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Stress Notes

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This is an extract of our Stress document, which we sell as part of our Psychology Notes collection written by the top tier of Oxford students.

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(a) What are the psychological reactions to stress? (b) Give one example where stress has been found to be related to health and describe the likely mechanism for this relationship. What are the effects of stress on behaviour? Include in your answer a brief description of the underlying brain mechanisms involved in the stress response. What psychological theories have been put forward to explain why some individuals are more prone than others to experience events as stressful?
When and for whom are the psychological effects of stressors relatively more damaging?
When and for whom are the psychological effects of stressors relatively less damaging?
What psychological factors moderate the effects of stressors on health?
STRESS refers to experiencing events that are perceived as endangering one's physical or psychological well-being. These events are usually referred to as stressors, and people's reactions to them are termed stress responses

Characteristics of stressful events


Events that are perceived as stressful usually fall into one or more of the following categories: 1 traumatic events outside the usual range of human experience 2 uncontrollable events 3 unpredictable events 4 events that challenge the limits of our capabilities and selfconcept 5 internal conflicts


The most obvious sources of stress are traumatic events - situations of extreme danger that are outside the range of usual human experience. These include:
- natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods
- disasters caused by human activity, such as wars and nuclear accidents
- catastrophic accidents, such as car or plane crashes
- physical assaults, such as rape or attempted murder


The more uncontrollable en event seems, the more likely it is to be perceived as stressful. Major uncontrollable events include:
- the death of a loved one
- being laid off from work
- serious illness


It appears that our perceptions of the controllability of events are as important to our assessment of their stressfulness as the actual controllability of those events.


Some strategies for coping with stress involve trying to think of ways that an aspect of the stressor can be controlled, even if this is only a minor aspect.


The belief that we can control events appears to reduce the impact of the events, even if we never exercise that control.


Being able to predict the occurrence of a stressful event - even if the individual cannot control it - usually reduces the severity of the stress. Possible reasons for this:
- a warning signal before an aversive event allows the person or animal to initiate some sort of preparatory process that acts to reduce the effects of a noxious stimulus*

with unpredictable shock, there is no safe period: with predictable shock, the organism can relax to some extent until the signal warns the shock is about to occur (Seligman & Biunik, 1977)

Some situations are largely controllable and predictable but are still experienced as stressful because they push us to the limits of our capabilities and challenge our views of ourselves. Final-exam week is a good example.

The Life Events Scale Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale (Holmes & Rahe, 1967) Death of spouse 100 Divorce 73 Marital separation 65 Jail term 63 Death of close family member 63 Personal injury or illness 53 Marriage 50 Fired from job 47 Marital reconciliation 45 Retirement 45 Change in health of family member 44 Pregnancy 40 Sex difficulties 39 Gain of a new family member 39 Business readjustment 39 Change in financial state 38 Death of a close friend 37 Change to a different line of work 36 Foreclosure of mortgage 30

Change in responsibilities at work 29 Son or daughter leaving home 29 Trouble with in-laws 29 Outstanding personal achievement 28 Wife begins or stops work 26 Begin or end school 26 Change in living conditions 25 Revision of personal habits 24 Trouble with boss 23 Change in residence 20 Change in school 20 Change in recreation 19 Change in church activities 19 Change in social activities 18 Change in sleeping habits 16 Vacation 13 Christmas 12 Minor legal violations 11


Stress can also be brought about by internal processes - unresolved conflicts that may be either conscious or unconscious. Conflict occurs when a person must choose between incompatible, or mutually exclusive, goals or courses of action. Many of the things people desire prove to be incompatible.


Conflict may also arise when two inner needs or motives are in opposition:
- independence versus dependence (one of the main practical questions that arises from this is how much control parents should

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