“Health psychology is the science of understanding psychological and social influences on how people stay healthy, why they become ill or injured, and how they respond to illness, injury, and treatment” (class commentary). It is through health psychology that we will take a look at stress and how it has affected me in my life.
As far as stressful events in life is concerned I happen to experience quite a few different stressors than the average person. This is because I am a quadriplegic and have no choice but to depend on others in order to accomplish different objectives throughout my day, as well as having a slew of medical issues that I may or may not face on a day-to-day basis that most others do not have to worry about or stress over. For instance, one of my home health aides had needed a day off and someone new was expected to fill in for them. I expected this to be stressful because when working with new home health aides I have to break down my care plan step-by-step and sometimes there might be a language barrier or someone just might not be able to follow simple instructions, sometimes people are just simply not qualified to provide the care that I need, and sometimes people do not show up at all. Health psychology assumes that the mind and body are one inseparable system.
It is often “events that are unpredictable and/or out of our control that seem to be the most stressful when compared to predictable and controllable situations” (Schneider et al. 2012). In the situation where my home health aide needed a day off and someone new was set to replace her, that person called off at the last minute leaving the home healthcare agency that I work with scrambling to find a replacement. During this time, I began to experience an elevated heart rate along with other physiological symptoms such as an elevated blood pressure and dilated pupils. I also found myself angry and upset that someone would wait till the very last minute to call off, knowing that the person they are supposed to work with is in need of their help. In this situation I used emotion focused coping, which involves “people trying to regulate their emotions so that they can minimize the distress caused by the situation” (Schneider et al. 2012). This is when I then tried to calm myself with positive thinking by telling myself “the agency will find someone soon and everything will be just fine.” Once I was informed that there was a call off and knew that there was a possibility no one would show up, my autonomic nervous system (ANS) or more specifically my sympathetic nervous system (which is a branch of the ANS) kicked into high gear. It has been said that “whatever happens in the brain (or mind) can affect physiological processes elsewhere in the body” (class commentary) and that was exactly the case for this perceived stressful event.
It is through Canon’s observation that our body reacts to threats or a perceived threat by secreting hormonal discharges within the nervous system that we can begin to understand how our stress response system works. These hormonal discharges consist of physiological changes such as, elevated blood pressure, increased respiration, dilated pupils, perspiration, as well as hormones that elevated heart rate such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and the steroid cortisol (Siegel, 2005). It is through our adrenal glands (that is located just above our kidneys) that we secrete epinephrine. “Norepinephrine is secreted by all other sympathetic nerve endings throughout the body“ (Sapolsky, 2004). Our ANS consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which act like a counterweight to each other in order to sustain allostasis, which Sterling and Eyer defined as achieving stability through change. They had coined this term in order to reflect the process in which different organisms need to adapt or be able to change one or more levels of a defensive mechanisms that help to regulate different parameters as needed in order to adjust to new or changing environments (Ramsey & Woods, 2014). Our body is a fascinating mechanism that allows us to help adjust biological functions not only through the absence of stress, but through that activation of different behavioral actions as well. In this case I was able to achieve homeostasis which is a product of our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) through the powers of positive thinking which includes replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. It is with this behavioral action that I was able to help my body achieve homeostasis, which is a persistent maintenance and defense mechanism of vital physiological changes that allow for the decrease in my heart rate, blood flow, and regulation of my pupil dilation (Ramsey & Woods, 2014).
Ramsay, D. S., & Woods, S. C. (2014). Clarifying the Roles of Homeostasis and Allostasis in Physiological Regulation. Psychological Review, 121(2), 225–247. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0035942
Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don’t get ulcers: an updated guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.