Site Loader
Get a Quote
Rock Street, San Francisco

Stress is a physical, mental or emotional factor which can influence bodily or mental tension. It can be an external factor such as environmental, psychological or social or an internal factor such as a medical illness. But what makes some people more susceptible to stress and trauma? Why do some people break down physically and/or mentally when exposed to such factors? Do we not all function in the same way? Research studies in today’s world reveals to us why each individual is unique and reasons as to why not everyone functions the same way when encountering stressful situations.
rh u t h t h j r f re nej fn. fn j dr r j f nj r r j f n r jf r j f n k jr f r j fn k jr f ref n q w l
Stress also includes the response we naturally produce when encountering an unexpected or traumatic stimulus, but this can also be accepted as the response that occurs when we think we can’t cope with the pressures in our environment. When demands we face on a daily basis outweighs the resources we think we possess, we become susceptible to the stimulus, and this is usually when individuals become vulnerable. This balance can be disturbed when a bigger stimulus increases the demands or when many smaller stimuli exceed the usual balance.

Whether something is a stressor or not is decided in the higher brain centres – the cerebral cortex. From here a signal is sent to the hypothalamus when a stressor is encountered, which in turn triggers two process in the body. The hypothalamus is known for its many functions including its control of physiological activity involved with stress. The hypothalamus activates the sympathomedullary pathway, where the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is triggered. In turn, the adrenal medulla is stimulated to release adrenaline and noradrenaline into the bloodstream. The resulting effects are a raise in blood pressure and heart rate to increase blood supply; decrease in gastrointestinal tract activity; increased breathing rate to supply muscles with more oxygen etc. These physiological changes allow the body to use the available energy to deal with the stressful situation by e.g. running away during a fight or flight moment.

Following the activation of the sympathomedullary pathway, the pituitary-adrenal system is activated. This system is ideally designed for chronic stressors. If a stressor is present for many hours or more, the body’s resources are used up by the sympathomedullary response, and therefore a counter shock response is produced, which allows the body to be supplied with extra energy. This is done by the hypothalamus triggering the release of corticotropin releasing hormone which in turn stimulates the anterior pituitary gland to release a hormone known as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH travels through the body and stimulates the adrenal cortex, which lays beside the kidneys. The adrenal cortex releases corticosteroids, which enables the body to produce energy by breaking down fat and protein.
rh u t h t h j r f re nej fn. fn j dr r j f nj r r j f n r jf r j f n k jr f r j fn k jr f ref n q w l
‘Fight or flight’ is a natural human response to stressors. It enabled our ancestors to successfully avoid predators and has evolution importance. It was first described by Walter Cannon in the 1920s, who stated it was the a physiological action as a result of the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline from the medulla of adrenal glands which triggered acetylcholine from sympathetic nerves to produce the same physiological responses as mentioned above.
rh u t h t h j r f re nej fn. fn j dr r j f nj r r j f n r jf r j f n k jr f r j fn k jr f ref n q w l
Krantz et al (1991) conducted a laboratory experiment to analyse the effect of a stressful task on heart activity. He found participants who did the test had an overall raise in blood pressure and those with the greatest amount of difference in blood pressure change had a greater proportion of myocardial ischaemia. This allowed the study to conclude that stress may have a direct influence on certain aspects of body functioning, thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular disorders.
rh u t h t h j r f re nej fn. fn j dr r j f nj r r j f n r jf r j f n k jr f r j fn k jr f ref n q w l
Kiecolt-Glaser et al (1995) conducted a study with an independent measures design on individuals who cared for relatives with Alzheimer’s disease against a control group. A punch biopsy was used to create a small wound. The study showed wound healing took 9 days longer for carers in comparison with the control group and therefore they were able to conclude that long-term stress impairs effectiveness of the immune system. Many studies linking stress to biological health has been conducted but it must betaken into account that many of these studies are not reliable as they were not repeated and their sample size is extremely small indicating its inability to be generalised to the population as a whole.

But what can be the underlying cause for such susceptibility? This is where individual differences play a key role. To begin men and women are different in many ways and in the ways they cope with stress. Evolutionally, men played the role of hunter-gatherer and therefore have developed a stronger ‘fight or flight’ response than women, who tend to the carer role. Taylor et al (2000) suggested that women tend to have a calmer approach due to the hormone oxytocin which is released in response to stress and has been shown to lead to maternal behaviour and social affiliation.

Another suggestion for the difference in men and women can be accounted by social difference in terms of roles they play. Carroll (1992) found women make more use of social support to cope with stress, whereas men were more concerned with the stigma associated with the effects of stress. On the other hand, Vogele et al (1997) claimed women are better able to control anger and can respond in a more carful manner when handling stress, whereas men found anger an acceptable way to respond. This expresses the cognitive difference amongst men and women may behold.

Many other factors may also influence the difference we have in coping with stress, such as lack of control e.g. at work place or different personalities we possess. Friedman and Rosenman (1974) conducted a study on 39-59 year old American males to assess their personality characteristics by using interviews and observing the participants. They grouped the participants into ‘type A’ and ‘type B’ and found that eight years later, 257 participants out of 3000 had developed coronary heart disease and 70% of them were classes as ‘type A’ personality. Type A were competitive and ambitious, whilst type B participants were non-competitive, relaxing and easy-going. They concluded that people who have personality traits similar to type A will have a higher risk of developing stress-related illnesses such as heart disease.

Another theory which has emphasised the role of stress and trauma in people’s lives is post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth, according to Post-traumatic Growth Research Group is positive change as result of a major life crisis or traumatic event. It refers to seeing the problem with a positive outlook and using the event as something which presents new opportunities. This is an innate response which individuals may activate during stress or traumatic experiences.  

The famous saying of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a classic example of this theory and explains how when individuals are under extreme stress and feel hopeless, they are able to get a perspective of life and see the options that lay beyond the problem. This explains why some people work better under stress such as some professions e.g. doctors working in the emergency department possess the ability to think rationally under the pressure.  

Many people deepen their faith and beliefs in religion as a result of trauma, diverting their sorrows, which has shown to have a reduced risk of ill health compared to the individuals whom channel stress within and as a result increase chances of depression and suicide.  

Individuals in late adolescence and early adulthood are more prone to post-traumatic growth compared to children and older adults. Also, the gene RGS2, is associated with fear-related disorders and has been shown to have a positive link to growth after a traumatic experience. These factors explain as to why only some individuals are able to have a positive change after a stressful outcome and hence why those people are less likely to experience the negative effects of stress or trauma.  

But not all individuals react in the same way, with many seeing only the negative aspects of stressful events. And just because individuals use the traumatic event to grow does mean they do not suffer, they may also experience the same health effects as an individual who does positively grow as a result of stress.  

This is an approach psychologists take during post-traumatic stress disorder therapy. They work alongside the individuals to evaluate the situation and aid to see positivity in the event by rationalising their irrational thoughts. It is a reflection of a classic therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy, which is used in many psychological disorders to help change the way individuals think as it is implied that thoughts are the main reason to affect the way we perceive the situation and how we react to it

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a method to alter thought process and has shown to be successful over many years. The idea is rot change the way information is cognitively processes, which in turn will change behaviour. It enables the individual to change the way they think in stressful situations and helps them to cope better with the stressors. There are many other therapies used by psychologists such as rational-emotive therapy and cognitive reconstructing therapy, which all have had great success rates when used along side medications such as anti-anxiety drugs, benzodiazepines, which increase the body’s reaction to its own natural anxiety relieving chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows down the activity of neurones, allowing the individual to feel more relaxed. Exercise is also another way of managing stress. Morris (1953) found bus conductors to have lower rates of cardiovascular problems than bus drivers due to a more active job.

To conclude, stressors present both internally and externally can cause physiological changes to the body, using up resources and draining an individual. It is important not to succumb to social conformity and seek help when required. Research has shown how cognition plays a major role is determining how we perceive stress and therefore it is key to have a positive outlook when dealing with stress, which in turn will enable us to behave in ways that will help minimise or remove the stressor. Every individual is different as a result of environmental and biological factors, so taking this into account it is important for healthcare professionals to target those individuals who are at highly susceptible and aid them through methods of prevention by raising awareness and offering social help.

Post Author: admin