Assignment 2 – Research – What is Stress?

The task of portraying something that can’t necessarily be seen using photography is a daunting task. Rather than photographing the subject itself, the subject will need to be suggested through semiotics (visual clues and signs) due to a lack of denotative elements. As a photographer I will need to connote the subject using studium as a vehicle to communicate my desired message. With this in mind, I thought that it was important that I try and discover as much about my intended subject for Assignment 2 as I could, which in turn will help me to understand and portray it.

Stress is one of those things that we all think we know lots about. After all, we’ve all suffered from it to one degree or another, but I was quite interested to find out about the causes and lesser known effects of stress. But where better to start than with a definition? I found 2 different yet interesting definitions of stress:

1. A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.

2. Pressure or worry caused by the problems in somebodies life.

Those definitions contain some key words which I think could help interpret the subject into an image: Emotional, Mental, Strain, Demanding, Pressure, Problems, Circumstances (work/home/money etc).

I then went on to discover that there 2 main types of stress:

1. Psychological. Essentially, this is the feeling of being stressed. This is perceived when the demands placed upon us seem to be beyond our ability, causing anxiety or other negative emotions. This stress is caused by threats or challenges such as events, experiences or environmental stimulus. Psychological stress can be broken down into 2 further types:

a. Eustress. This is good stress in that it motivates us and keeps us challenged, energised and focused.

b. Distress. This is bad stress which results in a slowing of working pace.

2. Physiological. This is our physical reaction to stress, whether that be perceived, or a physical environmental stressor. Interestingly, it is the physiological reaction that drives the psychological reaction through the release of hormones. We suffer stress when our equilibrium is upset. Bear in mind that our equilibrium (or homeostasis) is always in a state of flux, it takes a significant divergence from equilibrium to cause stress. The further we get from equilibrium, the more stress we suffer. Unseen physical reactions occur when we are stressed, some of which can have long term health effects if the stress is not managed or recovered from. An example would be stomach ulcers, caused by an increase in stomach fluid acidity. The Physiological reactions that I’m interested in however, are the ones that cause the Psychological reaction. This is the Neuronatomy, or Brain Response.

Stress triggers a “fight or flight” response. It is not always as severe as fighting or fleeing for survival as the term suggests, but it can be used to describe the initial stage of stress when we consider our options, or reaction to the Stressor. Glands within the brain and spinal chord release hormones which are carried around the blood stream. Initially, Adrenaline causes a tightening of the muscles (coiling like a spring!), increased blood pressure, respiratory and heart rate and widening of the pupils.

When “flight” is not a desirable option (or option at all) and the “fight” feels un-winable, the levels of stress remain high for a prolonged period. This constant release of hormones and lack of homeostasis will cause symptoms such as reduced attention span, reduced problem solving ability, poor concentration, and short term memory loss. The brain will also struggle to regulate mood, which will cause the sufferer to feel pessimism, irratibility/short temper, anxiety, fear and loneliness/isolation. The suffer may also feel overwhelmed and display nervous habits such as nail biting.

Chronic stress can actually physically alter the brain leading to mental health issues such as Depression!

We all have different tolerances for stress, as well as our own ways of managing it. If chronic stress is not managed/recovered from, the result is Exhaustion.

All of this information, the causes and symptoms of Stress, has started me thinking about how I visualise it, despite it not being a visible entity. A quick Google image search of the word Stress returns lots of Stock images that are very cliche (heads in hands, pulling of hair etc). Although they convey the subject, they don’t convey the emotion which is what I aim to do. Straight away, I’m thinking of creating a sense of confusion with busy scenes that are unbalanced, not allowing the viewers eyes to rest. Signs of emotion, Isolation and loneliness are also ideas for me to exploit. The use of dark simple images to convey emotion, blurred movement showing busyness or agitation are also other ideas to develop. Before I get too carried away, I still want to research how other artists have portrayed such subjects, and in what context their work has been displayed.

References: [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15]


One thought on “Assignment 2 – Research – What is Stress?

  1. Pingback: Assignment 2 – Research – Formulating an approach | My Learning (B)Log – Context and Narrative

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