Chapter 15 - Stress, Health and Coping

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11 Apr 2012
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Chapter 15:
Stress, Coping and Health
The Nature of Stress
Psychologists have viewed stress in three different ways: as a stimulus, a response, and an organism-
environment interaction
Some define stress in terms of eliciting stimuli, or events that place strong demands on us these situations are
termed stressors
Stress has also been viewed as a response that has cognitive, physiological and behavioural components
A third way of viewing stress is as a person-situation interaction stress is a pattern of cognitive appraisals,
physiological responses, and behavioural tendencies that occurs in response to a perceived imbalance between
situational demands and the resources needed to cope with them
Stressors
Specific kinds of eliciting stimuli
Place demands on us that endanger well-being, requiring us to adapt in some manner
Can range in severity from microstressors (daily hassles and everyday annoyances we encounter at school, work,
or in family relations) to very severe stressors
Catastrophic events often occur unexpectedly and typically affect large numbers of people natural disasters,
acts of war, concentration camp confinement, etc.
Major negative events also require major adaptation victims of crime or sexual abuse, death or loss of a loved
one, academic or career failure, major illness, etc.
To study linkages between life events and well-being, researchers use life event scales to quantify the amount
of life stress that a person has experienced over a given period of time
The Stress Response
Starting point for the stress response is our appraisal of the situation and its implications there are four
aspects of the appraisal process:
- Primary appraisal appraisal of the demands of the situation
- Secondary appraisal appraisal of the resources available to cope with it
- Judgments of what the consequences of the situation could be
- Appraisal of the personal meaning, that is, what the outcome might imply about us
Chronic Stress and the Gas
General adaptation syndrome (GAS) Hans Selye’s description of the body’s responses to a stressor, which
includes successive phases of alarm reaction, resistance and exhaustion
In response to a physical or psychological stressor, animals exhibit a rapid increase in physiological arousal this
alarm reaction occurs because of the sudden activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the release of
stress hormones by the endocrine system
There is also an endocrine, or hormonal, stress response the adrenal glands produce a number of different
hormones, but during a period of stress, the most important is cortisol, which triggers an increase in blood
sugars, by acting on the liver
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During the stage of resistance, the body’s resources continue to be mobilized so that the person can function
despite the presence of the stressor can last for a relatively long time, but the body’s resources are being
depleted
If the stressor is intense and persists for too long, the body may reach the stage of exhaustion, in which the
body’s resources are dangerously depleted – increased vulnerability to disease, collapse and even death
Stress and Health
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) represents what can happen to victims of extreme stress and trauma it
is a severe anxiety disorder that is caused by exposure to traumatic life events
Four major groups of symptoms occur with PTSD:
- Severe anxiety, physiological arousal and distress
- Painful, uncontrollable reliving of the event(s) in flashbacks, dreams, and fantasies
- Emotional numbing and avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma
- Intense “survival guilt” in instances where others were killed but the individual survived
Traumas caused by human perpetrators, such as war, rape assault and torture, tend to cause more severe PTSD
than do natural disasters
Stress and Illness
Stress can combine with other physical and psychological factors to influence the entire spectrum of physical
illness from a simple cold to even death
Vulnerability and Protective Factors
Vulnerability factors increase people’s susceptibility to stressful events – lack of support network, poor coping
skills, tendencies to become anxious or pessimistic, and other factors that reduce stress resistance
Protective factors are environmental or personal resources that help people cope more effectively with stressful
events social support, coping skills, and personality factors such as optimism
Social Support
Social support is one of the strongest protective factors against stress
Social networks reduce exposure to risk factors such as loneliness and having the backing of others can increase
feelings of control over stressors
Cognitive Protective Factors: The Importance of Beliefs
Hardiness the stress-resistant personality pattern that involves the factors of commitment, control and
challenge
Coping self-efficacy the conviction that we can perform the behaviours necessary to cope successfully this is
an important protective factor
Optimism positive affect is linked to better health and longer life
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