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Lecture 11

PSYB10H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 11: Allostatic Load, Psychological Stress, Cortisol

Course Code
Elizabeth Page- Gould

of 4
Lecture 11: Stress & Health
o the response to a demanding situation
o Stressors can be Psychological or Physiological
Psychological stress: degree of which people have to change and readjust their
lives in response to an external event
both good and bad things can cause significant stress (marriage,
graduation, death in the family)
Physiological stress: host of physiological responses in the body caused by
physical or psychological stressors
A number of ways the body responds to maintain homeostasis; so
when the body comes out of its normal routine in order to maintain
normal functioning, it has to actually respond in numerous ways; these
responses are referred to as physiological stress
o Allostasis: body’s ability to adapt to constantly changing environments to maintain
Tight allostatic system: one the moves from high to low levels of arousal flexibly
and fluidly depending on demandsall for the purpose of adapting to the
current environment an making you live healthfully
Allostatic load: a chronically elevated state of arousal which damages the body
and makes it less able to flexibly adapt to the environment
Occurs when you don’t have time to recover in b/w the stressors
Where the system maintains a high level of physiological stress for a
long period of timebody is les able to flexibly adapt to new stressors
in the environment
Result of chronic stressors
o heart disease, diabetes, suppressed immunity, hypertension
Effects of Stress
o Stress and Performance
When motivated to perform well, the way your body responds to the stressor
can either IMPROVE or INHIBIT your performance
Improving performance: Challenge (good)
Inhibiting performance: Threat (bad)
(See charts)
Extreme stress & memory
o In response to extreme stressors, body releases catabolic hormone cortisol
cortisol reduces working memory functioning
Cortisol & Cognitive Performance
o Cortisol
Decreases hippocampal mass in rats
Restricts blood flow in the hippocampus
Stress and immunity
o Psychological stress decrease immune functioning, making you more susceptible to
Stress and long-term health
o Revisiting allostatic load…
o Chronic stress predicts:
Type ll diabetes
Weakened immune system
Physiological thriving
o But sometimes…
Stress: thriving (psychological and physical)
People who have stress but respond with this thriving (positive way), are
actually stronger, healthier and more able to deal with future stressors than
people who haven’t had any stress in their life at all
o 2 aspects of “Positive” stress
Acute stressors (instead of chronic): stressed in the moment
Complete relaxation in between stressors
But, people who do have chronic stressors can still be classified under the
physiological thriving umbrella; as soon as they let go and relax fully in b/w,
then the chronic stressors become acute stressors and body becomes stronger
Physiological toughening
o Fast and strong mobilization of bodily stress responses during a stressor coupled with
rapid recovery after the stressor is the healthiest response
o Physiological toughening in animals
Animals exposed to chronic stressors showed allostatic load
Animals exposed to intermittent stressors (where they could recover in b/w)
showed toughening
Increased immune response and suppression of cortisol (improved
o Physiological toughening in humans
Performance of Swedish students in class directly predicted by:
Strong hormonal response to an exam
o Walk into exam room with whole stress system activated but as
soon as the exam is over, a rapid return to baseline
Rapid return to baseline post-exam
o Physiological thriving
Compared to no stress or chronic stress, intermitted stressors lead to
More effective coping with subsequent stressors (ex: your next exam,
you can handle it)
Healthier immune system
Longer cell life
o Psychological thriving
Compared to no stress or chronic stress, intermitted stressors lead to
Responding positively to past stressors leads to perception of benefiting
from stressors
Viewing stressors as a challenge improves responses to subsequent
o Take-home messages
The ability to recover from stressors can turn potentially damaging events into
empowering ones
Appraisals of resources vs. demands affect your physiological ability to perform
o If you feel threatened …
Boost your resources: Practice makes perfect!
Re-appraise the situational demands
Know that if you can go in with confidence, your body will back you up!
o Challenge responses are positive responses to stressors => Physical Thriving & Resilience
to Future Stressors
Reducing stress
o Exercise
Exercise reliably improves mood and reduces stress
Regularity: >3x per week
Duration: > 20 minutes per session
Intensity: >moderate intensity (break a sweat)
o Meditation
A class of techniques designed to influence an individual’s perception of
consciousness through the regulating of attention