Stress- The Body's Response to Stress

The body's response to stress

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The SAM system- Sympathomedullary Pathway

  • Fight or flight response- an immediate stressor that is not long lasting e.g. a shock or a deadline. Cannon 1914- Dates back to prehistoric times


SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM: Sends noradrenaline to the adrenal medulla

ADRENAL MEDULLA: Converts noradrenaline into adrenaline ready for fight or flight

  • The fight or flight response increases heart rate, inhibits saliva production
  • The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in when the stressor is no longer there- this inhibits the fight or flight response 
  • The problem with the SAM system is that if the stress does not go away, we get exhausted and this can lead to health problems. 
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The HPA system- The Pituitary- adrenal system

  • When the SAM system cannot cope and the stressor becomes chronic, the HPA system kicks in.

HYPOTHALAMUS: Releases CRF to the pituitary gland

PITUITARY GLAND: Sends ACTH through the blood to the adrenal cortex

ADRENAL CORTEX: Sends cortisol around the body

The hypothalamus checks if the stressor is still present and if it is the cycle continues

  • Cortisol enables the breakdown of glucose to provide energy so the person can keep fighting the stressor.
  • Can cause problems with thinking, high blood pressure and lowered immune functioning. Can lower serotonin. 
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GAS- General Adaptation Syndrome Seyle (1956)


Three stages of the General Adaptation Syndrome:

  • Alarm stage- the presence of a stressful event is registered. The body is prepared for energy expenditure and thus poised for the fight or flight response.
  • Resistance stage- The stress response is activated and so the body is seemingly coping with the stressor and so from the outside things appear to be under control.
  • Exhaustion stage- If the stressor is chronic the body becomes exhausted. Hormone reserves become depleted and the body experiences raised blood pressure, ulcers, depression and anxiety, may develop. 
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Gender Differences

  • Many psychologists believe that the way our ancestors dealt with stress has led to different stress responses in men and women.
  • In 2005, 70% of under 75's who died of CHD were men and 30% were women
  • They argue that females have a greater investment in their offspring and therefore evolution has lead females stress response to no jeopardize the safety of offspring. 
  • Shelley Taylor et al (2000) believe that this should favour the development of biological mechanisms which inhibit the fight or flight response in females when they are faced with a threat. Females would attend to their young and befriend other females as a defense mechanism.
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this is very useful can you please make it into a powerpoint, so is downloadable thankyou

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