16. Health, Stress, and Coping
Stress has been defined as the physiological and psychological experience of significant life events, trauma, and chronic strain (Thoits, 2010). It has long been believed and demonstrated that the level of stress an individual experiences can negatively impact his or her health. Therefore, stress management has become an increasingly important focus from both a personal and organizational perspective. Researchers and practitioners have investigated and developed strategies to cope with stress effectively in an effort to address the costs of stress overload to personal and organizational health and productivity.
The Canadian government, for instance, recognizes the personal, economic, and social costs of stress and therefore declares that its role includes helping “Canadians maintain and improve their mental health, including coping with stress” (Health Canada, 2008) and offers multiple publicly accessible resources to:
- Generate and disseminate knowledge, and support both knowledge generation and dissemination activities undertaken by other organizations.
- Strengthen the capacity of the primary health care, home care, and acute care sectors to effectively deliver mental health programs and services.
- Provide leadership and governance.
- Develop social marketing campaigns.
- Conduct surveillance on health trends in the population.
In 2007, the federal government provided funding to establish and support the Mental Health Commission of Canada to lead the development of a national mental health strategy. Services developed include:
- Canadian Health Network
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Canadian Psychiatric Association
- National Network for Mental Health
- Canadian Psychological Association
- Mood Disorders Society of Canada
- It’s Your Health website
Likewise, employers have acknowledged the costs associated with occupational stress and the need for wellness strategies and initiatives devoted to supporting health and stress management in the workplace (World Health Organization, 2013). A workplace wellness industry is currently thriving internationally.
These three constructs of health, stress, and coping are complex, both as separate concepts and as they interact with one another. For instance, stress can be perceived both negatively and positively: it can have both a negative deleterious effect on health, and a positive health-promoting effect depending on the individual’s interpretation or appraisal of the stress. The level of stress a person experiences can also determine the degree of impact on health and performance, which invites the question, At what point does the stress become just too much to take? Likewise, health is a multifaceted construct, and an individual’s health is relative, perceptual, and contextual. Finally, the concept of coping has spawned many other concepts besides management of stress such as resiliency, thriving, tolerance for ambiguity, and stress-related growth (SRG).
In this chapter, we will examine the variety of interrelated concepts that fall within or stem from the triangle of health, stress, and coping. These concepts will then be examined within personal and professional contexts and discussed in terms of social implications and outcomes.
Health Canada. (2008). Mental health – coping with stress. Retrieved from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/life-vie/stress-eng.php.
Thoits, P. A. (2010). Stress and health: major findings and policy implications. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(1), suppl S41–S53.
World Health Organization. (2013). Guidelines for the management of conditions specifically related to stress. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85119/1/9789241505406_eng.pdf?ua=1.