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Stages of Stress and Psychoimmunology

Stages of Stress and Psychoimmunology

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This lesson will examine how the body reacts to stress through the three stages of the general adaptation syndrome; stage of alarm, stage of resistance, and stage of exhaustion. This lesson will define stressors, explain burnout, explore psychoimmunology.

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Tutorial

What's Covered

This lesson is going to cover how stress works by examining:

  1. Stress
  2. General Adaptation Syndrome

1. Stress

Stress is a person's reaction and adaptation to changes within their environment. Humans are creatures of habit, and they prefer things that are normal. They expect certain kinds of interactions with their environments. Introducing a stressor, or something that disrupts a person's environment, causes a person to react in certain kinds of ways.

ExampleWhen you move to a new house. This is a normal event that you might experience which will cause stress within your life.

    Term to Know

    • Stressor
    • Something or some event that causes stress and disrupts a person’s environment.

This is a normal reaction, and only causes problems when stress is in excess, when combined with other kinds of genetic predispositions, or combined with other kinds of disorders. Then this can cause a much larger effect within the person.

How a body reacts to stress is what we call a stress reaction. Stress causes the activation of the person's autonomic nervous system, particularly the sympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that excites the body and leads to the fight or flight response within a person. It leads to an increase in a person's heart rate, the dilating of pupils, the release of adrenaline. It stops their digestion, and relaxes the bladder. The brain also gets excited, particularly the limbic system, or the system that sort of bridges the gap between the brain and the body.

     Term to Know

    • Stress Reaction
    • How body reacts to stress.

2. General Adaption Syndrome

A stress reaction is intended as a short-term response to something in the environment. Stress in the long term leads to other kinds of bodily reactions that follow a general sort of pattern. This is called General Adaptation Syndrome, which comes in three stages:

The alarm stage- This is the first stage, and is the body's initial reaction to the stressor in the short term. While this can help a person if they are in danger, it can also lead to things likes headaches, shortness of breath, a loss of appetite because your digestion stops during this time, etc.

The resistance stage- The second stage where, over time, the body begins to adapt to the stress. The body will return to a more normal-looking state while these excitatory things are going on within their body. The excitatory symptoms will begin to decrease. This level is achieved at a higher expenditure of energy.

Exhaustion- The final stage where the body's resources are depleted and it's just worn out from constantly responding to that stress within the environment. These autonomic nervous system reactions begin to reappear, because the body's no longer trying to attempt to be normal. They might start to show all the physical symptoms from the alarm stage again. The person, also, starts to show mental and emotional signs of stress. At this point, people in high stress jobs can also experience what's called burnout. This is when the person has physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as a result of their high stress job, and the extended affect that it's having on the person.

     Terms to Know

    • General Adaptation Syndrome
    • The pattern of stages that a body goes through when it is stressed for longer periods of time.
    • Alarm Stage
    • The stage where the body initially reacts to a stressor in the short-term and has an excitatory, fight or flight, reaction.
    • Resistance Stage
    • The stage where over time, the excitatory reaction lowers and the body begins to adapt to the stress and to reach a normal-looking state.
    • Exhaustion Stage
    • The stage when the body’s resources are depleted and it is worn out from constantly responding to the stress.
    • Burnout
    • Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as a result of a person's job.

A person can start to develop bodily reactions to this extended period of stress. Things like ulcers or even diabetes, can result from long-term stress. A person in the exhaustion stage has a tendency to become sick more often. Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the brain and stress, and the effect that it can have on the body's immune system reaction, in the way that it fights off illnesses.

    Term to Know

  •     Psychoneuroimmunology
  • The study of how stress can affect immune system and make people more susceptible to illness.

Summary

Stress is a person's reaction and adaptation to changes within their environment. This is a normal reaction, and only causes a problem when it lasts for an extended time or combined with other factors. Stress causes the activation of the person’s autonomic system, which prepares the body for the fight or flight response. Stress over a long period of time leads to the general adaptation syndrome. It occurs in three stages: the alarm stage, the resistance stage, and exhaustion.

Keep up the learning and have a great day!

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Erick Taggart.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Stressor

    Something or some event that causes stress and disrupts a person’s environment

  • Stress Reaction

    How body reacts to stress.

  • General Adaptation Syndrome

    The pattern of stages that a body goes through when it is stressed for longer periods of time.

  • Alarm Stage

    The stage where the body initially reacts to a stressor in the short-term and has an excitatory, fight or flight, reaction.

  • Resistance Stage

    The stage where over time, the excitatory reaction lowers and the body begins to adapt to the stress and to reach a normal-looking state.

  • Exhaustion Stage

    The stage when the body’s resources are depleted and it is worn out from constantly responding to the stress.

  • Psychoneuroimmunology

    The study of how stress can affect immune system and make people more susceptible to illness.

  • Burnout

    Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as a result of a person's job.