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McMaster University
Health, Aging and Society
Elena Neiterman

Chapter 7: Some Social-Psychological Explanations for Illness Stress: -stress occurs when an organism must deal with demands much greater than or much less than the usual level of activity or perceived activity -stress can be healthy and can fit us for positive and flexible adaptations to stress later on -stress can be overwhelming too, that leads to serious illness or death -process of maintaining a desirable bodily state is called homeostasis -Cannon (1932)  suggested that health is ultimately defined not by the absence of disease but rather as the ability of the human being to function satisfactorily in the particular environment in which he or she is operating  people must adapt to changes and perceptions of changes  described the typical body reaction to stress as “fright or flight” -Selye (1956)  defined stress as a state that included all the specific changes induced within the biological system of the organism  Proposed the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) as the body’s reaction to all stressful events. The syndrome has 3 stages:  An alarm reaction: body recognizes the stressor and the pituitary-adrenal cortical system responds by producing the arousal hormones necessary for either flight or fright  Resistance or adaptation: the body begins to repair the damage caused by arousal and most of the initial stress symptoms diminish or vanish  Exhaustion: body runs out of energy and faces exhaustion  Prolongation of the stress response can result in a physiological state known as the allostasis (Lantz et al. 2005):  Allostatic load, an excess of which can lead to allostasis, refers to the “wear and tear” on the body that can lead to disease  Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI): the theory that ties the mind and body together in modern biological science -Engel (1971), collected 170 reports of sudden death  Deaths usually occurred within an hour of hearing emotionally intense information, which could be either positive or negative  21% occurred on the collapse or death of a close friend  20% during a period of intense grief  9% at the threat of the loss of a close person  3% at the mourning or anniversary of the death of a close person  6% following a loss of status or self-esteem  27% when in personal danger or threat of injury  7% after the danger was over  6% at a reunion, triumph, or happy ending -human beings have the capacity to define things as stressful or not depending on our understandings of the meanings that these things have -short-term stressors arise from small inconveniences such as lost keys, traffic jams, waiting for the doctor etc., and result in temporary sense of anxiety -Medium-term stressors develop from such things as cold/dark winters, lay-off/stress from work, acute sickness etc. -long-term stressors or chronic stressors result from such incidents or events as the loss of a spouse or the loss of a job Chapter 7: Some Social-Psychological Explanations for Illness -chronic strains can accumulate over a lifetime through “stress proliferation” and lead to an earlier onset of morbidity and to mortality -Holmes and Rahe (1967) have systematized the stress value attached to a list of life events in a scale called the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS)  Used extensive interviews with 394 people of varying ages and socio-economic statuses, they developed average scale values representing the relative risks of a number of specific life events  Marriage was assigned an arbitrary value of 50; adjustment value of other items was estimated in comparison to marriage  The higher the score, in a given 12 month period, the greater is the likelihood of illness  While some of the events are considered negative or undesirable, others might find it desirable/positive  The greater the number of stressors, the greater the number of level of stressors, the more vulnerable a person is to the possibility of disease and emotional and bodily dysfunctions  High SRRS scores have also been found to be associated with psychological distress in a number of studies -criticisms of the SRRS:  Ignores differences in the meaning people place on the various events  Some of the events listed may be signs of illness or the results of illness, such as changes in eating habits, sleeping habits, personal habits etc.  Some research has found that distinguishing between the desirable and undesirable events enhances the predictive value of the scale  The ability to control events has been shown in a number of studies, to be an important factor in determining the degree of stress experienced  Whether stress affects the incidence of disease or merely behaviour during illness has been questioned  The SRRS asks about events that have occurred during a specified period of time and therefore, experiences of the years before the time period referred to in the SRRS may also have a powerful effect on the level of stress experienced -Viktor Frankl (1965)  Demonstrated that some people in the most atrocious of circumstances such as concentration camps, have been able to use their experiences in a manner that was meaningful to them, and thus these people ultimately became stronger and healthier as a result of this most extreme of stress-filled situations Social Support: -Cobb (1976), who thought of social support as information that would lead a person to believe  That he or she is cared for and loved  That he or she is esteemed and valued  That he or she belongs to a network of communication and mutual o
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