Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Emotion/Stress, arousal and coping

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Stress, arousal and coping[edit source]

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

“Life is full of challenges, stresses and problems to be solved. Emotions exist as solutions to these challenges, stresses and problems” (Reeve, 2005).

Stress is an emotion that can have a positive or negative outcome. It is caused by a stimulus, which results in arousal and possible action. Arousal is another emotion that involves activation and excitation. At high levels of stress and arousal, actions can be inhibited. Thus, it is important that people have strategies to cope with stress and control arousal to ensure maximum performance.

What is Stress?[edit | edit source]

"Stress is mostly a function of how demanding and controllable the environment is” (Reeve, J.M. 2005). It can also be “defined in terms of specific environmental conditions that produce arousal” (Beck, R.C. 2004) or “demands placed on a person in relation to his or her resources” (Morris, T. 2005). Sometimes people can live in areas that increase stress levels, such as near an airport where noise triggers arousal and increases stress. “Stress is a state manifested by the pattern of symptoms that characterizes the emotional fight-flight reaction” (Beck R.C. 2004). It can be positive, eustress or negative, distress. Eustress is defined as stress that gives one fulfilment and distress is stress that results in pain, sorrow, trouble or suffering. Stress can be related to many emotions and disorders such as anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder. Post traumatic stress disorder is an example of stress that occurs after a traumatic event. Many war veterans suffer post traumatic stress disorder which can involve nightmares about the war and intense distress after something triggers memories of war, such as loud noises.

What causes Stress?[edit | edit source]

Stress can be caused by any stimulus or event that triggers arousal. The stimulus can be referred to as a stressor. “Stress occurs when the demands of the environment are too great for the organism to cope with” (Beck, R.C. 2004) is just one belief. It can be triggered by an event the person believes is out of their control or by a situation that makes them anxious. Stress can also be a result of a traumatic experience, like being held hostage or trapped in a burning house. Life changes such as moving house, starting a new job, general everyday hassles like environmental load, people crowding someone’s personal space and noise levels can contribute to someone’s level of stress. Some people are more susceptible to stress than others, this is determined by genetics and early life experiences. Some people can inherit chemical imbalances resulting in different responses to stressful situations; also different temperaments are a result of genetic differences that contribute to how someone interacts with their environment and reacts to stressors. Some researchers suggest a stressful situation in early life teaches coping skills, but this would depend on the individual. “For cognitive theorists, human beings experience a rich diversity of emotion because situations can be interpreted so differently” (Reeve, J.M. 2005).

Why is Stress important?[edit | edit source]

“Emotions (such as stress) call for actions most broadly described as being approach or avoidance” (Beck R.C. 2004). This statement suggests stress can be a driving force to take action either towards getting something done or procrastinating. Beck also suggests “moderate stress, especially in early life, promotes successful coping later” (2004). This is because young children are like sponges, taking in everything they can and have a much higher learning capacity than adults. This statement suggests moderate stressful situations teach children how to cope, without stress coping is not learnt. From this it can be said stress is a necessary part of life and as Friedrich Nietzsche once said “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” (Brainy Quote. 2010).

What is Arousal?[edit | edit source]

Arousal is a “natural ongoing state” (Williams, J.M. 2006) that “represents a variety of processes that govern alertness, wakefulness and activation” (Reeve, J.M. 2005). It is sensory stimulation, mental, behavioural or physiological activation, neural excitation and an energizing function that causes tense muscles, high blood pressure, heart and respiration rate. “Arousal is mostly a function of how stimulating the environment is”(Reeve, J.M. 2005). Arousal can be affected by factors such as fatigue.

What causes Arousal?[edit | edit source]

Arousal is a constant emotion even as we sleep our body is still functioning. It can be increased by certain stimuli or stressors. Williams suggests that “some degree of uncertainty is necessary to increase arousal” (2006). Sexual arousal is a type of arousal which is both physiological and psychological and different for the male and the female.

Why is Arousal important?[edit | edit source]

Like stress, arousal is an emotion that results in a response or an action and teaches people how to cope. “Emotion and emotional behaviour provide animals with ingrained and automated ways for coping with the major challenges and threats to their welfare” (Reeve, J.M. 2005). Arousal is important to enable humans to live life responding to our environments and learning appropriate reactions to stimuli.

Definition of Coping[edit | edit source]

Coping is “anyway that we may voluntarily try to control stress or anxiety in ourselves” (Beck R.C. 2004) through problem focused coping or emotion focused coping. Problem focused coping works on improving the stressful situation, for example removing yourself from an argument with someone to calm down and reduce arousal and stress. On the other hand emotion focused coping seeks to make the person feel better, possibly denying there is a problem, such as going for a run. Lazarus says “coping shapes emotion, as it does psychological stress, by influencing the person-environment relationship and how it is appraised” (Strongman, K.T. 2006).

How do we Cope with Stress?[edit | edit source]

(Beck R.C. 2004) Monat and Lazarus (1985) presented 3 stress management techniques:

  1. Changing the environment and lifestyle
  2. Changing personality and perceptions
  3. Modifying biological responses

Morris and Summers support the 2nd management technique through their 3 interventions:

  1. “Interventions can be applied to change the person’s perception of the demands” (2005).
  2. “Interventions that build up the performer’s confidence” (2005).
  3. “Interventions that increase coping resources” (2005).

Technique 1 is a part of problem focused coping that was mentioned above and technique 2 and the interventions are a part of the emotion focused coping.

Arousal Management[edit | edit source]

Relationship of arousal and performance based on inverted-U hypothesis

“Our capacity to attend to environmental cues varies according to our internal state” ( Beck, R.C. 2004). Internal state is referring to our levels of arousal, stress and other emotions. According to Drive theory the increase in arousal should increase performance, suggesting a linear relationship between the two variables (Williams, J.M. 2006). This however is not the case. “Almost any response can be potentially be inhibited at a high enough level of arousal” ( Beck, R.C. 2004). For example when someone has stage fright their arousal is too high causing the performer to freeze, thus inhibiting action or response. It is therefore very important for performers and athletes to acquire “the ability to self-regulate arousal (as it) enhances not only one’s learning and performance of athletic skills but also one’s functioning in many non-athletic situations” (Williams, J.M. 2006). In the figure an inverted U is used to represent the relationship between arousal level and performance. It shows performance is at its greatest level when arousal is moderate, as arousal increases to a high level performance decreases and as arousal decreases to a low level so too does performance. Williams states “weight of the scientific evidence continues to favour the inverted-U hypothesis as the best description for how arousal affects performance” (2006). The inverted U hypothesis however doesn’t support the fact that some people “may become aroused by irrelevant peripheral noise but also more focused on the task” ( Beck, R.C. 2004). For example a student says listening to rock music improves his/her ability to study. It is also suggested by Reeve that the “hypothesis summarises the relationship between arousal and performance/emotion, but stops short of explaining how arousal facilitates or impairs performance/emotion” (2005). It is important to be able to understand this relationship in order to cope with arousal. Learning how to control emotions is the best technique to manage arousal levels.

Coping Methods[edit | edit source]


There are many methods for coping but each is not guaranteed to work for every individual, thus the reason for many methods is to enable each person to find the technique that works best for them. Research suggests “fitter individuals have smaller increases in heart rate and blood pressure in response to any particular psychological stressor” (Abernethy et. al. 2005) and “involvement in regular exercise has been shown to reduce existing depression and to onset of depression” (Abernethy et. al. 2005). Therefore exercise can be a useful method of coping for some people. Other people may prefer more psychological techniques such as learning mental skills like emotional control, goal setting, self-confidence, positive self-talk, visualisation/ imagery, relaxation and time management. Relaxation is a widely used technique which can be obtained through different techniques such as Meditation, breathing exercises and progressive relaxation exercises. Coping Skills Test

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

In the lifetime of a human being obstacles are encountered that create stressful situations. The way people respond to these situations is different for each individual. Stress can increase one’s performance and can in turn teach them how to cope in different situations. At high stress levels performance levels do not increase but can be inhibited. As with stress, increasing arousal at a high level decreases performance quality, eventually inhibiting the action. Arousal is an emotion that is a constant part of a person’s life, even when sleeping. Arousal is alertness, activated by stimuli. A moderate level of arousal is ideal for high performance. Arousal and stress are important emotions for human beings as they push a person to take an action. However, it is very important that people know how to process what is happening in a stressful situation and respond in a positive way whether it is to minimise stress levels through relaxation exercises or to resolve a conflicting situation. It is also important for humans to control arousal levels in order to execute any action to the best of their ability. There are many coping strategies available but it is how the individual copes with and learns from the emotion that is important in the development of their emotional intelligence.

See also

References[edit | edit source]

Abernethy, B., Hanrahan, S. J., Kippers, V., Mackinnon, L. T., & Pandy, M. G. (2005). The biophysical foundations of human

movement. (2nd ed.). Australia: Palgrave Macmillan.

Beck, R. C. (2004). Motivation: Theories and principles. (5th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson.

Brainy Quote. (2010) Retrieved November 7, 2010 from

Morris, T., & Summers, J. (2005). Sport psychlology: Theory, applications and issues. (2nd ed.). Australia: John Wiley & Sons.

Reeve, J. M. (2005). Understanding motivation and emotion. (4th ed.). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Strongman, K. T. (2006). The psychology of emotion: From everyday life to theory. (5th ed.). England: John Wiley & Sons.

Williams, J.M. (2006). Applied sport psychology: personal growth to peak performance. (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.