Course: PSYC*1000 (DE)
Professor: Harvey Marmurek
Schedule: Summer, 2012
Textbook: Psychology – Tenth Edition in Modules authored by David G. Myers
Textbook ISBN: 9781464102615
Module 38: Stress and Health
Stress: Some Basic Concepts
What events provoke stress responses, and how do we respond and adapt to stress?
85% recall experiencing stress during the last three months; strikes without warning. Ben Carpenter
Health psychology provides psychology’s contribution to behavioural medicine.
Stressful event = appraisal (threat or challenge) = response (stress or aroused/focused)
Those who are stressed but not depressed report being energized and satisfied with their lives –
opposite of the lethargy of those depressed but not stressed
The dangerous truck ride was a stressor
Physical and emotional responses were a stress reaction
Process relating to the threat is stress
• Stressors – Things that Push Our Buttons
o War, earthquake, famine; trouble concentrating and sleeping, suicidal
• Significant Life Changes
o Marriage, divorce, children, grief, employment change; highest stress levels
among young adults; health
• Daily Hassles
o Rush hour traffic, housemates, long lines, family frustrations; 76% to money, 70%
to work, 65% to economy
Prolonged stress takes a toll on our cardiovascular system.
The Stress Response System
Medical interest in stress dates back to Hippocrates; 1920s Walter Cannon confirmed that
stress response is part of a unified mind-body system. All this prepares the body for the
wonderfully adaptive response that Cannon called fight or flight. On orders from the cerebral cortex
(via the hypothalamus and pituitary gland), the outer part of the adrenal glands secretes
glucocorticoid stress hormones such as cortisol. The two systems work at different speeds –
Sapolsky. In a fight or flight scenario, epinephrine is the one handing out guns; glucocorticoids are
the ones drawing up blueprints for new aircraft carriers needed for the war effort.
Hans Selye studied animals reactions to stressors, proposed that the body’s adaptive
response to stress is so general that, like a general burglar alarm, it sounds, no matter what
intrudes. General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) in three phases. Phase 1: alarm reaction
(sympathetic nervous system is activated, heart rate zooms, blood diverted to muscles, faintness of
shock) putting you into fight mode; Phase 2: resistance (temp, blood pressure and respiration
remain high, adrenal glands pump hormones into bloodstream) fully engaged and ready to meet
the challenge; Phase 3: exhaustion (more vulnerable to illness, collapse, death).
Although the human body copes well with temporary stress, prolonged stress can damage
it, some neural circuits degenerate. Shortening of telomeres – when they get too short, they die.
Some are paralysed by fear, conserve energy. Others seek support and tend-and-befriend
(most women). Some withdraw, turn to alcohol, become aggressive. Oxytocin – stress-moderating hormone associated with pair bonding in animals and released by cuddling, massage, and breast
feeding in humans. Gender differences reflected in brain scans. Women’s brains more active in
areas important for face processing and empathy and men’s become less active.
Stress response system: When alerted to a negative, uncontrollable event, our sympathetic
nervous system arouses us. Heart rate and respiration increase. Blood is diverted from digestion to
the skeletal muscles. The body releases sugar and fat. All this prepares the body for the flight-or-
Stress and Illness
How does stress make us more vulnerable to disease?
Psychosomatic described psychologically caused physical symptoms. Instead stress-related
psychophysiological illnesses, such as hypertension and some headaches.