. Other academic accounts of the riots have emphasised several factors in their explanation. While Amin (2002) places more weight on deprivation, segregation and the demands of ‘new generation’ South Asians, others such as Kalra (2002), place a greater emphasis on long-standing grievances against local agents of racism and the police.Beynon and Kushnick (2003) argue that challenges such as deprivation, segregation and dealing with racism all act as stressors and cause emotional responses.

Beynon and Kushnick (2003) argue that these emotions may include irritability, anger, and feeling overwhelmed or crying. A person experiencing the above may feel as if they “can not handle another thing” or question…. “Why does this always happen to me? ” (Beynon ; Kushnick, 2003).

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