Stress and Coping
11 Motivation, Emotion, and Personality
STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High
Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome
Stress is the process by which we appraise and respond to environmental threats. According to Hans Selye, we react similarly to both physical and psychological stressors. Stressors are stimuli such as heat, cold, pain, mild shock, restraint, etc., that we perceive as endangering our well-being. Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) three-stage theory of alarm, resistance, and exhaustion describes our body’s reaction to stress. During the alarm reaction, our body increases sympathetic nervous system activity and activates the adrenal glands to prepare us for “fight or flight,” which by increasing our heart and breathing rates, as well as the availability of glucose for energy, increases our strength for fighting an enemy or our ability to run away. During the second stage of resistance, our temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration remain high while the level of hormones, such as adrenaline and corticosteroids, continues to rise. If crises are not resolved in this stage, continued stress results in the depletion of our resources and decreased immunity to diseases characteristic of the third stage of exhaustion, which may result in illnesses like ulcers or depression, or even death.
“Remember: Selye’s three stages ARE a GAS (A = alarm, R = resistance, E = exhaustion, and GAS is the General Adaptation Syndrome).”
—Jamie L., former AP student
Stressful Life Events
We can classify stressors on the basis of intensity from the most intense catastrophes, to significant life changes, to daily hassles.
Catastrophes are stressors that are unpredictable, large-scale disasters that threaten us. When catastrophes cause prolonged stress, health problems often result.
Significant life events include death of a loved one, marriage, divorce, changing jobs, moving to a new home, having a baby, and starting college. Holmes and Rahe created a “Social Readjustment Rating Scale” that rates stressful events in our lives. For example, death of a spouse receives the highest number of points at 100 and getting married receives 50. According to Holmes and Rahe, the higher our score on the scale, the greater the probability we will face a major health event within the next year.
Daily hassles are everyday annoyances, such as having to wait in lines, arguing with a friend, or getting a low grade on a quiz. Over time, these stressors can add up, raising our blood pressure, causing headaches, and lowering our immunity.
Stress and Health
High levels of stress are associated with decreased immunity, high blood pressure, headaches, heart disease, and quicker progression of cancer and AIDS.
According to Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, people who have different characteristic patterns of reacting to stress have different probabilities of suffering heart attacks. Type A personalities are high achievers, competitive, impatient, multitaskers, who walk, talk, and eat quickly. Type B personalities, in contrast, are those who are more relaxed and calm in their approach to life. Friedman and Rosenman found that Type A personalities were more likely to experience a heart attack in their 30s and 40s than Type B personalities. Current research suggests that the Type A traits of anger, hostility, and cynicism are most highly correlated with potential risks for cardiac problems. After a heart attack, however, Type As are more likely to make healthy changes in their lifestyles than Type Bs.
Coping strategies can be adaptive or maladaptive. Maladaptive strategies ordinarily fail to remove the stressors or wind up substituting one stressor for another. Adaptive strategies remove stressors or enable us to better tolerate them.
Maladaptive coping strategies include aggression; indulging ourselves by eating, drinking, smoking, using drugs, spending money, or sleeping too much; or using defense mechanisms.
Adaptive coping strategies vary from taking direct action through problem solving to lessening stress through physically exercising, seeking the social support of friends, or finding help through religious organizations and prayer to accepting the problem. For example, you can adopt the optimistic attitudes of hardy people by committing to a particular project or goal, seeing yourself as being in control rather than a victim of circumstance, and looking at finishing the project or realizing your goal as a challenge or opportunity. Health psychologists often suggest using relaxation, visualization, meditation, and biofeedback to help lessen the effects of stress in our lives and boost our immune systems.