Stress

Stress

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  • Created by: chaz
  • Created on: 22-05-09 18:03

Stress

Stress is a type of alarm reaction, involving heightened mental and bodily states - it is both a psychological and a physiological response to the environment. Your brain produces a stress reaction when you are in a situation that is physically or mentally demanding.

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Body's response to stress

All the stress hormones circulating in the bloodstream and the neural effects of the sympathetic nervous system combine to create the 'fight-or-flight' response. The hypothalamus plays a key role in the control of the endocrine system. There is a complex feedback system between the hypothalamus, sympathetic nervous system, the pituitary gland and the secretions of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are found on top of your kidneys - they secrete epinephrine (otherwise known as adrenaline) and other 'stress hormones'. The activity of your adrenal glands is crucial to your mood, energy levels and ability to cope with stress. In extreme cases of stress your adrenal glands may become enlarged, the spleen and thymus glands may shrink and deep bleeding stomach ulcers may occur. (Not very nice!)Selye pioneered stress research in the 1950s - he came up with the idea of the general adaptation syndrome. This is a collection of symptoms shown by the body in response to any stress - physical illness such as infection or injury, or stress due to psychological factors. The key thing is that it is 'general' - a non-specific response to any illness.

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Stress and illness

Research has shown strong links between prolonged stress and many disorders, mentally and physically. The immune system is easily affected by stress. Jacobs and Charles (1980) found that cancer patients - for example, child cancer patients, often suffered high levels of stress before the diagnosis of their illness. Tache et al (1979) found the incidence of cancer to be higher in those with a poor 'social support network' such as the widowed, divorced or separated.

It is difficult to rule out that undetected, developing cancer might cause stress, rather than stress due to external factors leading to cancer.

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Life events

Life events and stress

In 1967, Holmes and Rahe came up with the idea of a 'social readjustment rating scale' (or SRRS for short). This was an attempt to quantify life change - any change in your life that might cause stress.

Scores are calculated for a person's experiences over the past year. Studies using the scale have found that high life change scores (300+) are related to relatively high frequency of illness, accidents and athletic injuries.

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Approaches

A biological approach might involve drugs or biofeedback, for example.

A psychological approach involves psychotherapy to change cognitive and emotional responses to situations.

It has been found that women tend to use more emotional strategies - changing the way they think about a situation - to try to cope with stress, while men tend to focus more on changing the situation they see as a problem.

Coping with stress can be difficult. It takes time and effort to find new strategies and it can be very hard to overcome the effects of past experience - but a wide range of successful therapies for the treatment of stress is now open to people.

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Biological Approach

Coping with stress - biological approaches

These methods of dealing with stress focus on ways to minimize and control the body's alarm reactions by direct intervention in the body's chemistry.

These methods are appropriate for people in acute stress states or those who need rapid treatment because they may be vulnerable to heart attack, stroke or blood pressure problems.

Drug treatments may include the use of anti-anxiety drugs, such as benzodiazepines (BZs). Benzodiazepines are also known as 'tranquillizers'; examples are Valium, Librium and Mogadon. These drugs can reduce general arousal and anxiety levels and also help to treat insomnia. There is a danger that people may develop dependence on these drugs.

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Psychology Approach

The simplest psychological approaches to reducing the symptoms of stress are relaxation and meditation techniques.

Progressive muscle relaxation can reduce physical tension and meditation can reduce anxieties. The effects of these techniques tend to be pretty short-lived though, so to be effective they need to become a regular part of a person's lifestyle.

Other psychological approaches - cognitive-behavioural approaches - focus on training a person in new ways of thinking and behaving.

For example: Kobasa's hardy personality theory has led to the development of training in 'hardiness'. This is about gaining a sense of control over a situation.

In this type of training, the person has to identify stressful situations then analyse them for specific sources of stress - they then work out ways of dealing with those stressors in different ways, seeing them as challenges rather than problems.

It might be that the challenges to an individual in a situation are too great and so they are encouraged to take control by only accepting challenges they are able to cope with. They may be encouraged to train in new skills so that they can meet more difficult challenges.

In the 1980s, Meichenbaum came up with the idea of 'stress inoculation training' (SIT).

The difference with this approach is that it is meant to be a preventative measure to reduce levels of stress in the first place.

In this type of training, people draw up a detailed analysis of all the sources of stress in their lives and think about their previous coping strategies. In the next stage, people are given 'skills training' and asked to practice these. Skills training might involve examination techniques, interpersonal skills or time-management.

People are encouraged to apply the new skills they have learned to real situations and follow-up sessions check progress.

SIT has been very popular with large businesses and corporations with large numbers of employees in stressful jobs.

The approaches outlined above aim to reduce stress by reducing the gap between the demands placed on a person and their perception of their ability to cope.

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Kobassa's

In this type of training, people draw up a detailed analysis of all the sources of stress in their lives and think about their previous coping strategies. In the next stage, people are given 'skills training' and asked to practice these. Skills training might involve examination techniques, interpersonal skills or time-management.

People are encouraged to apply the new skills they have learned to real situations and follow-up sessions check progress.

SIT has been very popular with large businesses and corporations with large numbers of employees in stressful jobs.

The approaches outlined above aim to reduce stress by reducing the gap between the demands placed on a person and their perception of their ability to cope.

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Cognitive Approach

In this type of therapy, the therapist helps the person to be objective about the sources of stress and to develop new ways of dealing with stressful situations.

Psychological approaches have also been applied in 'anger management' courses since anger has been found to increase vulnerability to heart disease. These courses challenge a person's views of themselves and others.

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