Stress as a subjective experience and its effects on mental and physical health
Stress commonly refers to persons experiences of daily problems as well as stressful life events (Cronqvist, 1997).
Stress, for our purposes, can be considered as the following: a state of arousal brought about by socioenvironmental demands, when an individual perceives that he/she may have trouble with, or be unable to deal with these demands, stress is the result (Aneshensel, 1992).
Importantly the cognitive appraisal of a stressful situation or event is unique to that person experiencing said event (Cronqvist, 1997).
Thus stress or the experience of stress is not merely a reflection of ones external environment, but is also heavily dependant on the unique characteristics of the individual i.e. their needs, values and perceptions, (Aneshensel, 1992) as well as resources available to the said individual for coping i.e. coping strategies, social support etc. (Bovier, 2004).
Thus stress is a highly subjective experience, which makes it a rather difficult concept to quantify. On one hand, the character of a person, their life experience, as well as their emotional maturity, affects the way stress is experienced by an individual (Weiten, 2001).
On the other hand, the type of stressors; the demand those stressors require as perceived by the individual as well as the physiological response to stress experienced by the individual, also affect the way stress is perceived, experienced and dealt with, on an individual level (Bovier, 2004).
1.1 Person – centred is about providing care and support that is centred or focused on the individual and their needs. We are all individual and just because two people might have the same medical condition, for eg.Dementia, it does not mean that they require the same care and support. As a care worker I need to understand what the values are. There are eight person centred values: ...
Stress has both emotional (psychological) and physiological effects (Weiten, 2001).
The physiological effects or response to stress has three major components.
The first, commonly documented and familiar component is what is known as the “fight or flight response” (Weiten, 2001).
This can most simply be described as the stimulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) via the amygdala of the limbic system by external stressors. This results in the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and inhibition of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the end result of which is an increase in circulating catecholamines (Guyton, 2000).
The primary effect of this is to put the body in a state where it can more readily respond to a stressful situation. It does this by inhibiting non-essential functions, increasing heart and respiratory rate, mobilizing glucose and increasing the metabolic rate (Guyton, 2001).
Obviously, most problems of modern times cannot be solved by merely fighting or fleeing, so this response is largely an evolutionary “left over” or by-product from when this response was more useful to our (human) survival (Weiten, 2001).
In modern times, the type of stresses we face in our environment cause prolonged activation of this physiological response, with adverse consequences to our physical health e.g. hypertension, type II diabetes mellitus (Aneshensel, 1992) (James, 1997).
The second major physiological component of stress is through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (Grissom, 2008).
Briefly described, stressors cause the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus to release corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) and arginine vasopressin (AVP) into the hypophyseal portal circulation. CRF and AVP then cause the anterior pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) into the general circulation. ACTH then stimulates the cortex of the adrenal glands to release glucocorticoids, primarily cortisol. Cortisol levels in the circulation then have a negative feedback effect on the HPA axis (Guyton, 200).
‘Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. ’ So says the Chinese proverb, (The Quote Garden, 2010) and in this writer’s opinion, the phrase is accurate, in a very broad sense. Tension, or stress can be defined as the ‘arousal of the mind and body in response to demands made on them’ (Schafer, 2000). Schafer emphasises repeatedly in his definitions of stress that it is the ...
Cortisol mainly increases glucose availability in the body as well as suppressing the immune system activity (Guyton, 2000).
This is helpful in acute stressful situations, but can be damaging to the body during long term exposure to stress and thus prolonged HPA axis activation (Grissom, 2008).
Therefore it is easy to understand that chronic exposure to socioenvironmental stress may cause hypertension via the increase in circulating catecholamines, and also type II diabetes mellitus, as cortisol and catecholamines increase blood glucose levels (James, 1997).
Long term activation of these systems may also leave the individual vulnerable to pathogenic microorganisms, as cortisol suppresses immune system activity (Grissom, 2008).
The third physiological component of stress has recently come to light in genetic sciences and tools. Prolonged exposure to stress may affect individual cells directly by means of telomere shortening (Epel, 2004).
Telomeres are repeated sequences of DNA that cap chromosomal ends, protecting and stabilizing chromosomes. They are essentially nucleotide repeats of TAG. Each time a cell divides, some of the telomere is lost (60 – 100 divisions in an average cell before telomeres become too short and the cell dies) (Epel, 2004).
Thus younger cells have longer telomeres and older cells have shorter ones. In a study by Epel et al, it was shown that psychological stress was significantly associated with higher oxidative stress, lower telomerase activity (telomerase is an enzyme that helps preserve telomere length during cell division) and thus shorter telomere length. This may account for the somewhat haggard appearance of people who have been under severe and chronic stress (Epel, 2004).
Their cells have undergone excessive biological aging.
The emotional effects of stress occur simultaneously with the previously discussed physical or physiological effects of stress, and are interlinked with our behavioral responses (Weiten, 2001).
Viewed from a functional perspective, emotion may be defined as “a complex system that developed over the course of human evolution, to coordinate adaptive responses to the demands of physical and social stimuli and environmental challenges.” (Master 2008).
I have chosen the topic of stress and coping for my psychology reflection paper. This course provided in-depth information on stress, coping with stress, and the favorable or unfavorable aspects that stress has on our psychological makeup. It also clearly defines the psychological factors that create social dysfunctions, the methods of psychological research, and treatment theories that assist us ...
Emotion may also be viewed in a negative light, as they seem to impede our ability to think rationally and disrupt our ability to perform cognitively (Aneshensel, 1992).
In dealing with emotions due to stress, our body elicits many different behavioral responses, differing from individual to individual and situation to situation (Weiten, 2001).
Some of these emotion driven behaviors include aggression; drug and alcohol abuse as well as altering our perceptions of reality (Weiten, 2001).
These behavioral responses are, in effect, a means of coping with stress.
Coping is an attempt at preventing or reducing the negative effects of stress on well-being or health (Cronqvist, 1997).
Some coping methods are helpful, while others may be harmful e.g. substance abuse, denial etc. (Weiten, 2001).
Coping can also be considered to be a method of changing the individuals’ perception of stress (reminding us of the highly subjective nature of stress).
Perceptions can be altered by changing the physical and social environment, changing personal characteristics and social information as well as changing their cognitive structure of reality (Cronqvist, 1997).
By controlling emotions we may cope by adjusting our desires to conform with our perceptions (of a stressful situation); reduce the importance associated with the outcomes of a stressful situation; and we my try to influence well-being directly (thereby controlling emotions), by using relaxation techniques or by a pharmacological intervention (e.g. selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors), thus improving mood and bringing about positive emotions. Use of drugs and relaxation techniques enable us to influence well-being or health independent of psychological stress (Cronqvist, 1997).
Blocking or controlling emotions can be effective coping strategy, but dealing with emotions may be just as effective and probably better for the individual for the long run (Master, 2008).
More and more research has suggested that emotion based coping strategies are associated with more adaptive and positive outcomes on physiological and physical health in individuals under stress (Master, 2008).
You have unexpectedly lost your job due to layoffs at your company. You are the sole provider of income for your family. You are worried about how you will pay your bills and support your family during this time. Write 150 to 200 words describing how stress can affect you physically and mentally, and which coping strategies you may use to work through this situation. Stress can greatly affect your ...
It has been shown that individuals who perceive environmental stress are less aversive, have higher baseline activation of the left pre-frontal cortex (PFC) (Master, 2008).
While the underlying mechanisms behind this finding are as yet unclear, individuals with greater left-sided EEG activity respond to and deal with stress much better that other individuals (Master, 2008).
Thus emotion based coping mechanisms have been shown to increase left-sided EEG activity, and thus improve that individual’s response to stress (Master, 2008).
In conclusion, stress its self, the way stress is perceived individually, psychological and physical mechanisms of stress response as well as coping is a multifaceted subject, with many diverse causes and affects. From a healthcare point of view stress needs to be considered from an overall understanding as well as at an individual level. The socioenvironmental context in which an individual is found has a great relevance as to how an individual can be treated or helped to deal with stress. It is only by trying to understand stress o both a macro and micro level as well as a psychological and physiological level that we may be effective in helping to alleviate symptoms of a stressful environment, primarily by altering an individuals perceptions of stress, as stress its self is a highly subjective and personal experience.
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The article “Coping with Increased Uncertainty in the Field of Work and Family Life”, is a German study that attempts to show whether depressive symptoms can be caused by social change and perceived demands both in work and family life. Many theorists believe trying to change the problem and distancing from unchangeable stressors are primary ways people tend to cope with stressors. The main ...
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