stress response The physiological changes associated with stress. stress The collective physiological and emotional responses to any stimulus that disturbs an individual’s homeostasis. autonomic nervous system The branch of the peripheral nervous system that, largely without conscious thought, controls basic body processes; consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. parasympathetic division A division of the autonomic system that moderates the excitatory effect of the sympathetic division, slowing metabolism and restoring energy supplies. sympathetic division A division of the autonomic nervous system that reacts to danger or other challenges by almost instantly accelerating body processes. norepinephrine A neurotransmitter released by the sympathetic nervous system onto target tissues to increase their function in the face of increased activity; when released in the brain, it causes arousal (increased attention, awareness, and alertness); also called noradrenaline. endocrine system The system of glands, tissues, and cells that secrete hormones into the bloodstream to influence metabolism and other body processes. hormone A chemical messenger produced in the body and transported by the bloodstream to target cells or organs for specific regulation of their activities. hypothalamus A part of the brain that activates, controls, and integrates the autonomic mechanisms, endocrine activities, and many body functions. pituitary gland The “master gland,” closely linked with the hypothalamus, that controls other endocrine glands and secretes hormones that regulate growth, maturation, and reproduction. adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) A hormone, formed in the pituitary gland, that stimulates the outer layer of the adrenal gland to secrete its hormones. adrenal glands Two glands, one lying atop each kidney, whose outer layer (cortex) produces steroid hormones such as cortisol and whose inner core (medulla) produces the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. cortisol A steroid hormone secreted by the cortex (outer layer) of the adrenal gland; also called hydrocortisone. epinephrine A hormone secreted by the medulla (inner core) of the adrenal gland that affects the functioning of organs involved in responding to a stressor; also called adrenaline. endorphins Brain secretions that have pain-inhibiting effects. fight-or-flight reaction A defense reaction that prepares an individual for conflict or escape by triggering hormonal, cardiovascular, metabolic, and other changes. homeostasis A state of stability and consistency in an individual’s physiological functioning. somatic nervous system The branch of the peripheral nervous system that governs motor functions and sensory information; largely under our conscious control. personality The sum of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional tendencies. general adaptation syndrome (GAS) A pattern of stress responses consisting of three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. eustress Stress resulting from a pleasant stressor.
distress Stress resulting from an unpleasant stressor.
psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) The study of the interactions among the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system. atherosclerosis The buildup of hard yellow plaques of fatty material in the lining of arteries that have become damaged from advancing age or high blood pressure; a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. burnout A state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. relaxation response A physiological state characterized by a feeling of warmth and quiet mental alertness. visualization A technique for promoting relaxation or improving performance that involves creating or re-creating vivid mental pictures of a place or an experience; also called imagery. meditation A technique for quieting the mind by focusing on a particular word, object (such as a candle flame), or process (such as breathing).
This chapter defines stress and the stress response and describes ways to cope with stress to minimize its negative health effects and improve wellness.
I.What is stress?
A.Situations that trigger physical and emotional reactions are termed stressors, and the physiological reactions are termed the stress response. B.Stress is the general physical and emotional state that accompanies the stress response. C.Physical responses to stressors are controlled by the nervous system and the endocrine system. 1.The autonomic nervous system, the part of the nervous system not under conscious supervision, controls the stress response. The sympathetic branch mobilizes the body for action, and the parasympathetic branch calms it down; the two constantly provide checks and balances on each other. 2.The endocrine system helps control body systems by releasing hormones and other chemical messengers into the bloodstream. 3.The fight-or-flight reaction is the result of a predictable set of chemical reactions in a stressful situation. a.The hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary to send adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the bloodstream. When ACTH reaches the adrenal glands, it stimulates them to release cortisol and other stress hormones into the bloodstream. b.The adrenal glands secrete epinephrine (adrenaline); sympathetic nerves release norepinephrine (noradrenaline). At this point, the body experiences increased respiratory capability, increased pulse rate, perspiration, and endorphin release. These physiological changes increase reflexes and strength. The reaction is an evolutionary survival mechanism that is often inappropriate for the types of stressors faced in the modern world. 4.When a stressful situation ends, the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system strives to return the body to its normal state, homeostasis. D.Emotional and behavioral responses to stressors vary, unlike the physical fight-or-flight reaction. 1.Cognitive appraisal or perception of a potential stressor affect how a particular stressor is viewed. 2.Emotional responses, such as anxiety, depression, and fear, are determined in part by inborn personality and temperament but also can be regulated with coping techniques. 3.Behavioral responses are conscious actions that are controlled by the somatic nervous system. Effective behavioral responses promote wellness and include expressing emotion, learning new skills, exercising, and meditating. Ineffective responses can impair wellness and include overeating and using tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. 4.Personality, the sum of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional tendencies, affects how a person perceives and reacts to stressors. a.Researchers began separating people into two basic personality types: Types A and B. b.Type A individuals tended to me more controlling, schedule driven, competitive, and even hostile. c.Type B individuals were less hurried, more contemplative, and more tolerant of others. d. Although earlier research showed that Type A individuals were more likely to have heart disease, later studies show that most Type A’s are quite healthy and possibly more successful at surviving heart disease than Type B individuals of the same age and stage of disease. e.The only aspects of Type A personality that remain associated with a greater risk of heart disease are anger, cynicism, and hostility. f.A Type C personality may be characterized by difficulty expressing emotions and feelings of hopelessness and despair. g.People with a hardy or resilient personality can cope more positively with stress and typically have an internal locus of control. (1)Resiliency refers to personality traits associated with social and academic success in at-risk populations such as children from low-income families and people with mental and physical disabilities. (a)There are three basic types of resiliency: nonreactive, homeostatic, and positive growth resiliency. (b)Resiliency is also associated with emotional intelligence and violence prevention. (2)The term “positive psychology” is based on the idea that if young people are taught resiliency, hope, and optimism, they will be less susceptible to depression and lead more productive lives. h.Cultural backgrounds, gender roles, and past experiences also contribute to how a person perceives and reacts to stress. E.The more intense the emotional response to stress, the stronger the physical response. A person with intense emotional responses and ineffective or counterproductive behavioral responses may seek professional help to learn to cope with stressors.
II.Stress and disease
A.Evidence suggests that stress, in combination with other factors, can increase vulnerability to various illnesses and ailments. B.Hans Selye’s theory of stress and disease is termed the general adaptation syndrome (GAS). The three stages of GAS can be triggered by a pleasant stressor, eustress, or by an unpleasant stressor, distress. 1.The alarm stage is the fight-or-flight reaction. This stage makes the body vulnerable by mobilizing it to cope with a crisis. 2.The resistance stage occurs as a person develops a new level of homeostasis to cope with the added stress. 3.The exhaustion stage as described by Selye results in the depletion of resources that leave the body vulnerable to disease. The stress response itself now is believed to be the cause of disease over time. C.Researchers have termed the long-term wear and tear of the stress response the allostatic load. A high allostatic load is linked to a greater risk of disease. D.Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) studies the interactions among the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Hormones and other chemical messengers released during the stress response may inhibit or strengthen the immune system. E.Many health problems have links to stress.
1.Blood pressure rises during the stress response, and chronic high blood pressure leads to atherosclerosis, a major component in cardiovascular disease. Emotional responses that include hostility, anger, and mistrust seem to be especially harmful. a.Stress has also been associated with inflammation throughout the body. b.Researchers now think that inflammation is a key component of the damage to blood vessels that leads to heart attacks. 2.Health problems linked to impaired immune functioning include colds, infections, asthma, allergies, cancer, and flare-ups of chronic diseases. 3.Other health concerns with demonstrated links to stress are digestive problems, headaches and migraines, insomnia and fatigue, injuries, endocrine effects, complications in pregnancy, the timing and experience of menopause, and type 2 diabetes.
III.Common sources of stress
A.Any major life change, whether positive or negative, can be a source of stress. Personality, emotional, and behavioral factors all are important moderating influences on the health effects of life changes. B.Each of life’s daily hassles may provoke a moderate stress response that cumulatively may have a significant effect. C.College is the site of major life changes and daily hassles, including academic stressors, interpersonal stressors, time-related pressures, and financial concerns. D.Nontraditional students face unique stressors, including family responsibilities, time pressures, social and extracurricular activities, and commuting. E.Financial, time-related, and interpersonal stressors all can contribute to job-related stress. Severe or chronic stress can cause burnout. Absenteeism, illness, disturbed relationships with family and friends, mood and sleep disturbances, and reduced work productivity all are examples of the effects of job stress. F.Social aspects of a person’s life can be both helpful and also a source of stress. Prejudice and discrimination are forms of stress created by the community and society in which a person lives. New technologies, although helpful in bringing instantaneous information, can impinge on personal space, waste time, and cause stress.
IV.Techniques for managing stress
A.Social support systems may be one tool people can use to buffer themselves against the damaging effects of stress. People who have family and friends to help them through times of stress stay healthier and recover faster than those who do not. Consider volunteering to help build your social support system and enhance your spiritual wellness. B.Regular exercise can reduce various effects of stress and even stimulate the birth of new brain cells. C.A healthy diet provides energy stores for use in stressful situations; eating wisely also improves feelings of self-control and self-esteem. Limiting caffeine is important to stress management. D.Lack of sleep can be both a cause and an effect of excess stress. It can affect physical and mental functioning. E.Efficient time management may help to lower stress levels. Common factors that negatively affect time management for college students are perfectionism, overcommitment, and procrastination. Some suggestions for avoiding procrastination and managing time better include the following. 1.Setting priorities. Focus on essential and important tasks. 2.Scheduling tasks for times of peak efficiency.
3.Setting realistic goals and committing to achieving them by writing them down. 4.Budgeting enough time to achieve goals by making a reasonable estimate and then adding another 10% to 20% as a buffer. 5.Breaking up long-term goals into short-term ones.
6.Visualizing the achievement of goals; mentally rehearsing performance of tasks. 7.Keeping track of uncompleted tasks to analyze reasons for procrastinating. 8.Tackling the least pleasurable tasks first.
9.Consolidating tasks when possible.
10.Identifying quick transitional tasks.
11.Delegating responsibility—asking for help as appropriate and necessary. 12.Saying “no” when necessary without feeling guilty.
13.Taking breaks and allowing for real free time to enjoy other activities. 14.Jumping into a task instead of waiting for the optimal moment. F.Changing the way you think about stress also can improve adaptations to it. Guidelines include the following. 1.Thinking and acting in a constructive way about things that can be controlled. 2.Taking control; feeling that the environment is out of control creates stress. 3.Problem solving to regain control and identify solutions. 4.Strive for greater spirituality to provide an ethical path to personal fulfillment that includes connectedness with self, others, and a higher power or larger reality. 5.Confide in yourself through writing in a diary.
6.Keeping self-expectations reasonable. No one can please everyone, and to expect to do so is to be set up for failure and frustration. 7.Maintaining a positive attitude.
8.Cultivating a sense of humor; laughter induces both physiological and psychological relaxation. 9.Weeding out trivia in order to keep the mind open for the important things. 10.Living in the present; cluttering the mind with past experiences, especially the negative ones, drains energy and productivity from today. 11.Going with the flow; being flexible and forgiving, of self and others, allows a greater enjoyment of today. G.Many relaxation techniques trigger the relaxation response—a physiological state that is the opposite of the fight-or-flight reaction. It may be helpful to choose one and practice it until it becomes comfortable. Some work better than others for different people, so it may take experimentation to decide which is best for each person. 1.Progressive relaxation, or deep muscle relaxation, involves tensing and completely relaxing each part of the body. Generally, each muscle group should be tensed while inhaling and relaxed while slowly exhaling. The procedure should be repeated at least once for each group. 2.In visualization, or the use of imagery, a person visualizes a perfectly relaxed state. The body will respond by relaxing accordingly. Imagery also can be used to rehearse an upcoming task that is causing anxiety. The visualization should involve all five senses. 3.Meditation is the experience of tuning out the world in order to concentrate on calmly observing or being attentive to the other forces in one’s environment. Mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to physical sensations, perceptions, thoughts, and imagery. 4.Deep breathing slows and quiets the breathing pattern. A major goal is to change chest breathing, which is associated with the stress response, to diaphragmatic breathing, which slows and deepens the breathing through expansion of the diaphragm and lower abdomen. 5.Hatha yoga emphasizes physical balance and breathing control through a system of physical postures. It can induce the relaxation response as well as develop body awareness, flexibility, and muscular strength and endurance. It also sometimes serves as a prelude to meditation. 6.T’ai chi ch’uan is a system of self-defense consisting of a series of slow, fluid, elegant movements that promote relaxation and concentration, development of body awareness, balance, muscular strength, and flexibility. 7.Listening to enjoyable music is a method of inducing relaxation that also affects pulse, blood pressure, and electrical activity of muscles. It also has been shown to help reduce depression and anxiety, improve pain management, reduce levels of cortisol, and change patterns of electrical activity in the brain.
V.Counterproductive coping strategies
A.Tobacco products are highly addictive and contain nicotine, a chemical that increases the actions of neurotransmitters. B.Use of alcohol and other drugs to deal with stress places a person at risk for all the short-term and long-term problems associated with drug use. 1.Caffeine raises cortisol levels and blood pressure, disrupts sleep, and can make a person feel more stressed. 2.Marijuana use can elicit panic attacks with repeated use. Physiological effects clearly show that it does not cause relaxation; in fact, some neurochemicals in marijuana act to increase the stress response. C.Food can be psychologically rewarding, but regular use of eating as a mechanism to cope with stress can lead to binge-eating habits. Binge eating may serve as an avoidance coping strategy and temporary escape. However, the loss of control over eating is associated with negative emotional states.