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Chapter 15

Psychology 1000 Chapter 15 Stress, Health, and Coping Reading

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Western University
Psychology 1000
Terry Biggs

Ch. 15 Stress, Coping, and Health Reading 4/4/2013 10:33:00 AM The Nature of Stress  Three different ways to view stress:  A stimulus  A response  An organism-environment interaction  Stressors – events that place strong demands on us  It can be a response that has cognitive, physiological, and behavioral components  Ex. “I’m feeling stressed out. I’m tensed up, I can’t concentrate because I’m really worried, and I’ve been flying off the hand all week”  Stress – a pattern of cognitive appraisals, physiological responses, and behavioral tendencies that occurs in response to perceived imbalance between situational demands and the resources needed to cope with them Stressors  Specific kinds of eliciting stimuli  Microstressors – the daily hassles and everyday annoyances (i.e., school, jobs, family relations, etc.)  Catastrophic Events – i.e., natural disasters, acts of war, concentration camp confinement  Major Negative Events – i.e., victim of a crime, sexual abuse, death, academic failure, illness  Events that occur suddenly and unpredictably can affect a person over a long period of time and have the greatest toll on physical and psychological well-being Measuring Stressful Life Events  Researchers must rely on people’s self-reports  Life Event Scales – quantifies the amount of life stress that a person has experienced over a given period of time (e.g., the last six months or past two years) The Stress Response  The starting point for the stress response is our appraisal of the situation and its implications  Four aspects of the appraisal process: 1. Appraisal of the demands of the situation (primary appraisal) 2. Appraisal of the resources to cope with it (secondary appraisal) 3. Judgments of what the consequences of the situation could be 4. Appraisal of the personal meaning – what the outcome might imply about us  Refer to page 584 for job interview example  Autonomic and somatic feedback can affect our reappraisals of how stressful a situation is and whether our resources are sufficient to cope with it Chronic Stress and the GAS  General Adaptive Syndrome (GAS) – the physiological response pattern to strong and prolonged stressors  Consists of three phases: alarm reaction, resistance, and exhaustion  The alarm reaction occurs because of the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the release of stress hormones  The sympathetic nervous system increases heart rate, dilates pupils, and slows digestion  This helps the body deal with the source of the stress  There is also an endocrine, or hormonal, stress response  During stress, the most important hormone, cortisol, is produced by the adrenal glands  Cortisol triggers an increase in blood sugars by acting on the liver  The stress response has been characterized as the “fight or flight” response  The body’s natural tendency to maintain the stable internal state of homeostasis results in the parasympathetic nervous system activity  The parasympathetic nervous system reduces arousal  If the stressor continues, the stress response continues – although the sympathetic nervous system activity is muted by the opposing parasympathetic nervous system  With continued exposure to stress, the body remains on red alert and enters the second stage, resistance  Resistance – the body’s resources continue to be mobilized so that the person can function despite the presence of the stressor  How long the stage of resistance can last depends on the severity of the stress, the individual’s health, available resources (social support), and other factors  Elevation of heart rate and respiration, suppression of digestion, suppression of the immune system, and changes in blood sugar levels cannot continue indefinitely without exhausting the body  Eventually, remaining bodily resources are no longer sufficient and the stage of resistance comes to an end  If the stressor is intense and persists of too long, the body can reach the stage of exhaustion  Exhaustion – the body’s resources are depleted  Increased vulnerability to disease  The more severe the stress, the sooner the body will reach exhaustion Stress and Psychological Well-Being  Effects of stress on psychological well-being are clearest and most dramatic among people who have experienced catastrophic life events (i.e., hurricanes, floods)  Some stressors are so traumatic that they have a strong and long-lasting psychological impact  Rape Trauma Syndrome – for months or even years after rape, victims may feel nervous and fear another attack by the rapist  The more negative life events people report on measures, the more likely they are also to report symptoms of psychological distress  “Stress causes distress”  Distressed people may be more likely to remember negative things that have happened to them  Neuroticism – people who have a heightened tendency to experience negative emotions and get themselves into stressful situations through their maladaptive behaviors  Can cause both negative life events and psychological distress  Stressful life can function as both cause an effect  Psychological distress might cause more negative events to occur in people’s lives because of their own behavior Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  PTSD – a severe anxiety disorder caused by exposure to traumatic life events – severe stress  Some individuals experience, anxiety, painful, uncontrollable reliving of the event(s) in flashbacks, dreams, and fantasies, have emotional numbing and avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and intense “survivor guilt” in instances where others were killed but the individual survived  They can show self-destructive and impulsive behavior  Traumas caused by human perpetrators, such as war, rape, assault, and torture, tend to cause more severe PTSD than do natural disasters  Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men  PTSD does not necessarily develop immediately after the trauma  It usually develops within three months or even more Stress and Illness  For someone experiencing several different stressors, the increased risk of developing a chronic health problem quickly becomes substantial  A traumatic life experience can worsen an already existing medical condition  Stress also can trigger illness by causing a breakdown in immune system functioning  Stress can also contribute to health breakdown by causing people to behave in ways that increase the risk of illness  Ex. When under stress, diabetics are less likely to regulate their diets and take their medication, resulting in an increased risk of serious medical consequences  Elevated stress hormone levels are associated not only with physical deterioration of the hippocampus (important for learning and memory), but also with memory impairment  Mild early life stress strengthens emotional, cognitive, and hormonal resistance to stressors later in life  Experiences humans have when they are young have a lasting impact on stress hormone levels and the efficiency with which a person recovers from stress  Childhood abuse interferes with the ability of the hippocampus to control the stress response and this is then associated with an increased risk of suicide Vulnerability and Protective Factors  Vulnerability Factors – factors that increase people’s susceptibility to stressful events (e.g., lack of a support network, poor coping skills, tendencies to become anxious or pessimistic)  Protective Factors – environmental or personal resources that help people cope more effectively with stressful events (i.e., social support, coping skills, personality factors – optimism) Social Support  Social isolation is a vulnerability factor  The relation between social isolation and poor health was stronger for men than for women  Social support systems protect against stress by enhancing immune system functioning – more disease resistant  People who feel that they are part of a social system experience a greater sense of identity and meaning in their lives, which results in greater psychological well-being Cognitive Protective Factors: The Importance of Beliefs  The ways we think about situations and ourselves are important protective and vulnerability factors Hardiness  The “three Cs” of hardiness are: commitment, control, and challenge  Hardy people are committed to their work, their families, and their other involvements, and they believe that what they are doing is important  Hardy people view themselves s having control over their outcomes, as opposed to feeling powerless to influence events  Hardy people appraise the demands of the situations as challenges or opportunities, rather than as threats  Demanding situations not only become less stressful, but they can actually stimulate higher levels of performance  Control is the strongest active ingredient in buffering stress Coping Self-Efficacy  Coping Self-Efficacy – the conviction that we can perform behaviors necessary to cope successfully (protective factor)  Events that are appraised as extremely demanding may generate little stress if we believe we have the skills needed to deal with them  Previous successes in similar situations increase efficacy; failures undermine it  When people experience an increase in self-efficacy while confronting a stressful situation, their immune system actually begins to function more effectively Optimism  Positive affect is linked to better health and longer life  Pessimistic people are at a greater risk for helplessness and depression when they confront stressful situations Personality Factors  Type A Personality – people who live under great pressure and are demanding of themselves and others  Rapid talking, moving, walking, and eating  Irritated at delays or failures to meet their deadlines  Exaggerated sense of time urgency  Competitiveness and ambition, aggressiveness and hostility  Type B Personality – more relaxed and more agreeable – far less sense of time urgency  The crucial component to Type A seems to be the negative emotions, especially hostility or aggressive feelings  The Type A personality is likely to alienate others, produce conflict, and reduce the amount of social support they receive  Among the Big Five Personality factors, conscientiousness seems to have the strongest links to physical health and longevity  Conscientious people were less likely to die from violent deaths in accidents or fights – and also more likely to live a better lifestyle  The effects of being carefree and careless add up during one’s life and can be harmful in the end Finding Meaning in Stressful Life Events  Finding a sense of meaning from their own process of coping with losses (e.g., by growing spiritually) had even longer-term positive effects  Religious beliefs can either decrease or increase stress – depending on the nature and type of stressor to which they are applied  Beliefs seems to help people cope more effectively with losses, illnesses, and personal setbacks  They can also increase the negative impact of other stressors such as marital problems and abuse, perhaps by inducing guilt or placing internal pressures on individuals to remain in the stressful relationship Physiological Reactivity  The fact that people differ in the pattern and intensity of their physiological responses makes people more or less vulnerable to stressors  Physiological Toughness – involves relations between two classes of hormones secreted by the adrenal glands in the face of stress  Both catecholamines (i.e., epinephrine, norepinephrine) and corticosteroids (i.e., cortisol) mobilizes the body’s fight-or-flight response in the face of stressors  Cortisol’s arousal effects last much longer and seem to be more damaging than those produced by catecholamines (unless they are secreted at high levels over a long period of time)  Cortisol reduces immune system functioning and helps create fatty deposits in the arteries that lead to heart disease, catecholamine secretion increases immune system functioning  Physiological toughness consists of: 1. A low resting level of cortisol, low levels of cortisol secretion in response to stressors, and a quick return to baseline level of cortisol after the stress is over 2. Low resting level of
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