PSY 101: Introduction to Psychology
February 14, 2011
Health Psychology: Stress and Well Being
In everyone’s life a little stress must fall. We all have to deal with daily hassles and various personal stressors that effect our emotional and physical health. The manner in which we deal with these stressors can alleviate or reduce stress or it can make things worse. Mind and body issues have bemused philosophers and psychologists since the ancient Greeks; however recently a new subfield in psychology has immerged to investigate the subject. Health psychology focuses on psychological factors and how they relate to wellness and illness. This would include prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of various medical ailments. More specifically, psychoneuroimmunology is a growing field dedicated to examining how psychological factors, the immune system, and the brain work together.
For most people life is filled with small hassles that recur on a regular basis. Busy schedules at home and at work coupled with a traffic filled commute before your day even gets going can cause stress. These stressors are known as background stressors and are the most easily dealt with. They are the daily hassles that irritate us, do not require much coping, and are soon forgotten. Other background stressors can be classified as long term, chronic problems. Dissatisfaction with work, a relationship that is not fulfilling, or a culmination of minor stressors can manifest into health problems such as psychological symptoms, backaches, sore throat, or even the flu [ (Feldman, 2009) ].
The opposite of the daily hassle is uplifts. These are those positive little things that make us feel good. Uplifts are usually temporary, but when we experience more uplifts than stressors we experience less psychological symptoms. An example of an uplift might be something like getting a compliment or completing a task.
Stressors such as the terrorist attack in 2001 or Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are classified as cataclysmic events. Cataclysmic events are experienced by many people at once and usually do not have potent, lingering effects. Social support is abundant because so many people share the same first-hand account of the event and can understand each other’s feelings. Another major category of stressors is personal stressors. This would be brought on by things that are more personal such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. These types of stressors yield an immediate response that tapers over time allowing us to better cope.
How we initially react to a stressor shows that there is a direct link between our mental and physical functions. Walter Cannon’s research in biological psychology, early in the 20th century, led him to describe the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system to perceived threats to physical or emotional security (Feldman, 2009). The body reacts with an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, increase in perspiration, hearing and vision become more acute, and the hands and feet become cold due to blood being directed to large muscles in preparation for fight or fleeing. Hans Selye took this a little further and popularized the concept of stress in the 1950’s. His theory, which he called general adaption syndrome, suggests all individuals have the same or similar response to threatening situations. He believed that not only did the sympathetic nervous system respond, but also the adrenal cortex and the pituitary gland. The theory is that enough epinephrine, or adrenaline, is produced to focus the body on immediate self preservation and shut down other functions such as digestion, reproduction, tissue repair, and the immune system. A constant threat or stressor would leave these functions inhibited and cause the individual to be susceptible to illness (Richmond, 1997). This inhibition of...