Stress as a Bodily Response

Overview of  stress as a bodily response.


-bodily responses to stress
-immune system
-cardiovasular and psychiatric disorders
-Life changes
-Daily hassles
-workplace stress
-Personality factors and stress


Key Terms

A subjective experience of a lack of fit between a person and their enviroment.
ie; percieved demands of a situation are greater that the persons percieved demands to cope

An event that triggers the stress response as it throws the body out of balance and forces it to respond.

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Sympathetic Adrenal Medulla Axis (SAM) - Acute (short term) stress

1. Hypothalamus activates the sypathetic branch of the Autonomic nervous system (ANS)
2. This sends neuron-messages to the inner core of the Adrenal Gland, the Adrenal Medulla
3. This results in the secretion of Adrenaline and Nor-Adernaline

Hypothalamic Pituritary Adrenal Axis (HPA) - Chronic (long term) stress

1. Hypothalamus activates the Pituritary Gland
2. This causes the release of ACTH (stress hormone)
3. This stimulates the outer core of the Adrenal Gland, the Adrenal Cortex
4. This allows the production of Glucocortoids (Glucose and Cortisol)

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Result of Glucose and Cortisol

  • Glucocorticoids are released into the liver to release the stored glucose
  • This causes the immune system to be supressed (Squashed down, reduced)
  • Other effects:
    • Hightened and maintainable enerygy supply
    • Lower pain sensitivity
    • Lower Immune response
    • High blood pressure
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Autonomic Nervous System

2 Branches of the ANS

  • Parasympathetic Nervous System (PAS) - Maintains and conserves body energy and functions
    • Slows Digestion
    • Inhibits saliva production
    • Increases heart rate
    • Stimulates glucose production
    • Inhibits urination
    • Dialates pupils
    • Dialates Bronchi
  • Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) - Prepares body for Fight or Flight
    • Increases Digestion
    • Increases saliva production
    • Decreases heart rate
    • Stimulates bile production
    • Decreases urination
    • Constricts dialation           -  Constricts Bronchi
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- Situation is APPRIAISED and percieced as STRESSFUL
- Hypothalamus is alerted
- If Hypothalamus decides stress is acute, it activates the SAM
- If Hypothalamus decides stress is chronic, it activates the HPA

Primary Appraisal
-Concerns whether something of relevance to the individuals well being occurs

Secondary Appraisal
-Conserns coping abilities

Stress may have Evolved as it is Adaptive:
- Daily stressors that early human beings encountered meant that they evolved a coordinated pattern of bodily changes that would snap into action when faced with imminent danger
-It is therefore adaptive because it meant the difference between life and death

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Stress on the Heart

Cardiovasular disorder-any disorder of the heart and circulatory system

Overtime stress may affect the cardiovasular system:

  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • Coronary heart disease (Narrorwing of the arteries)
  • Stroke (Blood supply to the brain)

Why does it cause heart problems?

  • SNS constricts the blood vessles which leads to an increase of blood pressure and heart rate
  • The increase in heart rate wears away the lining of the blood vessles
  • The increase in glucose levels (produced by the liver) leads to clumps blocking up the blood vessles
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Studies on stress-related illness

Williams (2000)
-Aim: see if anger is linked to heart disease
-Procedure: 13000 people completed 10 question anger scale
-Results: 6 years after test, people who scored high on anger were 2.5 times more likely to have a heart attack than those who scored low. People who scored 'moderately' were 35% more likely
-Conclusion: Anger may lead to cardiovasular disorders

Russek (1962)
-Researched into Cardiovasular disorders and work related stress (chronic stress)
-Looked at heart disease in medical professions
-One group of Dr.s were designated as high stress (GPs, Anaesthetists)
-Others were classed as low stress (Pathologists, Dermatologists)
-Found that Heart disease was greatest amoung GPS (11.9% of the sample)
-Lowest in dermatologists (3.2% of the sample)
-Supporting views that stress is linked to heart disease

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Studies cont..

Sheps et al (2002)
-Researched into effects of stress on existing condions
-Conducted a Landmark study (First study large enough to show that stress can be fatal for people with exisiting coronary artery disease)
-Procedure: Focused research on volunteers with ischemia (reduced blood flow to heart)
173 men and women gives a variety of psychological tests (public speaking test)
-Results: Blood pressure typically sored dramatically. Half of them, sections of the muscle of the left  ventrical began to beat eratically
44% of those with erratic heartbeats died with 3-4 years. 18% had not
-Conclusion: Shows that psychological stess can dramatically increase risk of death in people with poor coronary artery circulation.

Orth-Gomér et al (2000)
-Also researched into effects of stress on existing conditions

-Studied married and co-habiting women
-Showed that amoung them martial conflict was associated with 2.9 fold increase in recurrent events(heart attack)

-Work conflict did not have the same effect

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  • Other factors may have larger impact on heart disease(ie; genetic disposition)
  • Studies into heart disease are often based on self-reports and participants may not remember stressful events correctly
  • Stress may lead to unhealthy behaviour such as smoking, drinking, which may lead to health problems , not the stress itself.
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Stress and Psychiatric Disorders

-Mental disorder characteristed by feelings of sadness, worthlessness and listlesness
-Chronic stress found to be linked with depression
-Brown a Harris (1978): Women who had chronic stress (ie; unemployment, more than 3 children) were more likely to develop depression.
We cannot generalise this as the study is only done with women.
We cannot draw cause and effect from this as it is only linked to it

-People with high stress jobs are also more prone to clinical depression (Melchior et al 2007)

Evaluation - Problems Include:
-Problems with memory. People who recall stressful events from the past may not remember correctly
-Did the stressful event cause the disorder is is it a concequence of the disorder
-Effects on stress on depression may be small accounting for less than 10% of the varience (Rabkin 1993)

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PTSD and Stress

PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- caused by an out-of-the-ordinary experience where people feel helpless (EG; War, ****, Abuse, Poverty)

Why do some poeple get PTSD but not others?

Diarthesis-Stress model
-In order for a person to develop a psychiatric disorder, they must first have a biological vunerability to do so

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Life Changes

Life Change
- An even in life requiring a major change (or transition) in some aspect of life
- Sometimes termed Critical Life Changes as they have a massive impact (EG; Death of a spouse)

Holmes and Rahe (1967)
- Developed the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) as a way to measure life changes
- 400Ps scored the life events in terms of the readjustment needed (EG; Marriage=50)
- Scores for individual life events were totalled and averaged to produce a Life Change Unit (LCU) for each event

-Individual Differences-successful for one may not be for another
-Cannot predict causal relationship, only correlational analysis
-Life events may not affect health because they are too rare. Daily Hassles may be more important to health
-Not all of the events ofthe SRRS may affect health; what is more is how 'undesired, unscheduled and uncontrolled' changed are

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Daily Hassles and Uplifts

Daily Hassles-Minor events that arise throughout the day that cause stress

Study - Bouteyre et al (2007)
Aim: Investigate relationships between Daily Hassles and mental health of students during the transition between school and Uni

Procedure: First year psychology students completed the Hassles and Uplifts Scales (HSUS) and Becks Depression Inventory to measure depression
Results: Found a positive correlation between students suffering from depression(41% of total) and scores on the Daily Hassles
Conclusion: Transition from school to Uni has frequent Daily Hassles which are a factor for developing depression

Daily Uplifts-Small positive experiences that counteracts stress

Study - Gervais
Aim: Investigate how daily hassles and uplifts affect job performance for nurses
Procedure: Nurses were asked to keep diaries for a month recording all Daily Hassles and Uplifts
Results: Hassles increased job strain, however uplifts increased job performance
Conclusion: Hassles may increase job strain whereas Uplifts may counteract hassles and increase job performance

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Road Rage and Evaluation

Gulian et al (1990)

-Found that Participants who reported higher levels of stress at work also repored higher levels of stress when driving

Evaluation of Daily Hassles

-Daily Hassles accumulate over the course of the day and therefore provide a more significant source of stress than life changes
-Server Life Changes may make participants more suseptable to daily hassles


-Participants may not correctly remember hassle the have experienced
-Use of self-report questionnaires; Ps may lie; also social desirability bias
-Research is correlational so we cannot draw causal conclusions

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Stress in the Workplace

Workload and control
Marmot et al (1997) Investigated into job strain model of workplace stress
-Proposes that workplace creates stress and illness in 2 ways
1.High work load creates higher job demand
2.Low job control
Procedure: 7372 civil servants given questionnaires which asked about the workload, job control and amount of social support. Ps also checked for cardiovasular disease and reassessed 5 years later.
Results: Higher grade civil servants had fewest cardiovascular problems than low graders
Conclusion: High graders reported more control and social support than low graders. Found no link between work load and stress-related illness

Role conflict
-Occurs when experiences at work interfer with family life and vice versa which is associated with high grade absenteeism, lower work performance and poorer health
-Pomaki et al (2007) studied 226 hospital workers who found role conflict was linked with emotional exhaustion, depression and somatic complaints (complaints with no medical reason)

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Reducing Workplace Stress

Aerobic Fitness

Ritvanen (2007)
-Found that high levels of Aerobic fitness in 26 teachers resulted in low levels of heart rate, muscel tension and percieved stress.
-Suggested that, in teachers, aerobic stress may reduce the negative effects of workplace stress

Individual Differences

Schaubroek (2001)
-Found that Individual differences in immune system functioning, as some people had higher functioning immune system  in low control situations and/or viewed negative work outcome as being their fault, increased the effects of stress

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Personality Factors

Freidman and Rosenman (1959)
-proposed that there were three different personality types and each would react to stressful situations in different ways:

1. Type A: Hostile, competitive, concerned with the acquisition of material goods and have an exaggerated sense of time urgency. They believed that there individuals would be more stressed and more likely to suffer for CHD.

2. Type B: More relaxed, less ambitious, less impatient and focus more on the quality of life. They do not suffer from stress as much as type A's do.

3. Type C: Hardworking, conventional, sociable but tend to avoid conflict rather than deal with it and suppress rather than express their emotion. They also experience feelings of helplessness when faced with stressful situations. They suffer from more stress than type B's but not as much as type A's.

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Type A

Jepson & Forrest (2006)

-investigated factors affecting stress in teachers.

-They found a positive relationship between Type A behaviour and stress.
-This suggests that elements of our personality e.g. being hostile, aggressive and competitive (TAB) can be a factor affecting how much stress we experience

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Type A and B

Rosenman et al (1976)

Procedure: Studied 3454 middle-aged men on the west coast of the US.
-They were categorized as either Type A or Type B by structured interview.
-As participants answered questions, the trained interviewer noted down behavioural signs of Type A behaviour such as rapid finger tapping, restlessness and the pace of talking.
-Answers to the questions and the general behaviour are put together to provide an overall assessment of Type A and B.

Results: Participants were followed up for 8.5 years.
-During that time, there were 257 heart attacks of which 69% were in the Type A group, suggesting a significant effect of Type A personality and stress.

Conclusion: Suggests that high Type A behaviour individuals were vulnerable to heart diease.

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Kobasa (1979/1982)

-Produced a questionnaire which measured Hardiness - a personality defined by certain set of personality characteristics.
-Found that managers of large companies who were assessed as Hardy were less likely to suffer stress related illness

Evaluation - Weaknesses

-Largely correlational so we cannot be sure that Hardiness is the only thing reducing negative effects of stress so we cannot imply cause and effect
-Questionnaires. Participants may give unnatural resonses due to social pressures and demand characteristics meaning that we do not have an accurate impression of the participant

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