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Haus, Mirjam (2016): Stress and stress management in European crisis managers: a multi-method approach. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences



The EU-funded research project PsyCris aims at improving psychosocial support in crisis management with the development of stress management trainings for the understudied group of crisis managers (i.e., executives and supervisors of organizations involved in disaster response) being one of its objectives. As research concerning specific stressors, burden, and stress management in this occupational subgroup is scarce, the two studies of this dissertation examined perceived stress in (European) crisis managers, stressors related to their psychosocial work environment, and applied stress management/coping strategies. Study 1, applying a qualitative approach, set an additional focus on the requirements regarding stress management in the context of disaster operations, which were assessed by means of semi-structured interviews with 31 crisis managers. Within study 2, stress, individual factors, and mental and somatic health symptoms were examined by means of a set of well-established questionnaires, in order to identify potential risk factors for mental health in crisis managers. During the interviews of study 1, which were analyzed with the qualitative text analysis method GABEK, the crisis managers reported experiencing event-specific, potentially traumatic stressors (e.g., confrontation with victims), but also organizational and occupational stressors related to their leadership positions (e.g., making far-reaching decisions under time pressure or dealing with press and media). While possibilities for control were perceived as limited during disaster operations, organizational and peer support played an important role to mitigate mission-related stress. Furthermore, functional and adaptable stress management/ coping strategies were reported as crucial for being able to effectively manage a crisis. Within study 2, the sample of 86 European crisis managers showed less mental and somatic health symptoms than a control group comprising 91 managers from the public sector. Compared to the general population, they showed average levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, but elevated levels of somatic and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Dysfunctional coping appeared to be the most influential risk factor for mental and somatic health in crisis managers, while stress reactivity was shown to moderate the relationship between perceived stress and mental health. The results of the two studies point to a special need to mitigate the high levels of stressful demands experienced by crisis managers and to prevent the use of dysfunctional coping strategies. From the results, recommendations were derived which are taken into account within the development of the stress management training for crisis managers, realized within the PsyCris project.