Eustress & Distress

canstock0359890Feeling stressed? Is it eustress or distress? A number of researchers (and laypersons) distinguish between stress that is beneficial or facilitative (eustress) for the individual and stress that is debilitative or destructive (distress). Early work on stress owes an intellectual debt to the work of Hans Selye. See, for example, his 1974 book, Stress Without Distress.  

Selye
Selye and Associate

But Richard Lazarus, in his book Stress and Emotion: A New Synthesis, discusses some of the problems of this simplistic binary—namely, the assumption that so-called “positive emotional states, such as joy, love, and positive striving (as in the case of challenge), facilitate health and protect against illness, whereas negative emotional states, such as anger, envy, and jealousy, damage health.” (2006, p. 264).

Folk beliefs surrounding contemporary notions of stress have continued to perpetuate the “eustress and positive emotion is good” and “distress and negative emotion is bad” perspectives. It is true, we do find that research shows high levels of distress are associated with poorer performance and reduced learning, increased anxiety and aggression, memory impairment, and other negative outcomes. But many studies have demonstrated that lower levels of stress are necessary for activating and maintaining attentional and response resources, for stimulation and relieving boredom, for personal growth and developing self-regulatory strategies. Without stress there is no growth and no opportunity for resilience.

In SLA and Applied Linguistics, we are now seeing researchers working to tea978-3-319-32954-3se apart tDocument1hese issues and their relevance for L2 learning, teaching, and use by drawing on the findings and perspectives of positive psychology. This offers a pleasant counterpoint to the prevailing focus in the field on anxiety and “negative” emotions by exploring flow, happiness, enjoyment, perseverance, empathy, hope, and other “positive” emotional states. Leading the way are edited volumes by MacIntyre, Gregersen, & Mercer (“Positive Psychology in SLA”) and Gabryś-Barker & Gałajda (“Positive Psychology Perspectives on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching”).

Senescence

Aging and death are natural (and inevitable) parts of the human experience. These are as much emotional and even spiritual matters are they are physical and mental. As a result, they are deeply relational—affecting the whole person and their quality of life as well as the lives of their family, caregivers, and friends. How are we addressing the emotionality and spirituality of aging across the lifespan? What questions should we be asking and what conversations should we be having? Where and how can we listen better?

Young hand holding old hand
“People are reluctant to talk about old age and death because they are afraid of emotion, and they willingly avoid the things they feel the most emotional about, though these are the very things they most need to talk about.”  – Paul Tournier (in ‘Learn to Grow Old’)

Thoughts on a discursive constructionist approach (rhetoric all the way down)

“A systematic, data-centered approach, DC [discursive constructionism] refuses to remove the researcher from the analysis. Though the DC approach advocated here supports basing analytical claims on what can be warranted and substantiated in the data, it diverges from canonical CA [conversation analysis] by explicitly making use of extra-discursive insights, including participants’ and the researcher’s own cultural knowledge and interactional histories. This offers an eminently critical perspective and radical challenge to assumptions about social and emotional life and its significance. As a result, it counturtlesters dominant narrative-centered and thematic approaches in L2 interview-based studies by shifting the usual focus from content to construction and action. It embraces creativity and variability of self-representation, and it makes visible speakers’ agentive work and their various interactional competences. (Prior, 2016, p. 17).

Because the researcher is not exempt from this analytical scrutiny, DC is an equalizing approach par excellence. Potter’s (1996) own book is a model of reflexive practice at work. Speaking of ‘an element of self-destruction’, Potter (1996: 9) notes, ‘At the end of the book the ideal reader should be able to turn their gaze back on the book itself and decompose the techniques and tropes that it draws on so freely.’ Thus the processes and rhetoric undergirding our analyses and their representations also become objects for deconstruction (or even ‘destruction’, following Potter). To turn a phrase from the well-known ‘turtle’s back’ myth about the earth’s cosmological origins, we might say that a DC approach reveals the ways in which talk-in-interaction as well as the processes and practices of research are supported by rhetoric ‘all the way down’ (Prior, 2016, p. 51).

On Trauma

“Trauma is a word used widely these days in the media and elsewhere. The word originally was a medical term meaning a serious wound or injury. A serious wound such as a bad head injury pierces the outer ‘membrane’ that protects the physiological system beneath. An emotional trauma is of a similar order” (Music, 2001, p. 54).

images

“Traumatic events, especially if they remain unacknowledged, continue to disempower victims, and intensify the feelings of shame and humiliation that are part of the legacy of trauma and its internalization. This “internal” dimension of trauma is an important one: while the source of trauma may be external, the recurrent effects of trauma, and the impairment of the memory function—the “unfinished business” of trauma—are primarily reflections of an inner breakdown of the self and of an inner emotional conflict. The intrusive memories and the re-experiencing of trauma are the most distressing features of the aftermath of trauma. Victims and perpetrators of trauma feel helpless and at the mercy of the intrusive and fragmentary memories of trauma, unable to control these memories and completely victimize by them. Thus, healing of trauma, that is, the restoration of the self and the reclaiming of one’s sense of control of memory, of the capacity to reflect, understand, and to perceive things as they are or were, requires transformation of traumatic memory into narrative memory” (van der Merwe & Gobodo-Madikizela, 2008, vii).

trauma

“The important thing in overcoming trauma is not to have a coherent story to start with, but to create a coherent story over the course of writing or talking, a story that weaves together all the threads of one’s personal experience” (Planalp, 1999, p. 113).

 

New 2017 publication: “Managing Researcher Dilemmas in Narrative Interview Data and Analysis”

In Jim McKinley and Heath Rose (Eds.). Doing Research in Applied Linguistics: Realities, Dilemmas, and Solutions. Routledge Press.

My chapter intro:

Narrative interviewing (Riessman, 2007), the elicitation of accounts of per­sonal experience, has become a favoured investigative method in applied linguistics and neighbouring disciplines. It has enhanced our understandings of the dynamic trajectories of language learning and use, and it has inspired alternative ways of conceptualizing and critiquing both narrative and iden­tity (e.g., Bamberg, De Fina, & Schiffrin, 2007; Barkhuizen, 2013; De Fina & Georgakopoulou, 2012; Pavlenko, 2007; also Okada, this volume). The introspective attitude of autobiographical inquiry has also encouraged close scrutiny of the “black box” (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009) of social research and the various problems as well as practices surrounding knowledge pro­duction. The present chapter contributes to these goals of researcher reflex­ivity and methodological transparency. Reflecting on a sample narrative interview study, I trace some of the dilemmas I encountered in the stages of data analysis and discuss steps I took toward resolution. I conclude by considering implications for other qualitative researchers.

DRIALAbout the Volume

Doing Research in Applied Linguistics: Realities, dilemmas, and solutions (publisher’s weblink) provides insight and guidance for those undertaking research, and shows the reader how to deal with the challenges of this research involving real people in real settings. Featuring over twenty chapters by experienced and up-and-coming researchers from around the world, this book:

  • outlines the steps involved in solving the problem and completing a successful, and publishable, project;
  • provides case studies of obstacles faced at each stage of research, from preliminary planning to report writing;
  • addresses issues of validity and reliability during data collection and analysis;
  • discusses ethical issues in research dealing with vulnerable groups including children, refugees, and students;
  • includes examples from longitudinal studies, and both qualitative and quantitative research.

Doing Research in Applied Linguistics is essential reading for students studying research methods, or for those embarking on their first research project in applied linguistics or language education.