AP Psych Chapter 09: Stress and Health


Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the effects of psychological factors on the body’s disease-fighting system.

When it comes to stress reducing benefits of laughter:

  • Laughing significantly increases the level of health-protecting beta-endorphins
  • Looking forward to a positive laughing experience can decrease levels of hormones such as cortisol

Stress is the physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses to events appraised as threatening or challenging.

Stressors are events that cause stress.  Two types of stressors:

  • Distress which is when people experience unpleasant stressors. (Examples: Writing a report for science class, coach making track members run extra laps after losing yesterday’s match, etc.)
  • Eustress which are positive events requiring the body to adapt or change. (Examples: Going to college, getting married, etc.)


Environmental Stressors

Catastrophe is an unpredictable event that happens on a large scale.

Major Life Changes is the stress is present in ordinary life experiences.  It does not come from only negative events.

Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) was created by Holmes and Rahe in 1967.  Negative and positive events call for adjustment.  It contains Life Change Units which measure of change and adjustment to stress.

College Undergraduate Stress Scale (CUSS) identifies stressful events common to a college student.  It is similar in construction to Holmes and Rahe’s scale.

Hassles are daily annoyances (taking out the trash, getting to school on time, etc.).  Hassles are a good predictor of short term illness.  The perception of the hassle more important that the hassle itself. (Example: Some people get more stressed out by forgetting their phone at home than others.)


Psychological Stressors

Pressure are urgent demands coming from an outside source (Example: Finish this project by Monday and be sure to include a full reference page).  It can have a negative impact on ability to be creative.

Uncontrollability is a dimension of pressure where less control means a greater degree of stress.

Frustration occurs when blocked or prevented from achieving goal or fulfilling need.  Internal frustration is when a goal or a need cannot be attained because of internal or personal characteristics (Example: A man that wants to play in the NBA but is 4’ 8” tall).

The two responses to frustration are:

  • Persistence which is when a person keeps trying.  (Example: Keep trying to put that dollar bill in the soda machine event though it is falling apart.)
  • Aggression is when persistence fails and the actions switch to harm or destroying.  (Example: Kicking and punch the soda machine that just took your dollar and did not return a beverage.)

Frustration–aggression hypothesis believe that frustration creates an internal “readiness to aggress.” Aggression will not follow without external cues present.

Displaced aggression is frustration taken out on less threatening target.  (Example: Kicking the water cooler after the game as opposed to the referee that blew the call.)  It is a form of displacement.

Escape or withdrawal is leaving the presence of a stressor.  It can be literally or by a psychological withdrawal.  (Example: Can be fantasizing or even dropping out of school.)

Conflict is distress over choice between two different and incompatible or opposing goals.

The three types of conflict are:

  • Approach–approach conflict is a conflict over choice between two desirable goals.  (Example: Going to a friend’s party on Friday night or going to the city to hit up a club with some friends Friday night.)
  • Avoidance–avoidance conflict is a conflict around choosing between two undesirable goals.  (Example: Should I start writing my 5-page English paper or start working on my science project?)
  • Approach–avoidance conflict is a conflict over choice with a goal that has both positive and negative aspects.  (Example:  A man sees an attractive woman at a club.  He could start talking to her and have a great night or she could reject him and embarrass him in front of his friends.)

The autonomic nervous system consists of two sub-systems:

  • The sympathetic system which responds to stressful events.
  • The parasympathetic system which restores body to normal functioning after stress.

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) consist of three stages:

  1. Alarm which is sympathetic arousal and when the adrenal glands release hormones.
  2. Resistance continues until stressor ends and may experience insensitivity to pain.
  3. Exhaustion can lead to formation of stress related illness.  The parasympathetic system attempts restoration of system.


Stress and the Immune System

Immune system is made up of cells, organs, and chemicals of the body.  It responds to diseases, infections, and injuries.  During stress, chemicals activate receptor sites on the vagus nerve.  Positive effects of stress on the immune system work when stress is not continual or chronic.  Natural killer cell which is responsible for suppressing viruses and destroying tumor cells.

When it comes to heart disease, stress puts people at a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes.  What happen is that the liver does not have a chance to clear the fat and cholesterol from the bloodstream.  All of this can lead to consumption of “comfort foods” which are bad for health.

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 is associated with pancreas not secreting enough insulin
  • Type 2 is associated with excessive weight gain

When it come to cancer, stress causes the release of adrenaline and noradrenalin.  This can cause mistakes in instructions given by genes to cells of the body.

Other notable health issues related to stress are:

  • Chronic stress linked to changes in immune system’s ability to fight off inflammation
  • Children in stressed families appear to have more fevers


The Influence of Cognition and Personality on Stress

According to the cognitive appraisal approach, how a stressor is thought about influences how stressful that stressor will become.  There are two parts to this approach:

  • Primary appraisal in which people estimating the severity of a stressor and classify it as either a threat or a challenge.
  • Secondary appraisal in which people Estimating the resources available to the person for coping with the stressor


Stress and Personality

Personality characteristics are a major factor in predicting health

  • Type A personalities are ambitious, time conscious, and hardworking.  They have high levels of hostility and anger.  They are also easily annoyed.  A key factor in Type A personality and heart disease is hostility.
  • Type B personalities are relaxed and laid-back.  They are less driven and competitive.  They are also slow to anger.
  • Type C personalities are pleasant but repressed.  They tend to internalize anger and anxiety and find expressing emotions difficult.
  • Hardy personalities do view challenges as overwhelming.  They are committed to values and feel in control of their lives.  They lack the anger and hostility of Type A.


Explanatory Style

Optimists expect positive outcomes.  They live longer lives and have a better functioning immune system.  They also have a 50% lower risk of premature death and tend to be calmer, more peaceful, and happier than the pessimists.  (Example: The cup is half-full.)

Pessimists expect negative outcomes.  They have more problems with physical and emotional health.  (Example: The cup is half-empty.)


Seligman: Effects of Optimism

Optimists are less likely to develop learned helplessness or stop trying to achieve a goal that has been blocked in the past.

Optimists are more likely to take care of their health by preventive measures.  They believe their actions make a difference in what happens.

They are less likely become depressed.

They have a more effectively functioning immune system.


Susan Vaughan: Becoming Optimistic

Alternative thinking is how optimists tend to take bad things that happen less personally and instead come up with alternative explanations for why the bad thing happened.

Downward social comparison is how many people make themselves feel better by comparing their performance to that of less competent others, making them feel better and protecting self-esteem.

When if comes to relaxation, optimists use it as a way to improve mood.


How to Become an Optimistic Thinker

When a bad mood strikes, stop and think about what just went through your head.

When you’ve recognized the negative statements, treat them as if they came from someone else—someone who is trying to make your life miserable. Think about the damage the statement is doing to you.

Argue with those thoughts. Challenge each negative statement and replace it with a more positive statement.


Stress and Social Factors

Stress in everyday life is often dealing with other people and the rules of social interaction.

Social factors increasing the effects of stress:

  • Poverty which results in a lack of sufficient money for basic necessities of life.
  • Job or workplace which can result in people burning out.  This can lead to negative thoughts, emotions, and behavior resulting in prolonged stress or frustration.
  • Entering into a new culture different from one’s culture of origin.


How Culture Affects Stress

Acculturation is the process of adapting to a new or different culture.  Most often it is the dominant culture.

Acculturative stress results from the need to change and adapt to dominant culture

Integration is maintaining one’s original cultural identity and forming positive relationships with dominant culture.

Assimilation is when the minority person gives up the old cultural identity.  He or she may completely adopts ways of the majority culture which could lead to moderate levels of stress.

Separation is when the minority person rejects the majority culture’s ways and tries to maintain the original cultural identity. This can result in fairly high degree of stress.

Marginalization is to not affiliate with dominant or original culture.


Coping with Stress

Coping strategies are actions that master, tolerate, reduce, or minimize the effects of stressors.  There are two types of techniques:

  • Problem-focused coping which is a strategy that eliminate the source of stress.  This techniques reduces the impact of stress through direct actions.
  • Emotion-focused coping which is a strategy that change the impact of a stressor by changing the emotional reaction to stressor.



Meditation is a mental exercises that refocus attention.  It allows people to achieve a trancelike state of consciousness.  There are different kinds of meditation:

  • Concentrative meditation is when a person focuses their mind on repetitive or unchanging stimulus.  The mind is cleared of disturbing thoughts so that the body can experience relaxation.
  • Receptive meditation is when a person attempts to be aware of everything in immediate conscious experience.  It leads to the expansion of consciousness.


Cultural Influences on Stress

Different cultures perceive stressors differently.  (Example: Not all cultures view death as a very sad event.)

Coping strategies vary from culture to culture.


Religion and Coping

Most people who hold strong religious beliefs belong to a religious organization.  Their membership can be a vital part of a person’s social support system.

Rituals and rites help people feel better about personal weaknesses.  For instance, confession, prayer, and service are examples of this.

Many religions encourage healthy behavior and eating habits


Exercising for Mental Health

Exercise can improved sleep quality, reduces tiredness, increases natural killer cell activity.

Exercise can also reduce the more severe symptoms of anxiety and depression

It can help reduce symptoms in menopausal women.

Exercise has been shown to reduces anxiety levels of patients suffering from of chronic medical conditions by 20 percent.

Exercising regularly benefits not only physical health but mental health as well—both powerful motivators to get moving!