Chapter 6 health STRESS
Stress is a negative emotional experience accompanied by biochemical, physiological, cogni-
tive, and behavioural changes. These changes occur either towards altering a stressful event or
accommodating to it’s effects.
A stressor is a stressful event. Ex: noise, crowding, a bad relationship, etc.
- a focus on stressful events cannot fully explain the experience of stress.
- how a potential stressor is perceived determines whether it will be experienced as stressful.
Stress results from:
- one’s process of appraising events: harmful, threatening or challenging
- assessing potential responses
- responding to those events
1) Fight or flight: Walter Cannon; organism perceives threat -> body is rapidly aroused and
motivated via the SNS and ES.
- either attack the threat, or flee.
- fight: aggressive responses to stress
- flight: social withdrawal or withdrawal through substance abuse.
- this response is adaptive because it enables the organism to respond quickly to threat.
- but, it can be harmful because stress disrupts emotional and physiological functioning.
2) General adaptation syndrome:
- Hans Seyle; he exposed rats to stressors and observed their physiological responses. All
stressors produced essentially the same pattern - they all led to an enlarged adrenal cortex,
shrinking of the thymus and lymph glands, and ulceration of the stomach and duodenum.
- There are three phases:
- alarm: organism becomes mobilized to the threat
- resistance: organism makes efforts to cope with the stress through confrontation.
- exhaustion: organism fails to overcome the threat and depletes its physiological re-
sources in the process of trying.
- the response itself is non specific with respect to the stressor.
- Criticisms: limited roles to the physiological factors, assumption that responses to stress are
uniform because not all stressors produce the same endocrinological responses. How people
respond to stress is influenced by their personalities, perceptions and biological constitutions. Third, Seyle said that stress is an outcome, when people experience stress WHILE there is a
stressful event going on.
3) Tend and Befriend:
- Taylor; addition to fight or flight, humans respond to stress with social and nurturant behaviour.
These responses are true of women; and of huddling in rats.
- Women were always responsible for foraging and child care, thus their responses to stress
evolved so as to protect themselves and their offspring as well.
- therefore, befriending: affiliating with others and seeking social contact during stress is a spe-
cial characteristic of females and may help in self-preservation and protection of the offspring.
- oxytocin is a stress hormone, and is rapidly released in response to stressful events, and it’s
effects are especially influenced by estrogen.
- animals and humans with high levels of oxytocin are calmer and more relaxed which may have
contributed to social and nurturant behaviour.
- during stress, women turn to others more, as opposed to males turning to others. and so there-
fore, there is less known about men’s social responses to stress than women’s.
- thus, the tend and befriend theory offers a biobehavioural approach and it brings social behav-
iour into stress processes.
4) Psychological appraisal
- Lazarus; when we confront a new or a changing environment, we engage in a process of pri-
mary appraisal to determine the meaning of the event. We may perceive these events as nega-
tive, positive, etc. On what basis do we assess these events? :
- harm: damage has already been done by the event. getting fired -> low self esteem
- threat: assessment of possible future damage by this event. getting fired -> how am I
going to pay the bills -> debt
- challenge: the potential to overcome, or event profit from the event. Associated with
better coping abilities
- secondary appraisals are initiated the same time as when the primary appraisals are going
on. These are a person’s coping abilities, and resources that they have if they are sufficient for
them to overcome the harm, threat, or challenge that is posed by the event.
- harm and threat high: coping ability low -> substantial stress. BUT, if the coping ability is high,
the stress level may be very low.
- cognitive responses to stress: beliefs about the harm or the threat that the event poses, be-
liefs about its causes and controllability, involuntary responses such as distractions and not be-
ing able to concentrate and intrusive, repetitive or morbid thoughts. THEY ARE ALSO IN-
VOLVED IN THE INITIATION OF COPING ACTIVITIES.
- emotional reactions to stressful events: fear, anxiety, excitement, etc. The physiology of stress:
- two important systems:
- sympathetic adrenomedullary system (SAM)
- hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical axis (HPA)
- sympathetic activation:
- threatening events -> CC sets off a chain of reactions -> hypothalamus -> SNS
AROUSAL or fight or flight response -> stimulates the medulla of adrenal glands -> se-
cretion of catecholamines -> we feel jacked up -> increased blood pressure, increased