Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Stress on motivation
What is the relationship between stress and motivation?
Stress is a phenomenon that everybody experiences. It can affect all areas of life including work, relationships, life decisions and goals. It has the ability to influence motivations behind behaviours . Fortunately, not all stress is bad. There are many instances where stress is actually necessary to execute certain tasks and performances. Sporting events, academic pursuits, creative arts, and social activities are some examples of activities that require a certain amount of stress to perform optimally (Hancock & Szalma, 2008). Finding the right balance of stress is key to living a healthy life and overcoming stress related anxiety and other unpleasant experiences.
History of stress research
Stress has been a psychological phenomenon every since the start of historyDr. Selye is considered to be the first psychologist to examine the effects of stress on the body’s immune system . He suggested that stress negatively affected the immune's system capacity to fight diseases (Mills, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2008). Stress has been understood as a reaction to a situation perceived or real in the last century as well. In over 30 years of research, psychologists Lazarus and Folkman (1984) found that it is our lightening fast, and largely unconscious and automatic appraisal or judgement of our ability to meet the demand that determines just how stressful we will experience it to be (Mills, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2008). There are clear links between stress, perception, health, and motivation .. However, it is only in the last century that psychologists have actually scientifically studied the implications of stress.
What is stress?
Stress is any real or perceived situation that a person sees as threatening to theirhealthy mental, emotional, or physical well-being (Weinber, Cooper, Sutherland, & Bond, 2010). A lot of stress amounts to merely the interpretation of the event or circumstance experienced by a person. Another way of looking at it is that “it is the story we tell ourselves”. It is also true that what is stressful for some may not be for others. For example, moving house can be a very stressful task for a lot of people. Deciding where to live, packing boxes, having the financial constraints are factors that impact on the stress of the situation, not to mention undertaking this while working full-time. However, the same scenario may not be as stressful for someone who works part-time or made an effort to take time of work during the moving process. A lot of the time stress is in our control and limiting or managing stressors is key to our well-being.
A stressor is an environmental stimulus that creates a feeling of being threatened. Stressors are also able to be feelings or thoughts not necessarily created by the environment, however still require a stress response.
Below is a list of possible negative life stressors (Mills, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2008):
• The death of a spouse • Filing for divorce • Losing contact with loved ones • The death of a family member • Hospitalisation (oneself or a family member) • Injury or illness (oneself or a family member) • Being abused or neglected • Separation from a spouse or committed relationship partner • Conflict in interpersonal relationships • Bankruptcy/Money Problems • Unemployment • Sleep problems • Children's problems at school • Legal problem
Stressors do not always have to be negative. They can actually be part of very positive experiences. Below is a list of possible positive stressors (Mills, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2008):
• Receiving a promotion or raise at work • Starting a new job • Marriage • Buying a home • Having a child • Moving • Taking a vacation • Holiday seasons • Retiring • Taking educational classes or learning a new hobby
While these are generalised categories, it is important to note that different people attach different levels of stress to different situations, and one event may be more stressful to some and not others and vice-versa. Stress can be a result of the environment a person is in, for example, the workplace.
Situations that cause distress
Below is a list of possible situations that may cause distress (Mills, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2008):
• Excessive job demands • Job insecurity • Conflicts with teammates and supervisors • Inadequate authority necessary to carry out tasks • Lack of training necessary to do the job • Making presentations in front of colleagues or clients • Unproductive and time-consuming meetings • Commuting and travel schedules
Internal feelings and thoughts, and habitual behaviours
Internal feelings and thoughts: • Fears: (e.g., fears of flying, heights, public speaking, chatting with strangers at a party) • Repetitive Thought Patterns: • Worrying about future events (e.g., waiting for medical test results or job restructuring) • Unrealistic, perfectionist expectations
Habitual behaviours: • Overscheduling • Failing to be assertive • Procrastinating • Not having enough time o When you are constantly trying to finish multiple things in a short amount of time, over exhaustion and burnout will set in. This will you to you not be focused or motivated. A list of preferences is a good way to mitigate these outcomes. • Practicing unhealthy habits o Junk food, smoking, excessive drinking, and not exercising are examples of habits that stress your physical well-being • Taking on more than you can handle • Expecting too much o High expectations can lead to severe disappointment if not achieved
When a person feels overwhelmed, or stressed, by their environment their motivational state can diminish. This is especially true when a person thinks that they do not have a sufficient coping system (Olpin and Hesson, 2012). This can result in thoughts and feelings of disaster, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, these feelings are not congruent with that of motivation. When a person is severely stressed performance can be affected. For example, driving a car a fairly common and basic cognitive task after 5 years of experience. However, stress can significantly impact on experienced drivers resulting in a deteriorated performance . There as also been studies that show that stress can make a person look older and affect their memory (Padgett and Govern, 2012) .
Stress is usually mentioned in the context of a negative situation. However, stress is simply a response to changes that create taxing demands. Therefore it is possible to have positive stress that changes the response in a positive way. This type of stress is commonly referred to as eustress (Mills, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2008). Eustress has many advantages including increased motivation and performance. It is also important to mention that eustress is perceived as within a person’s coping ability. In contrast, negative stress, or distress, decreases performance and is perceived as outside a person’s coping ability. Moderate amounts of stress actually increase performance according to the Yerkes-Dodson curve principle (Cohen, 2011). Moderate amounts of positive stress have also been shown to have physiological healthy impacts (Padgett and Glaser, 2003). In particular, activities that cause positive strains on the heart i.e. the cardio-vascular system are instances where stress has positive implications for health. Examples of these activities include most sports, running and sprinting, and weight-lifting.
Stress and health
Stressors can weaken the body’s ability to right off disease much like germs can (Padgett and Glaser, 2003). Because stress has physiological effects, it has the potential to weaken the immune system. Padgett and Glaser (2003) suggest “there is now good evidence (in animal and human studies) that the magnitude of stress-associated immune dysregulation is large enough to have health implications. There has also been research to suggest that chronic stress associated with caregiving for a spouse with Alzheimer’s Disease was associated with poorer antibody response to an influenzevirus vaccine compared to well matched control subjects (Kiecolt-Glaser, et al.,1996). Furthermore, psychological stress can influence immune function, alter the pathophysiology of infection, and have consequences for health. The endocrine system and nervous system create the stress response. The two products of these systems, GC hormones and catechol-amines, ultimately alter the function of the immune system (Padgett & Glaser, 2003). It is important to practice stress management so as to avoid health concerns associated with stress .
Flight-or-fight stress response
After a stressor has been identified a person chooses to respond to the threat by either fighting or fleeing the stress. It is the limbic and frontal system that also influence whether we fight or flee the presence of a stressor (Mills, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2008). This response is the physical action after the body releases the relevant hormones. The ‘fight’ response targets the source of stress and alleviates it. The ‘flight’ response essentially removes the stress therefore reducing the amount of stress where it is occurring. Fight or flight happens extremely fast and is therefore not an example of logical thinking about a situation. It is therefore generally more useful in physical threat situations rather than intangible situations such as thoughts and feelings. After a stressor has been avoided successfully the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS; the other branch of the automotive nervous system), starts to undo the stress response by sending out new signals telling your body to calm down. The PNSyour heartbeat and breathing, causes your muscles to relax, and gets your digestive juices flowing again. The PNS system is designed to promote growth, energy storage and other processes important for long-term survival. (Mills, Reiss, & dombeck, 2008).
Quotes about stress
“Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come form having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started” – David Allen
“The greatest weapon against stress is out ability to choose one thought over another” – William James
“Being in control of your life an having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management” – Marilu Henner
Motivation can simply be defined as the reason behind observable behaviours. There are many possible reasons for choosing to behave in a certain way or complete a task,these are known as motivators. Hancock and Szalma (2008) suggest that they can be categorized into rewards, feedback, social control, interesting work, and stimulating environment. The pertinent questions surrounding motivation in people are: ‘how much motivation do you have?’ And, ‘what is the source of that motivation?’. Quality of experience and performance of tasks can vary greatly depending on the nature of the motivation. (Ryan and Deci, 2000) assert that source of motivation can be either intrinsic, that is from within, or external, that is driven by external factors. Studying motivation allows us to determine what part of want and desire comes from human nature and what parts are determined through culture and adaption.
History of intrinsic motivation
Intrinsic motivation was first studied in animal studies surrounding behaviour. Many animals have an innate desire to do something based simply on curiousity and absent from reinforcement or reward (White, 1959). It is clear that humans are intrinsically motivated and that being so results in positive experiences and extending a person’s overall well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Several studies by Deci (1971) and Harackiewicz (1979) suggested positive feedback on performance significantly increased intrinsic motivation; conversely, negative feedback reduced the amount motivation was sourced intrinsically.
Intrinsic motivation is motivation that is driven by an interest or simply enjoyment in a task. It is motivation that exists within a person and not the force of external factors influencing choice. To an extent all choices are somewhat influenced, however, there are things we do that only benefit our well-being. Some examples of activities that are intrinsically motivated are pursuing passions, playing sport and playing music. It has been concluded that people are likely to be intrinsically motivated if they believe their outcomes are under their control. That is, the idea of locus of control or autonomy. In addition, individuals that display a high level of self-efficacy are also more likely to be intrinsically motivated to complete their desired goals. Intrinsic motivation is generally necessary in creative fields and results in a high-quality of learning (Deci, 1971).
Extrinsic motivation is the opposite of intrinsic, that is, the motivation comes from external factors outside of a person. A comprehensive definition of extrinsic motivation is “a construct that pertains whenever an activity is done in order to attain some separable outcome” (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Common examples of extrinsic motivators are money, rewards, and good grades. Competitive sport is two-fold example of motivation whereby a sporting team’s purpose is to win the competition over another team, therefore extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation would be simply the desire to play a sport and enjoyment. Extrinsic motivation is especially true in early childhood due to social demands and roles. Ryan and Deci (2000) suggest that in school, extrinsic motivation diminishes as grades progress.
Example of extrinsic motivation
There is sometimes confusion as to what constitutes extrinsic motivation, it must be stressed that extrinsic motivation is on a continuum from amotivation leading to intrinsic motivation. The figure below is a diagram of this . Using a high school student completing her homework as an example is good way to illustrate the concept. If she completes her homework to avoid punishment from parents this is an example extrinsic motivation with strong external regulation (the punishment). However, if she completes her homework to get good grades because she believes it would be beneficial to university entrance score, there is a greater sense of choice within an extrinsically motivated framework. The former example involves compliance, the latter, more perceived autonomy.
Low motivation or no motivation is known as amotivation. This is characterized by a sense of apathy and a “state of lacking an intention to act” (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Amotivation can be seen on the left of the continuum of motivation above. It results from not valuing an activity (Deci, 1975), or not believing it will yield a desired outcome (Seligman, 1975). Low motivation can also be attributed to a low sense of locus of control, where a person believes that outcomes are mostly out of their control, so they are likely to put in less effort. People with low locus of control also tend to give up quicker when challenged (Peterson, Maier, & Seligman 1993). Low motivation is also associated with low performance.
Physiological impacts of stress on motivation
Stress can impact on a person’s psychological well-being as well as their physiological chemical balance. Both the nervous and endorinesystems in the body are affected as a result of stress. Ideally, the responses to stress should be aroused to a certain level in order to cope with the challenge; too much arousal will result in unwanted reactions, for example, anxiety. However, finding the right physiological balance is a difficult task for a person. The physiological reaction to stress is necessary to prime a person’s body to respond to the stress.
A person releases cortisol, a stress hormone, from the adrenal gland as a reaction to a stressor (Reeve, 2009). The release of cortisol is generally more likely to occur in a situation of stress that requires performance e.g. public speaking (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004). After the physiological stress reaction occurs, it is up to the hypothalamus in the brain to regulate the body’s internal environment to reduce stress in the endocrine system and autonomic nervous system. One of the ways in which a person can reduce the physiological effects of stress on motivation is to increase their dopamine levels. Essentailly, dopamine is responsible for releasing positive feelings. This experience allows people to determine which situations are associated with stress.
Stress management is important as stress can affect many areas of life, work, relationships, and life goals. In order to reduce stress and manage it effectively, Lehrer, Woolfolk and Sime (2007) suggest that these are the first three questions to ask yourself: ‘Is this stressor real?’ ‘Can I handle this situation?’ ‘Can I think about this differently?’. The first question puts the perceived stressor into context an determining whether you are in danger through rational thinking. Essentially the goal of stress management is to complete important things that may be stressful, without the anxiety and worry attached to these tasks. The second question determines the level of threat and whether or not you have the coping ability to overcome the stress. Simply asking yourself whether you can do something can increase confidence in completing the task and remove anxiety and worry attached to it. Past experiences is a good indication of how we are able to handle situations. The last question relates to a choice after the event has happened and how we interpret it.
While answering these questions effectively can reduce the amount of stress experienced in a given situation, sometimes it may be necessary to utilise coping mechanism after the situation has occurred. An example of this is using the support of others as a means to cope with a stressful experience. This is known as the concept of ‘relatedness’. It is an important motivational consctructbecause people function better, are more resilient to stress, and report few psychological difficulties when their interpersonal relationships support their needs for relatedness ([Cohen, Sherrod, & Clark, 1986; Lepore, 1992; Osterman, 2000; Ryan, Stiller, & Lynch, 1994; Sarason et. al., 1991; Windle, 1992] Reeve, 2009). It is clear that having healthy relationships where one feels valued impacts on the levels of stress people experience, where there is a direct correlation between relatedness and successful stress management
Analogy for stress
A valuable analogy for stress and performance is muscle building in athletes. In order for muscles to build and become bigger, the right amount of stimulation must occur; too little and the muscle will not grow, too much and the muscle will be too fatigued to repair and not grow either. Much can be said about stress and performance. A little bit of stress is necessary to increase performance; no stress will induce a feeling of apathy. Similarly to muscle growth, too much stress will actually have a negative effect and decrease performance.
- Intrinsic motivation (Book chapter, 2013)
- Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Wikipedia)
- Handling stress: The effect of stress on emotion and how emotion can be managed in challenging situations (Book chapter, 2011)
- Stress reduction: What is stress and how can it be managed? (Book chapter, 2013)
- Stress, arousal, and coping
- Stress and health
Deci, E. L. (1975). Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 18, 105-115.
Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., Koestner, R. (199) A Meta-Analytic Review of Experiments Examining the Effects of Extrinsic Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation, Vol. 125, No. 6, 627-668: American Psychology Association.
Dickerson, S. S., & Kemeny, M. E. (2004). Acute stressors and cortisol responses: A theoretical integration and synthesis of laboratory research. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 355-391.
Dienstbier, R., Dienstbier, R. A. (1991) Perspectives on Motivation: U of Nebraska Press.
Harackiewicz, J. (1979). The effects of reward contingency and performance feedback on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1352–1363. Hancock, P. A., Szalma, J. L. (2008) Performance Under Stress: Human Factors in Defence, Ashgate Publishing. Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. et al. (1996) Chronic stress alters the immune response to influenza virus vaccine in older adults. 93, 3043–3047.
Kottler, J. A., Chen, D. D. (2012) Stress Management and Prevention: Applications to Daily Life: Routledge. Lazarus, R. S. & Folkman, S. (1984), Stress, Appraisal, and Coping, New York: Springer-Verlag. Lehrer, P. M., Woolfolk, R. L., & Sime, W. E. (2007) Principles and Practice of Stress Management: Guilford Press. Mills, H., Reiss, N., Dombeck, M. (2008) Types of Stressors (Eustress vs. Distress).
Olpin, M., Hesson, M. (2012) Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, Cengage learning, 2012.
Padgett, D. A., Glaser, R. (2003) How stress influences the immune response: Trends in immunology, 24, 8, Elsevier Ltd.
Peterson, C., Maier, S. F., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1993). Learned helplessness: A theory for the age of personal control. New York: Oxford University Press.
Petri, H. & Govern, J. (2012) Motivation: Theory, Research, and Application, ed. 6: Cengage learning
Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Ryan, R. M. (1995). Psychological needs and the facilitation of integrative processes. Journal of Personality, 63, 397-427.
Ryan, M. R. & Deci, E. L. (2000) Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definition and New directions, Contemporary Educational Psychology, vol. 25, pp. 54-67, doi: 10/1006/ceps.1999.1020, Academic Press.
Seligman, M. (1975). Helplessness: On depression, development, and death. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.
Weinberg, A., Cooper, C., Sutherland, V. J., & Bond, F. (2010) Organizational Stress Management: A Strategic Approach: Palgrave Macmillan.
White, R. W. (1959). Motivation reconsidered. Psychological Review, vol. 66, pp. 297-333.