Chapter 3: Stress and Coping Page 1 of 15
Chapter 3- Stress and Coping
Issues of Definition
- The definition of stress and coping is unique to individuals’ life experiences.
Stress= non-specific mental or somatic result of any demand upon the body
Coping = Strategies used to deal with stress caused by the ever- changing demands of the
- Brannon and Feist (1999) related stress to love. Everyone empathizes one another based on
their personal experiences.
- Stress Literacy = the degree to which an individual (or community) understands the effects of
- Smith (1993), feels the popular culture has volumes of conflicting information on stress,
and stress literacy “is useful if the definition of stress is first stated”.
- Aldwin’s definition of stress;
- “the quality of experience, produced through a person- environment transaction, and
through overarousal or underarousal, results in psychological or physiological distress.”
- (she thinks it is difficult to define stress as well, but feels a standard definition is still
- Hans Seyle, created the “biological” term for stress.
- “the nonspecific result of any demand upon the body, be the effect mental or somatic”.
- stress is equal to distress (a negative experience)
- eustress is a positive stressful experience
- the function of stress is best when used to produce an optimal level of arousal.
- Overall of Hans belief= too little stress is harmful, and negative stress (distress) is from
being over OR under stimulated.
(Focus on Canadian Research 3-1 “A Great Canadian”)
- Hans studied rats as they were exposed to noxious stimuli.
- Alarm reaction, the initial defense.
- If the rat survived the “alarm reaction”, they entered the stage of resistance, the
adaptive phase/ rebound effect.
- Stage of Exhaustion, if the demands on the rats became severe or lengthy.
Eustress = a state of physical and psychological well- being that is associated with increased
motivation and the acceptance of challenge. (related to euphoria)
(Most widely accepted descriptions of stress)
- Lazarus (1999), defined stress as the individual’s cognitive appraisal will determine the level of
stress he or she will experience.
- Lazarus and Folkman defined coping as “constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts
to manage specific external and/ or internal demands that believed to exceed the resources of
Homeostasis= the body’s physiologic response to achieve balance while stress challenges it
(aka. The demands of the environment) Chapter 3: Stress and Coping Page 2 of 15
- Walter Cannon developed fight- or- flight concept, referring to the “complex autonomic
reaction to emergencies”, where the sympathetic nervous system interacts with
hormones (from the adrenal glands) to adapt to potential attacks
- stated that continuous stimulation of the fight or flight is a potential for physical
- Taylor et al. stated that fight-or-flight may be common in males and females, but added the
fact that females respond with tend (nurturing activities) and befriend (establishing social
networks) behaviours as well.
- believed to increase survival of the self and offspring (tending and befriending the baby
when experiencing stress)
- Walter Cannon said this is the “biobehavioural response” to the fight-or-flight
- Rice’s perspectives on stress:
- Stressors are the environmental demands causing us stress.
- Stress is subjective to each individuals’ internal interpretation.
- Strain is the long term physiological and psychological consequences of exposure to
stress. (Physiological cardiovascular, Psychological depression)
- Overall; the prolonged challenges of stress will decrease our physiological capacity to
cope. Chapter 3: Stress and Coping Page 3 of 15
The Physiology of Stress
(Text definitions, in my own words, refer to text for word to word defintions.)
Nervous System= central nervous system + peripheral nervous system.
- 1 (in 2) of the major components towards the physical responses in stress
Central Nervous System= brain + spinal cord
Peripheral Nervous System= Somatic Nervous System + Autonomic Nervous System
- The autonomic nervous system= sympathetic + parasympathetic nervous systems
- glandular response to stress
- (compared to the Nervous System) The effects take longer to kick in, but also lasts longer
Two Systems Involved in the physiology of stress:
- begins when an individual perceives a (real or imagined) threat
1) Sympatheticadrenomedullary (SAM) system
-2 components: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and adrenal medulla
- the initial the fight-or-flight response to stress
- the SNS tells the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline and noradrenaline
- The hypothalamus’s response to adrenaline and noradrenaline:
- increased heart rate
- increased blood pressure (body tries to increase blood supply to the brain and
- dilated brochial tubes (to increase O2)
- dilated pupils (increase vision)
2) Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis
- 3 components: hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal cortex
- the delayed response to stress
- tries to reduce the initial impact of stress by keeping the body in a balanced state
- the hypothalamus activates hormones to stimulate the pituitary gland, and the pituitary
gland tells the adrenal gland to secrete corticosteroids – cortisol is the most important
- repeated HPA system activation= dysregulation of stress response (with physical and
( Sorry I was running out of time and had to come back to this section!!!!)
The Nervous System and Stress
More specifically, the stress response begins in the hypothalamus, which is located in
the central core of the brain. It initiates the stress response in both the nervous system
and the endocrine system. The hypothalamus helps maintain homeostasis in the body
through its many regulatory functions. As well, it controls activities such as eating, drink-
ing, and sexual behaviour, all of which are greatly affected by stress. The activities of the
hypothalamus increase arousal in the sympathetic nervous system in the form of the pre- Chapter 3: Stress and Coping Page 4 of 15
viously described fight-or-flight response (Cannon, 1939). The heart beats faster and
blood pressure increases at the same time as peripheral blood vessels, in areas such as the
hands and feet, constrict to ensure sufficient blood supplies for the brain and skeletal mus-
cles. Stored fats and glucose flow into the bloodstream to provide fuel for necessary
actions. Respiration rate increases and the bronchial tubes dilate to help increase oxygen
flow for the metabolism of fuel. Pupils dilate to allow more light to enter the eyes and
improve vision. The efficiency of the process is demonstrated when non-essential activi-
ties, such as digestion, decrease.
As a part of this response, the hypothalamus causes the adrenal medulla, located
above the kidneys, to secrete catecholamines, which contain the hormones adrenaline and
noradrenaline (also known as epinephrine and norepinephrine). Catecholamines affect
the response of the sympathetic nervous system, and the level of these two hormones
increases with the severity of the stress. The actions of adrenaline and noradrenaline are
different, however. Adrenaline is fast-acting and increases with mental stress; noradrenaline
is more prolonged and increases with physical activity.
Adrenaline has a powerful impact on heart function and blood pressure. Presumably
it is this experience that finds expression in the phrase “adrenaline rush.” It is interesting
that this phrase is usually viewed in positive terms as something that people seek. We
even go so far as to ascribe an addictive quality to it by describing people who purposefully
seek the physiological “high” that adrenaline brings as “adrenaline junkies.” These sensation-
seekers may engage in extreme activities to purposefully initiate the fight-or-flight
response and the flow of adrenaline.
Also involved in the stress response is the limbic system of the brain, which adds an
element of emotion to the response that goes beyond the identified dimensions of fight-or-
flight. The feelings triggered by the limbic system include aggression, anger, fear, anxiety,
sexual arousal, and pain. In addition, the reticular formation is a complex system running
through the middle of the brain stem that performs several functions during the stress
response. It serves as a communication network that filters messages between the brain
and the body, which is most important when we consider the impact that the brain’s per-
ception of psychosocial stressors can have on physical systems in the body. The reticular
formation receives input from all the sensory systems and influences which sensory infor-
mation is processed or blocked.
Such selectivity results in increased efficiency in the system, which can become
apparent to us in quite dramatic ways. For example, in high-arousal situations we may find
ourselves remarkably able to selectively attend to a specific task while ignoring irrelevant
distractions. A basketball player, given the opportunity to win a game by sinking a last-
second foul shot, needs to focus his attention on the front rim of the hoop. He does not
want to be distracted by the noise of the crowd and the movement of those behind the
basket, who will often go to considerable extremes in an attempt to distract him. The
reticular formation helps us attend to what matters and ignore what doesn’t matter. It also
serves an important role in modulating the brain’s levels of arousal or alertness in prepa-
ration for action.
In contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic component of
the autonomic system is activated by the hypothalamus to re-establish homeostasis in the
system and to promote the reconstructive process following a stressful experience. It is
associated with a relaxed or hypometabolic state in which the heart rate slows and blood
pressure drops. Muscle tension decreases and respiration is slow and easy.
The Endocrine System and Stress
The endocrine system responds to stress more slowly than does the nervous system,
but the effects associated with it can persist for weeks. The pituitary gland, which is located
in the brain close to the hypothalamus, is described as the “master” gland because of its Chapter 3: Stress and Coping Page 5 of 15
controlling effect on other glands. Most of the hormones secreted by the pituitary gland
have an indirect impact on stress. The most important of these is adrenocorticotropic hor-
mone (ACTH), which acts on the adrenal glands and is eventually involved in the release
of up to 30 stress hormones (Smith, 1993).
The adrenal cortex secretes glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids. One of the glu-
cocorticoids is cortisol, an important stress hormone that provides energy to the system
by converting stored protein and fats into glucose. If stress is prolonged, glucocorticoids
can adversely affect the body’s ability to resist disease and recover from injury. Cortisol
levels are often used as an index of stress. Aldosterone is an important mineralocorticoid
that regulates minerals in the body during stress by increasing blood pressure.
The thyroid gland functions in the stress response by producing thyroxine, which
increases the release of fatty-acid fuels that are metabolized in the stress process. Elevated
thyroxine levels increase blood pressure and respiration rate. Mental processes are also
affected, in that individuals feel more anxious or agitated.
The pancreas, which lies close to the stomach, secretes insulin and glucagon in
response to blood sugar levels. Insulin decreases blood sugar by storing it, whereas
glucagon stimulates increases in blood sugar, which is an energy source during times of
The indication is that the autonomic nervous system responds rapidly in response to
stress and the endocrine system responds more slowly, although its impact usually contin-
ues much longer. Acting together, these two systems provide a physiological response to
stress that can be both adaptive and maladaptive.
The Physiology of Stress: Seyle’s General Adaptation Syndrome
- Seyle’s study on lab animals showed exposure to chronic stress caused physical distress and
- the GAS describes a 3 stage response to stress
Stage 1: Alarm Reaction- creates the defences against stress
Stage 2: Resistance- the acute stress becomes chronic, defences are extended
Stage 3: Exhaustion- the endpoint, where the body can no longer resist stress, and
- Once stress is chronic the body resources become depleted or resistant
- Diseases of Adaptation (the body’s stress response system)
- Results from chronic neurological and hormonal changes
- includes: cardiovascular issues, hypertension, peptic ulcers, bronchial asthma, and
decreased immunity to infection
- McEwan and Stellar, added to the GAS concept, describing the allostatic load, “when the body
pays for having to deal with too much psychosocial or physical stress or the hormone response
system tires out”
- allostasis is the promotion of stability in spite of change via coping and adaptation, and
the consequence of abusing allostasis is the allostastic load
- Criticisms of Seyle’s GAS theory
- his focus on the physical response to stress was too narrow
- his focus being based on animal behaviours did not acknowledge the unique higher
level cognitive abilities of humans
The Physiology of Stress: Stress- Diathesis Model
- Diathesis: biological or psychological predisposition to an illness
- Stressor: an environmental precipitating factor
- describes the well- known term of “nature vs. nurture” Chapter 3: Stress and Coping Page 6 of 15
- interactions between heredity and environment is explored, whereby heredity may predispose
certain individuals to experience physical effects in response to the environment (i.e. stressful
- so it can either work towards or against the individuals (i.e. allowing people to “adapt
and evolve” or “ selected against”)
- However, if individuals with the predisposing genes never end up interacting with the
stressful event in the first place, than they lucked out because they do not end up
having to experience the predisposing physical effects. Chapter 3: Stress and Coping Page 7 of 15
Cognitive Transactional Models
- The well accepted models, by psychologists.
- Emphasizes on: the relationship between the people, the environment, and the cognitive
appraisal people make towards the environment (i.e. situation)
- Lazarus and Folkman’s definition of stress comes from the perspective of cognitive transaction
Lazarus and Folkman, The Coping Process: The involvement of 3 Appraisals
1) Primary Appraisal (3
- Benign- Positive
- Stressful (3 types)
2) Secondary Appraisal
1) Primary Appraisal- the initial evaluation of the situation
- Irrelevant: The event is irrelevant to the individual, no response needed, no stress
- Benign- Positive: Outcomes of the stressor is positively viewed, and increased well-
being is perceived. The only existing stress is acknowledging the fact that the increased
well-being (i.e. happiness) will end.
Harm/Loss: Involves a significant physical (presence of illness resulting in the
loss of certain physical capabilities) or psychological (losing a job) loss.
Threat: Perceiving the threat of harm/loss. Usually if harm/ loss has already been
experienced, these individuals try to prepare by perceiving the threat.
Challenge: involve events perceived to be stressful, but the focus is on positive
excitement and anticipation for growth from the situation. i.e. People with
challenge appraisal perceive they are in control of the situation
***Threat and Challenge can occur in the same situation.
(i.e. A confident speaker making a presentation. The speaker prepares for the
perceived threat (responses to the stress are a little anxiety and fear), but takes
on the challenge with positive emotions and anticipation.)
2) Secondary Appraisal- when people evaluate their ability to cope with a situation
- (kings: I know I can get deal with this.)
- people start considering their options
- Lazarus and Folkman (1984) views this as a “complex evaluative process, that takes
into account the coping options available, likelihood of the coping option accomplishing
the goal, and the likelihood that one can apply the strategy.”
- (kings) aka: L&F views the 2 ary appraisal as a complex evaluation of 3
1) What can I do? (coping options available)
2) Will one of my options actually get me to where I want? (likelihood of
the coping option accomplishing the goal) Chapter 3: Stress and Coping Page 8 of 15
3) Am I able to do this? (the likelihood that one can apply the strategy )
- Lazarus and Folkman (1985), said their views are different from Bandura (1985)
- Bandura said “efficacy and outcome judgements are different, because
sometimes even if people believe a certain course of action will lead to an
outcome, it does not always mean they will execute the course of action.”
- (kings) i.e. “ I know if I read each chapter twice, I will get at least
an 85% on the exam, but I would rather go to work for 2 more
days and read each chapter once.”
*** Each person’s emotional reactions to an event is determined by the interaction between their
secondary appraisal (of the coping options) and primary appraisal (of the situation).
i.e. If the consequence of the event is important, but the individual does not believe they
can cope, then the result is “a state of helplessness”
3) Reappraisal- existing appraisals are changed/ modified on the basis of new information. An
earlier appraisal results in a new appraisal.
- the direction of the outcome may vary, after the change/modification
i.e. irrelevant appraisal becomes a harm/loss
-(Lazarus and Folkman, 1984) Defensive Reappraisal= reinterpreting past events more
positively, or current treat/loss as less t