Module 7: Lecture Content – Stress and Health
Stress and Health
In life, there are many factors that can cause stress, from details of daily routine to dangerous events. It’s not just limited to stress from negative experiences, as some things that make us happy can also cause stress. How we adapt to stress is an area of considerable interest in health psychology.
Consider stress as the possible result of the relationship between the individual and the environment. What the individual perceives as threatening, which can overwhelm his resources and endanger his or her well-being, is stress (Feldman et al., 2017). There are different types of stress. For example, physical stress is mainly caused by tiredness or fatigue. Mental stress is usually due to interpersonal relationships, frustrations, attachments, and conflicts related to culture or health. Let’s consider some important concepts related to stress and how it is studied in the field of psychology. (See table 1).
Table 1: Definitions (APA, 2020)
|Stress||The physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every body system, influencing how people feel and behave. It may be manifested by palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, shortness of breath, fidgeting, accelerated speech, augmentation of negative emotions. Stress contributes directly to psychological and physiological disorders and diseases and affects mental and physical health, reducing the quality of life.|
|Chronic stress||The physiological or psychological response to a prolonged internal or external stressful event (stressor). The stressor need not remain physically present to have its effects; recollections of it can substitute for its presence and sustain chronic stress.|
|Stressor||Any event, force, or condition results in physical or emotional stress. Stressors may be internal or external forces that require adjustment or coping strategies on the part of the affected individual.|
|Stress hormone||A chemical that is part of the body’s response to threats and other stressors. The primary stress hormone is cortisol. Others include epinephrine, norepinephrine, and corticotropin. Together they put the body into a state of alertness, accompanied by increased heart rate and respiration, dilated pupils, sweating, diminished sensitivity to pain, and redirection of blood from the gastrointestinal tract to muscles. *Long-term exposure to stress hormones, as in ongoing child abuse or living in a war zone, is one of the causes of posttraumatic stress disorder and has been implicated in the etiology of depression and cancer.|
|Fight or Flight response||A pattern of physiological changes elicited by the activity of the sympathetic nervous system in response to threatening or otherwise stressful situations. This leads to mobilization of energy for physical activity (e.g., attacking or avoiding the offending stimulus), either directly or by inhibiting physiological activity that does not contribute to energy mobilization. Specific sympathetic responses involved in the response include increased heart rate, respiratory rate, and sweat gland activity; elevated blood pressure; decreased digestive activity; pupil dilation; and routing of blood flow to skeletal muscles. In some theories, such changes are the basis of all human emotions.|
Those definitions paint a clearer picture of stress’s severe effects on a person. But at the same time, stress is considered a natural and sometimes a strong motivator (APA, 2019). This may sound like a contradiction, but the fact is a little stress can be good at times. You may feel a little stressed when interviewing for a job, which is ok. You may also feel stressed about a date or social event you have been looking forward to. The problem is when stress becomes a constant presence in our daily lives and has a negative implication. Studies have demonstrated that sudden emotional stress related to anger can trigger severe physical consequences, such as arrhythmia, heart attacks, and death (APA, 2013). If the stress lasts for a longer period, it worsens your overall health. Eventually, the individual will start exhibiting symptoms of fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and other similar difficulties. Chronic stress can cause illness for a variety of reasons. People who are constantly stressed are more prone to damaging habits such as smoking taking legal/illegal drugs, which can cause severe damage to your body. Depression, a mental disorder, is associated with chronic stress as well. Stress is also associated with anxiety, and the combination can be highly detrimental to an individual’s overall health.
What exactly do we know about the effects stress has on our bodies? Let’s consider some of the findings related to stress and its effects on the body. (See figure 1).
Figure 1: Effect of stress on the body (APA, 2018)
There is also evidence of stress having a negative effect on the gastrointestinal and nervous systems. It can also cause damage to the male and female reproductive systems.
There are ways to prevent these consequences, which is also an area of constant study in psychology. One study found that when you increase positive affect in your life, which relates to being happier and feeling more joy, your risk of heart disease decreases (Davidson et al., 2010).
Some recommended strategies for reducing stress can be seen in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Basic recommendations for reducing stress (APA, 2013)
American Psychological Association [APA]. (2020). Chronic stress. APA dictionary of psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/chronic-stress
American Psychological Association [APA]. (2020). Fight or flight response. APA dictionary of psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/fight-or-flight-response
American Psychological Association [APA]. (2020). Stress. APA dictionary of psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/stress
American Psychological Association [APA]. (2020). Stressor. APA dictionary of psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/stressor
American Psychological Association [APA]. (2020). Stress hormone. APA dictionary of psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/stress-hormone
American Psychological Association [APA]. (2019, August 10). Why stress and anxiety aren’t always bad [Press release]. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2019/08/stress-anxiety
American Psychological Association [APA]. (2018, November 1). Stress effects the body. http://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
American Psychological Association [APA]. (2013, January 1). How stress affects your health. http://www.apa.org/topics/stress/health
Davidson, K.W., Mostofsky, E. & Whang, W. (2010). “Don’t worry, by happy: Positive affect and reduced 10-year incident coronary heart disease: The Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey.” European Heart Journal, 31, 1065–1070.
Feldman, R. S., Villagómez Ruíz, A., Villaseñor Ponce, M., García Pérez, J. M. L., Ortiz Salinas, M. E., Nuñez Herrejón, J. L., Palos Báez, E., & Olivares Bari, S. O. (2017). Psicología con aplicaciones de América Latina. McGraw-Hill Education.