What is Psychosocial Stress?

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Psychosocial stress comes in many forms, and can be one of the more difficult types of stress. Kevin Kozicki/ Getty Images

Psychosocial stress is the result of a cognitive appraisal (your mental interpretation) of what is at stake and what can be done about it. More simply put, psychosocial stress results when we look at a perceived social threat in our lives (real or even imagined) and discern that it may require resources we don't have.

Examples of psychosocial stress include things like a threat to our social status, social esteem, respect, and/or acceptance within a group; threat to our self-worth; or a threat that we feel we have no control over.

All of these threats can lead to a stress response in the body.  These can be some of the most taxing stressors to deal with, as they can make us feel unsupported and alienated.  This can make it more difficult to cope.

When psychosocial stress triggers a stress response, the body releases a group of stress hormones including cortisol, epinephrine (or adrenalin) and dopamine, which lead to a burst of energy as well as other changes in the body (see this article on the fight-or-flight response for more.) The changes brought about by stress hormones can be helpful in the short term, but can be damaging in the long run. For example, cortisol can improve the body’s functioning by increasing available energy (so that fighting or fleeing is more possible), but can lead to suppression of the immune system as well as a host of other effects. Epinephrine can also mobilize energy, but create negative psychological and physical outcomes with prolonged exposure.

That's why it's important to manage psychosocial stress in our lives so that the stress response is only triggered when necessary. It's also important to learn stress relief techniques to effectively reverse the stress response so we don't experience prolonged states of stress or chronic stress.

There are several ways to manage psychosocial stress, because it involves factors on the outside (what we're dealing with) and the inside (our thoughts about it), and can affect multiple areas of our lives.

 Here are some strategies that can help.

Develop Your Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict is an almost inevitable part of a relationship.  People are going to have disagreements and are going to want different things.  The way we manage conflict can create significant psychosocial stress, but if you can work on your conflict resolution skills, that can help at least half of the equation: you can change what you bring to the situation, you can diffuse some of the negativity, and you can model healthier behavior.  This can greatly minimize the stress felt by all involved.
Try these healthy conflict resolution techniques.

Focus On Supportive Friends; Avoid Drama

If you think about it, you know who you can trust to support you and who you can't.  Simply spending more time with those who make your life easier and minimizing time spent with those who make you feel stressed can cut down on a lot of the psychosocial stress you experience.  It won't cut out all of the drama you experience, but it can stop a lot of it.


Here is how to cut out stressful relationships.

Try A Shift In Perspective

Sometimes we feel angered or threatened by things that don't affect us that much, and the stress we feel as a result isn't necessary.  Changing how you look at something, or just shifting what you focus on can make a difference in your stress levels--it can make something that seems like a big deal feel less so.  When put in a different perspective, everything can feel less stressful.
Here are some ways to change your perspective to minimize stress.

Find Stress Management Strategies That Work For You

Finding ways to manage your overall stress level can help you to be less reactive to psychosocial stress, or any specific stressor.  The key is to find something that works well for you and something that fits well in your life and with your personality.
Here are some strategies you can use to relieve stress.

Sources:
Lazarus, R. S. (2005). Emotions and interpersonal relationships: Toward a person-centered conceptualization of emotions and coping. Journal of Personality, 74, 1–38.
Storch, Maja et.al. (Jul 2002). Psychoneuroendocrine effects of resource-activating stress management training. Health Psychology, 26(4), 456-463.

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