Item Details

Stress management: Corpus-based insights into vernacular interpretations of stress

Issue: Vol 10 No. 1 (2013)

Journal: Communication & Medicine

Subject Areas: Healthcare Communication Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/cam.v10i1.81


Examination of the term stress in naturally occurring vernacular prose provides evidence of three separate senses being conflated. A corpus analysis of 818 instances of stress from non-academic texts in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the Corpus of American Discourses on Health (CADOH) shows a negative prosody for stress, which is portrayed variously as a source outside the body, a physical symptom within the body and an emotional state. The data show that contemporary speakers intermingle the three senses, making more difficult a discussion between doctors and patients of ways to ‘reduce stress’, when stress might be interpreted as a stressor, a symptom, or state of anxiety. This conflation of senses reinforces the impression that stress is pervasive and increasing. In addition, a semantic shift is also refining a new sense for stress, as post-traumatic stress develops as a specific subtype of emotional stress whose use has increased in circulation in the past 20 years.

Author: Laurel Smith Stvan

View Full Text

References :

Adolphs, S., Brown, B., Carter, R., Crawford, P. and Sahota, O. (2004) Applying corpus linguistics in a health care context. Journal of Applied Linguistics 1 (1): 9–28.
Anthony, L. (2012) AntConc (3.3.5m). Tokyo: Waseda University [].
Antonovsky, A. (1979) Health, Stress, and Coping. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Antonovsky, A. (1987) Unraveling The Mystery of Health: How People Manage Stress and Stay Well. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Avshalom, C., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W., Harrington, H., McClay, J., Mill, J., Martin, J., Braithwaite, A. and Poulton, R. (2003) Influence of life stress on depression: Moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science 301 (5631): 386–389.
Baker, P. (2006) Using Corpora in Discourse Analysis. London: Continuum.
Butterfield, P. S. (1988) The stress of residency: A review of the literature. Archives of Internal Medicine 148: 1428–1435.
Connor, U., Anton, M., Goering, E., Lauten, K., Roach, P., Balunda, S. and Hayat, A. (2012) Listening to patients’ voices: Linguistic indicators related to diabetes self-management. Communication & Medicine 9 (1): 1–12.
Crawford, P. and Brown, B. (2010) Health communication: Corpus linguistics, data-driven learning and education for health professionals. Taiwan International ESP Journal 2 (1): 1–26.
Davies, M. (2008–) The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA): 400+ Million Words, 1990–present [].
Frisch, A., Camerini, L., Diviani, N. and Schulz, P. J. (2011) Defining and measuring health literacy: How can we profit from other literacy domains? Health Promotion International 27 (1): 117–126.
Hunston, S. (2002) Corpora in Applied Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hunter, A. (2011) How can I harness positive stress? []
Jolibois, S., Mouzé-Amady, M., Chouaniére, D., Grandjean, F., Nauer, E. and Ducloy, J. (2000) WebStress: A web interface to explore a multidatabase bibliographic corpus on occupational stress. Work & Stress: An International Journal of Work, Health & Organisations 14 (4): 283–296.
Kjellmer, G. (1982) Some problems relating to the study of collocations in the Brown Corpus. In S. Johannson (ed.) Computer Corpora in English Language Research, 25–33. Bergen: Norwegian Centre for the Humanities.
Louw, B. (2000) Contextual prosody theory: Bringing semantic prosodies to life. In C. Heffer and H. Sauntson (eds) Words in Context: A Tribute to John Sinclair on his Retirement, CD-ROM. Birmingham: University of Birmingham. Reprinted in online journal Texto (2008) [].
Meyerson, D. (1994) Interpretations of stress in institutions: The cultural production of ambiguity and burnout. Administrative Science Quarterly 39 (4): 628–653.
Millar, N. and Budgell, B. S. (2008) The language of public health – a corpus-based analysis. Journal of Public Health 16 (5): 369–374.
Mishler, E. G. (1984) The Discourse of Medicine: Dialectics of Medical Interviews. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Mulhall, A. (1996) Cultural discourse and the myth of stress in nursing and medicine. International Journal of Nursing Studies 33 (5): 455–468.
Radcliffe, C. and Lester, H. (2003) Perceived stress during undergraduate medical training: A qualitative study. Medical Education 37 (1): 32–38.
Ream, E. and Richardson, A. (1996) Fatigue: A concept analysis. International Journal of Nursing Studies 3 (5): 519–529.
Selye, H. (1956) The Stress of Life. London: McGraw-Hill.
Shapiro, S. L., Shapiro, D. E. and Schwartz, G. E. R. (2000) Stress management in medical education: A review of the literature. Academic Medicine 75 (7): 748–759.
Sinclair, J. (1987) Collocations: A progress report. In R. Steele and T. Threadgold (eds) Language Topics: Essays in Honour of Michael Halliday, 319–332. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Stvan, L. S. (2007) Lexical conflation and edible iconicity: Two sources of ambiguity in American vernacular health terminology. Communication & Medicine 4 (2): 189–199.
Stvan, L. S. (2008) Health literacy: A single meaning or three senses conflated? The Language of Health Care: Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Language and Health Care, 1–13. Alicante: IULMA.
Swick, K. and Hanley, P. (1980) Stress and the class­room teacher. Washington, DC: National Education Association.