What are Psychosocial Stressors and how do we cope?
Stressful life events can play a significant role in the development of mental health symptoms, and the prevention of mental health issues can be partly achieved by controlling stress. People may have problems in a number of different areas, including family, work, health, finances and so on in general coping with psychosocial stressors. One important way of controlling stress is to develop skills in identifying and addressing problems that arise on a day-to-day basis.
Cues of Psychosocial Stressors to Action
Identifying and defining problems requires an awareness that problems exist. There are various internal and external cues that can be helpful for recognising problems as they occur. Internal cues include physical bodily changes, such as muscle tension, headaches, changes in breathing, tightness in the chest. These physical changes can act as signals of stress, and a cue that unresolved problems need attention. Emotional changes (e.g., feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, worry) can also act as a cue that problems exist. Other people’s behaviour is also a useful indicator that difficulties exist. Family members, friends, and significant others are often good observers, and may be able to identify problems earlier than the person concerned. Unfortunately, it can often be hard to welcome the observations and comments of other people, particularly if they are perceived as criticisms or complaints. Although comments from others may at times be unjustified, they are useful because they indicate that something might be wrong.
Identifying and Prioritising Problems
Financial problems, for example, can lead to feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and being overwhelmed can make it seem impossible to address the difficulties, or even know where to begin. Having a clear procedure for identifying and addressing problems as they arise can help to minimise the sense of hopelessness and feeling of being overwhelmed. So, once it has been recognised that problems exist, it is useful to work through the following steps:
1. Prioritise the Problems
Often, people are faced with a number of difficulties and it is not clear which needs the most immediate attention. To begin the process of resolving problems, it is necessary to identify a few problems to work on, beginning with those of greatest urgency and importance. A useful way to do this is to make a list of all the issues that have consumed a lot of physical, emotional, and mental energy in recent times (e.g., over the past week). The next step is to order the items on the list according to the amount of energy that they have consumed. Then, prioritise the problems in terms of their importance or urgency. Ideally, the greatest amount of energy should be given to problems that are highest in priority and importance. If this is not happening, it may indicate that a lot of time and energy is being spent doing things that are less important or urgent, and would be better spent on high priority difficulties. The items that are ranked as highest in priority or urgency should be selected as the first difficulties to address.
2. Identify Coping Resources
Coping resources refer to aspects of yourself or the environment that can help in overcoming the difficulties you have identified. External resources include assistance from others, such as family, friends, therapists, and work colleagues. External resources can also include support services/agencies, financial assets, access to transport, and any other aspects of the environment that may help to overcome identified difficulties. Internal coping resources can include:
- A sense of humour
- Organisational ability
- Ability to seek out and accept help from others
3. Identify Barriers to Effective Coping
Several internal and external factors can interfere with successful coping, and it is important to recognise potential barriers to resolving problems, so that they can be minimised as much as possible. External barriers to effective problem solving can include a lack of information about the problem, lack of time, irregular schedules, deadlines, other demands, and insufficient resources (e.g., money, work). Internal barriers can include a lack of solutions for solving the problem, emotional distress, fearfulness, or unhelpful beliefs surrounding the problem and about your ability to solve the problem.
4. Address and Overcome Barriers to Effective Coping
Once you have identified your barriers to coping effectively, it is important that you address them and challenge any unhelpful thoughts or beliefs surrounding your circumstances. Remember that it is alright to ask for help or advice.
Sometimes, it is not enough to just cope with the problems – they need to be solved. Most people engage in problem solving every day. It occurs automatically for many of the small decisions that need to be made on a daily basis. For example when making a decision about whether to get up now or sleep in for an extra 10 minutes, the possible choices and the relative risks and benefits of obeying the alarm clock or sleeping later come automatically to mind. Larger problems are addressed in a similar way. For example “I have tasks that need to be done by the end of the week. How am I going to get them all done on time?” After considering the possible strategies, one is chosen and implemented. If it proves to be ineffective, a different strategy is tried. People who can define problems, consider options, make choices, and implement a plan have all the basic skills required for effective problem solving. Sometimes following a step-by-step procedure for defining problems, generating solutions, and implementing solutions can make the process of problem solving seem less overwhelming. The following are step-by-step procedures for helping people to solve problems.
- Problem Identification and Definition
- State the problem as clearly as possible (e.g., I don’t have enough money to pay the bills)
- Be specific about the behaviour, situation, timing, and circumstances that make it a problem (eg, I need to pay the phone and gas bills, and I don’t have enough money to cover both this month)
- Generate Possible Solutions
- List all the possible solutions, don’t worry about the quality of the solutions at this stage
- Try to list at least 15 solutions, be creative and forget about the quality of the solution. If you allow yourself to be creative you may come up with some solutions that you would not otherwise have thought about
- Evaluate alternatives
- The next step is to go through and eliminate less desirable or unreasonable solutions
- Order the remaining solutions in order of preference
- Evaluate the remaining solutions in terms of their advantages and disadvantages
- Decide on a Solution
- Specify who will take action
- Specify how the solution will be implemented
- Specify when the solution will be implemented (e.g., tomorrow morning: phone the gas company and negotiate to pay the gas bill next month)
- Implement the Solution
- Implement the solution as planned
- Evaluate the Outcome
- Evaluate how effective the solution was
- Decide whether the existing plan needs to be revised, or whether a new plan is needed to better address the problem
- If so, return to step 2 to select a new solution or revise the existing solution, and repeat the remaining steps Use the worksheet provided over the next 2 pages to work through this process.
Counselling/therapy can assist you to develop the skills and strategies to cope with psycho-social stressors.
- Stressful life events can play a significant role in the development of mental health issues
The prevention of mental health issues can be partly achieved by controlling stress
It is important to be aware of signals or cues that problems are occurring and to clearly identify and define them
Having a clear procedure for identifying and addressing problems as they arise can help to minimise the sense of hopelessness and feeling of being overwhelmed
The steps to better coping with psychosocial stressors are: prioritise the problems, identify coping resources, identify barriers to effective coping, address and overcome barriers to effective coping
Sometimes, it is not enough to just cope with the problems – they need to be solved
Problem-solving involves: identifying and defining the problem area or issue, generating potential solutions, evaluating alternatives, deciding on a solution, implementing the solution, and evaluating the outcome
As ups and downs are a fact of life, expect that you might have slip ups now and then. It will also help greatly for you to organise some social support for yourself through family members or friends so that you may have a good opportunity to be coping with psychosocial stressors.
Author: Merryl Gee, BSocWk, AMHSW, MAASW, MACSW, MANZMHA, MPACFA.
Merryl Gee is a psychotherapist working from a strengths-based, person-centred framework. With over 30 years’ experience, she has a particular interest people who have experienced trauma such as sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychotherapist Merryl Gee try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 .