Self-Esteem and Stress Term Paper

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Self-Esteem and Stress

Life is a continuous journey, one that is filled with a rollercoaster of emotions and learning experiences. Throughout the journey of life, all individuals inevitably encounter potentially stressful situations, i.e., death of a parent, friend, or lover; divorce; drug and/or alcohol abuse; financial difficulties; traumatic breakup; unemployment; etc. Individuals generally react to stressful situations in one of two ways. First, some individuals use stressful situations as a motivator, a catalyst to accomplish their objectives and improve their situation. Next, other individuals use stressful situations as a depressant, a reason (consciously or unconsciously) to become "stuck in the mud" because of their inability to cope.

This paper analyzes and examines the multitude of issues related to self-esteem and stress. Part II discusses the effects that stress may have on self-esteem. In Part III, some possible solutions or stress busters that may be used in order to have a higher self-esteem and therefore less stress are outlined. Finally, this paper concludes with recommendations for keeping the balance between self-esteem and stress.


Stress may have various negative effects on self-esteem. First, stress may cause an individual to suffer a loss of confidence, and may create a feeling of low self-esteem, causing a feeling of hopelessness and depression to set in. ( Next, stress may cause self-blame, guilt, cynicism and a sense of total failure to set in. (, stress may lead to feelings of anger and resentment at nothing in particular. (

Fourth, stress may create a feeling that something is missing. ( Sometimes individuals who are stressed out often let it consume them, to the point that the larger picture (i.e., stress will pass in due time) becomes obscured in the negative minutia (i.e., stress). Fifth, an individual who is experiencing stress may find an extreme reluctance to go to work builds up, making it harder to face going to work each day. (, stress often results in lower self-confidence. (

In reviewing the literature it was found that several studies have been done to correlate self-esteem and stress. Studies have suggested that there is a negative relationship between self-esteem and stress. It was also found that self-esteem appears to moderate the effects of stress on psychological functioning. Individuals with low self-esteem exhibit more distress from negative events than those with high self-esteem. High self-esteem may protect the individual from distress by allowing the individual to feel less vulnerable and be more able to bounce back from stressful situations.

High self-esteem may also result in more active and effective coping and in enhanced motivation in response to stress (Abel, 1996). In an article by Kreger (1995), it was hypothesized, after reviewing some studies, that scores on self-esteem may act like attributional style in predicting the effects of stress and that perceived stress may be more related to self-esteem than to actual stressfulness of a situation. After conducting a study on this hypothesis, it was found to be supported by the data, that stress inversely correlated with self-esteem. (Kreger, 1995).

According to another study, researchers found that there is a strong relationship between how someone copes with stress and self-esteem. It was also found in the same article in another study, that the article made reference to, that people with low self-esteem are more likely to view their behavior as being dependent on the situation while people with high self-esteem have a greater capacity to engage in a wide range of coping behaviors (Smith, Zhan, Hunington, Washington, 1992).

This article also asked the question, why do people with low self-esteem tend to make their coping responses so situation-dependent. It has been suggested that self-esteem influences coping because it is so strongly related to personal attributions for different events and outcomes (Smith, et al., 1992).

The study in this article attempted to research the relationship between self-esteem, self-concept clarity, and the subjects preferred coping styles when faced with stressful events and situations. They chose a group of college undergraduates as their participants for the study. Researchers hypothesized that (1) higher self-esteem would be related to clearer self-concept, (2) a clearer self-concept would be related to more positive coping styles while an unclear self-concept would be related to more negative coping styles. They found that self-concept clarity exerts a stronger influence on a person's ability to cope with stress than the influence exerted by self-esteem (Smith, et al., 1992).

In another article a study was done comparing the relationship between coping styles, self-concept, and stress. The coping styles researched in this study were optimism vs. defensive-pessimism. These coping strategies have been thought to protect self-esteem from threatening situations. The purpose of their study (1) was to see if using different cognitive coping strategies experience different levels of perceived stress, (2) and also to see what components of the self might these coping strategies be striving to defend or maintain (Morrison, 1991).

Their study suggests instead of assuming that coping styles are protection for self-esteem; they are just as likely to protect weak facets of the self. Researchers also found that defensive-pessimists and those without consistent coping strategies show themselves to be more stressed than optimists. Female optimists are more satisfied with their skills for handling stress than are defensive-pessimists and those without consistent coping strategies. Optimists coping strategies coincide with less stress. Males, with the exception of the optimists feeling less stressed than those without consistent coping strategies, coping style differences do not reflect differences in satisfaction (Morrison, 1991).

In reviewing another article investigating the relationships between self-esteem enhancing and self-esteem threatening relationships, life stress, perceived social support, and psychological symptoms through the use of new measures of esteem enhancing and esteem threatening relationships. It was hypothesized that esteem enhancement would relate positively to global self-esteem and negatively to psychological symptoms and esteem threat would have the opposite relations consistent with the threat to self-esteem model. It was also hypothesized that the esteem enhancement and threat measures would account for significant variance in self-esteem and psychological symptoms beyond demographic, life stress, and social support measures. Researchers hypothesized that these measures would be uncorrelated with each other because other measures of positive and negative social ties are largely uncorrelated. They found that esteem threat was associated with psychological symptoms independent of stress, social support, and demographic variables. Both esteem enhancement and esteem threat made independent contributions to predicting global self-esteem after controlling for initial levels of global self-esteem (Short, Sandler, Roosa, 1996).

Overall, according to most of the literature researched, self-esteem has little to do with how people deal with or perceive the levels of stress in their lives. It has more to do with other factors such as coping styles and self-concept. However, the purpose of this study was to replicate the findings of studies already done to retest the hypothesis that people who have high self-esteem perceive themselves to have lower levels of stress than those with low self-esteem and people who have low self-esteem perceive themselves to have high levels of stress than those with high self-esteem.


There are a multitude of possible solutions or stress busters that may be used in order to have a higher self-esteem and therefore less stress. Examples of such techniques include aromatherapy, humor, massage therapy, relaxation techniques, yoga, etc. Martin (1993) suggested that a humorous perspective on one's problems allows to distance oneself from them, to take them less seriously, and thereby experience them as less threatening and distressing. Martin's research has built upon past work that has demonstrated that high humor individuals display less negative affect for adverse life circumstances than low humor individuals. Norman Cousins (1979) published an account of his recovery from a serious disease through humor and laughter, now giving rise to much attention in the popular media to the importance of humor for physical and psychological health.

In a study done by Martin and Dobbin (1988) subjects provided a saliva sample, along with four self-report measures, to measure secretory immunoglobulin -- A to see if humor had an affect in the immune system's defense against viral and bacterial infections. Their findings found a significantly moderating effect of humor for the relation between daily hassles and S-IgA levels. Individuals with the low humor scores showed immunosuppressive effect of stress in that higher levels of hassles were related to lower levels of S-IgA. By contrast, the high humor individuals increased stress did not result in suppression of the immune system's defenses. Humor has many uses that are now being examined due to the research on many different topics of humor.

Humor is linked to things from stress to illness to self-concept. Several authors have stated that it has been proposed that humor may be a particularly effective means of mitigating the effects of stress (Lefcourt and Martin, 1986; Martin, 1989). They found that more humorous individuals respond with significantly lower levels of…

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