Stress

  • What is Stress? Strain that experienced when an organism’s equilibrium is disrupted
    • There is a stressor (source of stress) such as a dog, and the stress reaction (bunny’s physical and emotional response). Stress is the process encompassing both.
  • Stress arises less from actual events & more from our cognitive interpretation of events – appraisal theory of stress.
    • Primary appraisal – evaluating for presence of a potential threat.
      • 3 categories of response to this primary appraisal – irrelevant, benign (positive), stressful (negative).
      • If primary appraisal is negative, move forward with secondary appraisal.
    • Secondary appraisal – assessing capability to cope with the threat or to deal with stressor.
      • Appraisal of harm, threat, and challenge (how to overcome it).
    • 4 major categories of stressors.
  1. Significant life changes – ex. Death of loved one, loss of job, having children, leaving home, etc.
  2. Catastrophic events – cyclone appears.
  3. Daily hassles – long store lines, forgetting car keys, etc.
  4. Ambient stressors – Perceivable, but hard to control. Noise, crowding. Can impact us without us being aware of them.
  • Responding to Stress
    • The ANS works with the limbic system and reticular activating system to allow us to experience and understand our emotions
      • Reticular activating system – nuclear structures in the midbrain composed of nerve fibers going to and from higher brain centers, which controls our arousal and alertness levels
      • Midbrain – cerebral peduncle, corpora qudrigemina, and cerebral aqueduct
  • Stressors like threats and dangers trigger our fight or flight system – the sympathetic nervous system.
    • heart rate and respiration (more energy + oxygen), increased peripheral vasoconstriction (push more blood to our core area – harder to live without blood), and turn off digestion/immune/etc.
    • Endocrine response – adrenal glands release epinephrine and norepinephrine, and cortisol
    • Tend and befriend response – sometimes better response to stress is to have support systems.
      • Oxytocin is important for this – peer bonding. Oxytocin is strongly linked to estrogen, so why this response is stronger in women.
  • Distinct stages of stress – general adaptation syndrome, 3 phases.
    • Alarm phase – stress kicks in, heart races.
    • Resistance – fleeing, huddling, etc. Bathed in cortisol.
    • Exhaustion – if resistance isn’t followed by recovery, our tissues become damaged and we become susceptible to illness.
  • Physical Effects of Stress
  • Damaging effects of stress on our heart
    • Increased blood pressure, blood vessels distend, so they build up more muscle and become more rigid. Can lead to hypertension and vascular disease (disease of blood vessels – get damaged with higher force of blood movement). Spots attract fat and narrow blood vessels. Worst place to experience this is coronary arteries – coronary artery disease.
  • Metabolism
    • During stress, body secretes cortisol and glucagon, which converts glycogen to glucose.
    • If stress is psychosocial, we don’t need all this extra glucose, which can exacerbate metabolic conditions like diabetes.
  • Reproductive
    • Reproduction huge energy expense in women, so this gets shut down during stress response. Impotence is also often caused by stress.
  • Immune Function
    • Causes inflammation – acute stress can lead to overuse of immune system. Can attack our own body.
  • Behavioral Effects of Stress
  • 2 areas of brain with most glucocorticoid receptors are the hippocampus and frontal cortex
    • Hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.
    • Frontal cortex is responsible for impulse control, reasoning, etc. Atrophy during chronic stress.
  • One of major emotional responses of stress is depression (problem is anhedonia – inability to experience pleasure, so perceive more stressors).
    • Learned helplessness – you learn from having control ripped out of hands that you don’t have control, so lose ability to identify coping mechanisms because taking less control of outcome of your life.
    • Anger – Stress is associated with increased vulnerability to heart disease. Type A is easily angered individuals, and Type B others. Those who had heart attacks later were mostly type A.
    • Anxiety – centers on amygdala. Amygdala has to do with our fears and phobias, fits in perfectly with response to stress. Perceive more things as fearful.
    • Addiction – lots of terrible options for relieving stress, ex. Alcohol, tobacco, etc. Impairment to frontal cortex (reasoning), so impaired judgement can increase likelihood of inappropriate coping mechanisms.
  • Stress Management (Coping with Stress)
    • Perceived control – many studies show lack of control associated with higher stress. Look for areas of life where you can take back some control.
    • Optimism
    • Social support – one of best coping mechanisms of stress. Helps us understand we’re not alone in stress, which helps our perceived control and optimism.
  • Managing stress
    • Exercise – regular exercise requires control
    • Meditation – helps us lower our heart rate, BP, and cholesterol.
    • Religious beliefs/faith – generally healthier lifestyle, social support.
    • Cognitive Flexibility – perspective change is huge in our perception of what is stressing us out. Good way is working with counselor.
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