The psychology of stress
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  • STRESS...It might seem like a simple concept. We toss the word around every day. But what does stress really mean? Is it the same thing as physiological arousal? Is it the same thing as “workload”? Is it any different from anxiety or unconscious anger? Is it the cause of trauma? Is it anything at all? Is it just a “myth”? 

What is eustress
What is eustress?

  • Eustress is a term coined by Hans Selye which is defined in the model of Richard Lazarus (1974) as stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfilment or other positive feelings. Eustress- remember- useful- stress.

What is stress
What is stress?

  • The opposite of eustress is distress; more commonly just called stress.

  • It is defined in your text book as “a state of physiological and psychological tension produced by internal or external forces which is perceived as exceeding a person’s resources or ability to cope”.

Physiological responses to stress
Physiological responses to stress

  • Early in the 20th century, Walter Cannon’s research in biological psychology led him to describe the “fight or flight” response of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) to perceived threats or confrontations to physical or emotional security.


Cannon found that SNS arousal in response to perceived threats involves several elements which prepare the body physiologically either to take a stand and fight off an attacker or to flee from the danger:

  • Heart rate and blood pressure increase

  • Perspiration increases

  • Hearing and vision become more acute

  • Hands and feet get cold, because blood is directed away from the extremities to the large muscles in order to prepare for fighting or fleeing. 

General adaptation syndrome
General Adaptation Syndrome

  • Hans Selye first popularized the concept of “stress” in the 1950s.

  • Selye theorised that all individuals respond to all types of threatening situations in the same manner, and he called this the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).

G a s

  • He claimed that, in addition to SNS arousal, other bodily systems such as the adrenal cortex and pituitary gland may be involved in a response to threat.

  • For example, chemicals such as epinephrine (adrenaline) may serve to focus the body’s attention just on immediate self-preservation by inhibiting such functions as digestion, reproduction, tissue repair, and immune responses.

G a s1

  • Ultimately, as the threat wanes, Selye suggested, body functions return to normal, allowing the body to focus on healing and growth again.

  • But if the threat is prolonged and chronic, the SNS arousal never gets “turned off,” and health can be impaired.

  • With a continuously suppressed immune system, for example, a person would be more vulnerable than usual to infection—which is one explanation of why some individuals get sick so often.


  • ALARM: Occurs when people become aware of the presence of the stressor. Initially the body goes into a state of temporary shock. It then mobilises its resources to cope with the stressor.


  • RESISTANCE: If the stressor continues, the body mobilises further resources to cope however, it does this at the cost of other systems.


  • EXHAUSTION: If the resistance is inadequate, the body becomes exhausted as its resources are diminished. Unless a way of relieving the stress is found, the result will be a serious loss of health or complete collapse.