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All about: Stress

Stress has various definitions across the literature. One definition that really resonated with me, is a feeling of unsurety if a situation can be handled or not (Joseph and Irons, 2018). Stress can be manifested in different ways and varies from person to person. A situation which is known to cause stress is called a stressor.

Stress Response

There are two types of stress response: Physiological and Psychological. It is vital that both types are understood and are differentiated from each other.

Physiological Response

This is defined as any external or internal stimuli which influences the homeostasis, or the healthy balance of an individual in the body (Kagias et al., 2012). There are further two types of physiological stress response: The Acute Stress Response, known as the sympathetic adrenal medullary pathway (SAM), is a very typical response to danger. When one faces a threat, this can trigger the adrenal glands to activate and release adrenaline all over the body which causes the increase in blood pressure, heart rate and glucose production. This is also known as the flight or fight response. The second type is in individuals with long-term stress, or chronic stress, that can activate another system in the body which involves the pituitary glands. They release the chemical cortisol which always keeps the body in alert and is always ready for action, which can have a negative long-term consequence such as increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, weaker immune system. Other ways stress can be shown are headaches, sweaty palms, neck and shoulder tension, nausea, and palpitations.

Psychological Response

Stress can impact the way we think and so our thoughts, emotions and behavior can be symptoms of stress. According to Lovallo (2005), the way psychological stress works is when a stressor is encountered with an individual, it can activate the secretion of cortisol which then activates other cardiovascular systems. This means that the body alters itself purely from the brain and the way we perceive stress. One of the reasons stresses is more prevalent in today’s world is due to cortisol release but no behavioral release. For example, if the stressor is your boss, their encounter with you will activate cortisol but since you are unlikely to react according to how you wish to, the cortisol will stay in the brain, causing physiological changes that can lead to disease. Symptoms of psychological response to stress includes anxiety, depression, burnout, irritableness, reduced social interactions, etc.

Stress and Personality Types

Friedman and Rosenman (1974) proposed two types of personalities and suggested that one personality is more prone to stress than the other. Personality A people are competitive, alert, aggressive, impatient, and appear to be driven with high levels of arousal. Personality B people appear to be less driven, less impatient, do not worry as much for deadlines and lack the urgency that type A personality people show. Therefore, it is suggested that personality A individuals are more prone to long-term diseases such as coronary heart disease and they showed higher cholesterol levels. However, studies have also shown that Personality A individuals can perform better in various situations for example in a fast-paced environment such as a hospital, personality A doctors had better performance scores when it came to relationship with patients, relationship with colleagues and good clinical care (Janjhua and Chandrakanta, 2012).

Primary and Secondary Appraisal

Lazarus and Folkman (1984) proposed the idea of primary and secondary appraisal of stress. Primary Appraisal is when we are encountered with a stressor and we begin to analyze the situation, i.e., what is the stressor, how big is it, whether it is significant which is when we begin to develop a plan or irrelevant which is when we ignore the situation. Secondary appraisal is when we look and evaluate our options to deal with the stressor. This two-level appraisal mechanism will determine the nature and the magnitude of our psychological reactions and their accompanying physiological adjustments. According to them, there are two types of coping responses: problem focused, or emotion focused. Problem focused coping response is when the stressor is attacked and dealt with, in hopes to reduce the threat. Emotion focused is when the emotion regarding the stressor is dealt with and minimal effort is spent on altering the threat physically. For example, when someone says, “do not worry about it”. Both types of coping response have one aim: to reduce the central nervous system activation and to reduce the physiological activation that ensues.

Positive emotions and stress buffers

Various studies have implemented different techniques to test how it reduces stress. For example, Berk et al (1989), showed their participants a humorous film which led to quite a bit of laughter, their respective cortisol levels were reduced which suggests that laughter can cause a physiological change in the body and reduce stress. Weiss (1971b) showed how providing warning signals and a sense of control can act as stress buffers. Keller et al (1994) showed how emotional expression can reduce stress as well. This is when their participants either spoke about a traumatic event or of a neutral event. 6 months later, those who expressed their trauma showed less depression and were also happier. Antoni (2003) used various stress reduction techniques such as cognitive-behavioral stress management technique on patients with HIV and the results showed improved mood, lower sympathetic nervous system activation and improved complements of T-cells.

How to manage stress:

According to Stranks (2005), it is vital that one understands stress in the first place, to become self-aware on where the stress is coming from and to come in terms with your feelings. Stress can feel overwhelming at times and through researching and gaining knowledge on what stress is, one can alleviate it’s effects off of them. Other coping mechanisms includes having a strong support network who can understand and sympathize with you. Stress management techniques such as “relaxation training”, which is a form of meditation that includes breathing practices, muscular tension control and mind calmness, has proven to be quite effective. Finally, physical exercise such as walking, cycling and swimming can feel quite relieving.


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