Public safety organizations are one of the most important components of any society as they are responsible to provide support and assistance to the community in times of crisis. The employees of such organization however are always exposed to stressful situations and they need to be mentally and emotionally strong to take the challenge, deal with it and help other dependents out of it. This is of great concern for public administration authorities as constant exposure to stressful situations leads to development of some kind of psychological disorder among the employees. This paper aims at evaluating how stressful conditions can be identified, evaluated and intervened so as to provide a coping strategy to deal with a stressor. The paper evaluates various literature pieces that are available in the relevant field of study and also analyzes stress management models that are developed by various psychologists. The paper further evaluates the scope and limitations of those models and theories and then proposes relevant evaluation and intervention strategies in light of the theories.
Stress Evaluation and Intervention: A Theoretical Overview
Evaluating stress and developing interventions to prevent or decrease its psychological impact to the individual requires an understanding of the identified origin and processes affecting the onset and prevalence of stress in a person. To identify the origin, nature and dynamics of stress and its theoretical foundations must be identified and carefully evaluated. This will provide the researcher sufficient information to determine which theoretical concepts; models and frameworks would be most appropriate or illustrative of the research case that s/he would like to pursue. In this section, theoretical frameworks that will be reviewed are the primary models and concepts from which stress theory emerged: (1) Hans Selye's systemic stress theory; and (2) Richard Lazarus' psychological stress theory (also called Lazarus theory). Both theoretical frameworks have influenced contemporary stress research; however, each theory has its own merits and weaknesses. Selye's systemic stress theory is well-known for setting the foundations of stress theory development, thus providing a technical construct and process to a socio-psychological phenomenon commonly experienced by individuals. However, literature on the topic has yet to identify this phenomenon as psychological stress. Lazarus' take on stress as having a psychological dimension, however, revolutionized the way stress is conceptualized and operationalized in research studies. His focus on the 'filtering process' or appraisal of stress experienced from external factors distinguished and elevated Lazarus' theory from Selye's framework. Selye's concept of stress is framed from the "response pattern" identified as "General Adaptation Syndrome," or GAS (Krohne, 2002:2). Under the GAS framework, stress is said to undergo three (3) critical stages, namely: (1) alarm reaction, (2) stage of resistance, and (3) stage of exhaustion. At the first stage, alarm reaction, a response to external stimuli is communicated from the body to the brain, wherein a corresponding response will be developed. This is the onset of second stage, wherein the response would be that of resistance or defense to the external stimuli. Critical at this stage was Selye's recognition that "while resistance to the noxious stimulation increases, resistance to other kinds of stressors decreases at the same time" (ibid.). Thus, at the stage of exhaustion, the individual experiences stress, wherein resistance is further decreased and no longer becomes possible, at which point, according to Selye, "the organism dies" (ibid.).
In a new stress theoretical model by Ursin and Eriksen (2004), called the Cognitive Activation Theory of Stress (CATS), the authors adapted components from Selye's theoretical framework to posit that stress could actually lead to "illness and disease through established patho-physiological processes" (567). Ultimately, CATS demonstrates how illness and disease developing from stress, as illustrated similarly from Selye's framework. Unlike Selye's thesis, however, Ursin and Eriksen argued that illness and disease could possibly develop from stress, a popular relationship developed from research studies, but is not theoretically and empirically demonstrated in research studies.
Lazarus' theory of psychological stress, meanwhile, provided a different dimension to the concept of stress, positing that stress is more than just an action-reaction process between the individual and his/her external environment . For Lazarus, stress is a transactional relationship between the individual and his/her external environment: "psychological stress refers to a relationship with the environment that the person appraises as significant for his or her well being…" (Krohne, 2002:3). The process of appraisal is critical in Lazarus' psychological stress framework, as this is the differentiating factor between his and Selye's theories. Under the appraisal process, the individual undergoes two phases of appraisal processes: primary and secondary. Ultimately, these appraisal processes act as filters that help determine the individual identify what kind of stress an "episode" is: harm, threat, or challenge (4). Furthering his study on stress, Lazarus also determined that individuals develop coping mechanisms as their defense against an identified harm, threat or challenge.
Lazarus' psychological stress theory has been truly instrumental in developing stress research and is almost always incorporated in new theoretical frameworks about stress. Even Ursin and Eriksen's CATS theory adapts from both Selye and Lazarus, although CATS also puts heavy emphasis on the appraisal stage, reflecting Lazarus' influence in the CATS model.
Similarly, the Cybernetic Model of Stress in organizations demonstrate the role that appraisal plays in determining the kind of level of stress experienced by an employee/member of an organization. Under this model, the appraisal stage is further elaborated and contextualized in the organizational development context to ultimately determine the wellness of employees' well-being within an organization (Edwards, 1992:248).
To further understand the concepts stress evaluation and intervention, it is critical to uncover other perspectives, dimensions, concepts and measures surrounding it. Extant literature and research studies on these concepts have focused on different aspects, and this review of related literature will provide a 'quick scan' of the kind of studies and dimensions discovered, discussed and analyzed as far as stress evaluation and intervention are concerned.
.Psychological Stress Model
The Psychological Stress Model (PSM) presented in Lemyre's (2009) study was adapted as a classic model for stress research, following the flow of "first generation" stress models, which is in the form of Stimuli-Response or S-R linkage. This model looks at different critical components that causes and influences stress affect: stressor(s), coping strategies, social environment, appraisal, stress, and disorder. This linear stress model ultimately shows the linkage between stressors and stress, and determines how stress can actually lead to psychological disorders when it escalates and without intervention (p. 455).
Through the PSM, Lemyre posited that in an individual, 'more stressful life events lead to higher probability of developing an illness the following year' (p. 456). This hypothesis is then supported through the PSM, wherein each component is part of a critical path that ultimately determines the eventual development (or prevention) of stress into a psychological disorder.
Stressors were determined based on the following parameters that describe perceived threat or danger to the individual of an event: severity, mastery, and uncertainty. Using these 3 concepts, the author went developed linkage among these to help understand the nature of stressors in the PSM: stressors considered as highly severe contribute to lesser mastery of events by the individual, which eventually increases the level of uncertainty in him/her, and at this point, the individual now experiences stress based on this transition of threat created by stressor(s) (p. 457).
Further down into the model, stressors are either dealt with through coping strategies and/or the social environment. It is also possible that the individual would eventually become stressed once these stressors set in, and the PSM demonstrates these possible scenarios. That is, the individual can take four routes under this model when confronted with stressors: (i) develop coping strategies to combat these stressors, (ii) generate support from the social environment to deal with these stressors, (iii) generate support by developing coping strategies and turning to one's social network; and (iv) succumbing to stress immediately. The fourth route, in fact, makes it plausible for Lemyre's hypothesis to be proven correctly: indeed, in the event that the stressors lead directly to stress, it is not a remote possibility that the individual will also, almost immediately, succumb to psychological disorder as a result of this stress.
The model also addresses stress evaluation through the appraisal stage, which happens in two (2) stages: the first appraisal is the evaluation component of this stage, wherein the event is understood from the individual's point-of-view. The second appraisal, meanwhile, is the contemplation and development of an appropriate response to the stimulus experienced and upon the individual's analysis of the event and the effect of stressors in it. As explicated earlier, the success of this appraisal could be influenced by the individual's going through the route to developing coping strategies or turning to the social environment for support. However, the PSM also shows that despite effective appraisal, it is still possible that the appraisal conducted will result to stress and eventual development of a psychological disorder. Indeed, Markov's hypothesis holds true, wherein accumulates stressful…