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Lecture 6

Lecture 6 - Stress and Health.doc

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McGill University
PSYC 100
Kevin Hamilton

Stress and Health: Behavioural Medicine • Stress is more prevalent in today’s society than ever before in our past • Stress is blamed for effects including: mental illness, poor health, physical illness, painful emotions, and poor relationships • Stress profoundly affects the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems (study of psychoneuroimmunology) • Situations that one person finds stressful (for example public speaking) others might find invigorating • Some types of situations everyone finds stressful (war, earthquakes, fires) • Definition: Stress occurs when one is faced with events perceived as threatening to their physical or psychological well-being • Events that produce stress are called stressors  Physical  Psychological  Acute  Chronic  Mild, moderate, or severe in intensity • The human body is adapted to cope with acute stress, but it does not cope well with chronic stress! 1 • Stressors impact the body by means of a general sympathetic response (the nervous system is affected by excessive sympathetic activation) • Stress compromises the immune system, which protects us from infection by means of specialized organs located throughout the body • Stress also affects the endocrine system, which consists of a number of specialized glands throughout the body that regulate hormones • Stress is complex: what is stressful for some may be invigorating for others  Some types of work are inherently stressful  Some types of situations are seen by everyone as stressful (e.g. war, earthquakes, fires, etc.)  Some forms of stress can be healthy for us (e.g. aerobic activities) • Reactions to stressors are called stress responses • Bad stress = distress • Good stress = eustress Categories of Stressful Events: • Traumatic events: situations outside the range of usual human experience (e.g. house fires, earthquake, war, car accidents, robbery, rape) • Uncontrollable and unpredictable events: noise, crowds, hassles, traffic, car repairs, weather, etc. 2 • Internal (personal) events that challenge the limits of our own capabilities and self-concepts (e.g. moral and ethical issues) Traumatic events: • First stage: survivors usually stunned, dazed, appear unaware of the scope of the incident • Second stage: passive, unable to initiate behaviour (don’t know what they should do) but will allow themselves to be directed • Third stage (e.g. post-traumatic stress): anxiety, apprehension, difficulty concentrating, can last for weeks Factors influencing the perception of stress: (1) Control: • Greater control leads to less stress • Perception of control is most important (you don’t even have to exercise the control) • Primary control (change reality) is typically in cultures that emphasize individualism • Secondary control (accept reality) is typically in collectivist cultures • In a recent Scientific American article, “Sick of Poverty”, the largest predictor of poor health is identified as the disparity between the rich and the poor in a society 3  The perception of not having control is at the root of this problem at it leads to massive health differences between the two groups  The largest disparity between rich and poor in the world is found in the United States Sample experiment: Group 1: sees murder photos but can’t stop the sequence of slides Group 2: sees the same murder photos in the same sequence And for the same duration but can stop the slides at any time Results: Group 1 (which has no control over the presentation rate) indicates far more stress on a stress measurement questionnaire (2) Predictability: • Greater predictability leads to less stress • If you can anticipate stress, you can better prepare for it • Wives with husbands lost in action in Vietnam reported much more stress than husbands confirmed dead (3) Personality: • Certain personality styles are more conducive to stress than others 4 • Independent vs. dependent = internal vs. external locus of control (which refers to an individual’s perception about the underlying main causes of events in his/her life) • Impulsive/aggressive vs. moral standards • Type A personality (competitive, compulsive, aggressive) experiences more stress than Type B personality (relaxed) • Pessimistic attribution styles are conducive to illness  Optimists make specific plans to deal with stress and implement them, refrain from other activities until stress is reduced, and obtain advice from others.  Pessimists ignore the problem or source of stress, give up on reaching goals that seem blocked by stress, and eng
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