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Stress: A Help or A Hindrance? Define Stress from A Biological Perspective and Discuss the Potential Positive and Negative Psychological Effects Resulting from It.

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Stress: a help or a hindrance? Define stress from a biological perspective and discuss the potential positive and negative psychological effects resulting from it.

Everyone experiences stress but defining it is difficult. Most people would suggest it refers to the physical consequences (such as heightened blood pressure, nausea, rapid heartbeat or not being able to sleep) which result from the failure to cope with physical or emotional demands (such as dealing with predators or sitting an exam). Bernard & Krupat (1994) suggested as well as these external factors, stress also involves a set of internal (or biological) factors. Any resulting physiological symptoms, he suggests, occur as an interaction of the two. Stress also varies in duration (Dienstbier, 1989); acute being the briefest and chronic lasting longer. This essay will focus the biological perspective of stress and attempt to demonstrate that it can be a hindrance but in some circumstances it can be a help.

From a biological perspective stress is any 'circumstance that upsets homeostasis' (Breedlove et al, 2010); that is the body's ability to maintain internal equilibrium. It is associated with altered activity in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary Axis (HPA). It begins when neurons communicate with their neighbours by sending neurotransmitters across the synapse. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter activated in stress and it acts on the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus in turn acts on the ANS which releases two catecholamines (adrenalin and noradrenalin); it also stimulates the adrenal glands which release cortisol to increase metabolism which provides immediate energy. The hypothalamus also acts on the HPA by releasing CRF which in turn signals the pituitary to release ACTH. This affects the adrenal glands which release cortisol and adrenalin which helps to prolongs the response.

Selye's (1982) General Adaptation Syndrome model, proposed that stress followed three stages; the alarm reaction, the resistance and the exhaustion stage. When the alarm and reaction stages are short lived (as with acute stress) health is not affected. Removing the stressor reduces the production of cortisol which feeds back to the pituitary and the hypothalamus which stop the production of ACTH and CRF; restoring homeostasis. It is when the resistance stage is prolonged and the exhaustion stage follows (as with chronic stress) and the exposure to high levels of hormones is prolonged, that pathology may follow. This essay will consider three; the immune system, coronary heart disease and schizophrenia.

The immune system protects the body from foreign bodies. The increase of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, during periods of stress, suppresses aspects of the immune system, including the functioning of natural killer cell (cells that attack unrecognised antigens). During this suppressed state latent viruses can make a comeback but non-viral diseases such as asthma are also affected. This is because the suppressed immune system, which would normally prevent the airways from becoming inflamed, is unable to do so. Campbell (2003) placed 55 children suffering from chronic asthma on a therapy program designed to address intergenerational conflicts. By reducing the number of stressful situations and so maintaining homeostasis, clinical evaluation demonstrated an improvement in asthma symptoms of the children following the intervention. Conversely exposing asthmatics to a harmless substance (which they believed was harmful) can result in a severe attack (Elliott & Eisdorfer, 1982).

Probably the best known example of a stress related health problem triggered

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