Stress, Coping, and Health
Stress is a major pathway through which psychosocial factors affect physiology and the aging
Stress as a Physiological State
Cannon was the first physiologist to systematically describe the physiological effects
He said fright can cause death
Selye expanded on Cannon’s conceptions in two ways.
Selye said there are three stages in reaction to stress. The first stage is similar to
Cannon’s fight/flight reaction. The second stage is adaptation where there is a return to
physiological homeostasis and the third stage is exhaustion where the organism may
fall ill or die if the stress continues.
Modern conceptions of the stress response differ in several important ways. Both
Cannon and Seyle argued that there are general responses to stress, but it is now widely
recognized that there are individual differences in stress reactions.
There is an individual response in heart rate, respiratory rate, and galvanic skin
Positive Physiological Changes
Researches have been so focused on the negative consequences of stress that possible
positive outcomes tend to be overlooked.
Those with stress matured more quickly than their non-stressed peers.
They have better nerve myelinzation and locomotion, and reach puberty at younger
Physiological Stress and Aging
In humans, the findings on age-related changes in the stress response are quite variable
and somewhat contradictory. Trauma
Traumatic stress is defined by the DSM-IV-TR as direct personal experience of an
event that involves serious threat to the life or physical integrity of self or significant
others, or learning about such an experience of a family member or close associate.
Traumatic stress generally evokes feelings of extreme terror and helplessness, followed
by emotional numbness
Traumatic events can be loosely grouped into three general categories.
o Natural or technological disasters including earthquakes, tornadoes,
volcanoes, floods, and nuclear accidents.
o The second type of trauma category includes wars and related disaster such
o the third category is individual traumas which is usually life-threatening
events that happen to particular individuals, such as crimes or serious accidents
The effects of trauma can last a lifetime.
Stressful Life Events
There is some overlap between life events and individual trauma.
Stressful life events are major disruptions in individuals’ lives due to specific
occurrences such as marriage, divorce, widowhood, and job loss.
The impact of stressful life events tends to diminish after 6 to 18 months.
Chronic Role Strain
Sociologists developed the construct of chronic role strain, which refers to enduring
problems linked to social roles such as marriage, work, parenting, finances, and
Life events have adverse effects on physical and mental health b/c they cause
disruptions in ongoing relations with spouses, children, jobs, and/or finances.
A combination of problems in several roles may contribute to difficulties in individual
adaptation, more so than single events
Daily stressors or “hassles” are in many ways similar to chronic role strain.
Day-to-day problems may have more generalized effects on health status than
relatively rare life events. Stress as a Transaction between the Person and the Environment
Stress cannot be said to be a characteristic of the environment or a response of the
individual but rather arises from a combination of environmental demands and