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Chapter: Medical Surgical Nursing: Homeostasis, Stress, and Adaptation

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Types of Stressors

Stressors exist in many forms and categories. They may be de-scribed as physical, physiologic, or psychosocial.

TYPES OF STRESSORS

 

Stressors exist in many forms and categories. They may be de-scribed as physical, physiologic, or psychosocial. Physical stres-sors include cold, heat, and chemical agents; physiologic stressors include pain and fatigue. Examples of psychosocial stressors are fear of failing an examination and losing a job. Stressors can also occur as normal life transitions that require some adjustment, such as going from childhood into puberty, getting married, or giving birth.

 

Stressors have also been classified as: (1) day-to-day frustra-tions or hassles; (2) major complex occurrences involving large groups, even entire nations; and (3) stressors that occur less fre-quently and involve fewer people. The first group, the day-to-day stressors, includes such common occurrences as getting caught in a traffic jam, experiencing computer downtime, and having an argument with a spouse or roommate. These experiences vary in effect; for example, encountering a rainstorm while one is vaca-tioning at the beach will most likely evoke a more negative response than it might at another time. These less dramatic, frustrating, and irritating events—daily hassles—have been shown to have a greater health impact than major life events because of the cu-mulative effect they have over time. They can lead to high blood pressure, palpitations, or other physiologic problems (Jalowiec, 1993).

 

The second group of stressors influences larger groups of peo-ple, possibly even entire nations. These include events of history, such as terrorism and war, which are threatening situations when experienced either directly, in the war zone, or indirectly, as through live news coverage. The demographic, economic, and technological changes occurring in society also serve as stressors. The tension produced by any stressor is sometimes a result not only of the change itself, but also of the speed with which the change occurs.

The third group of stressors has been studied most extensively and concerns relatively infrequent situations that directly affect the individual. This category includes the influence of life events such as death, birth, marriage, divorce, and retirement. It also in-cludes the psychosocial crises described by Erikson as occurring in the life cycle stages of the human experience. More enduring chronic stressors have also been placed in this category and may include such things as having a permanent functional disability or coping with the difficulties of providing long-term care to a frail elderly parent.

 

A stressor can also be categorized according to duration. It may be

 

·      An acute, time-limited stressor, such as studying for final examinations

 

·      A stressor sequence—a series of stressful events that result from an initial event such as job loss or divorce

 

·      A chronic intermittent stressor, such as daily hassles

 

·      A chronic enduring stressor that persists over time, such as chronic illness, a disability, or poverty

 

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