Sep 19

You, Me, We, and Stress

Stress always sounds like a frequently used bad word. If you ask a fellow student, a parent, a family member, or a coworker how they feel, “stressed” is usually one of the common words they might use in description along with sleepy, exhausted, and burnt out.

To get technical, stress results from things that happen in our environment, according to the transactional model of stress. Unfortunately, this model implies almost anything can cause stress, “people, events, and situations” (Gruman, 2017). Those categories mentioned are called stressors and there are many things that fall into those three categories.

In these situations, our brains appraise the situation. Appraisals can happen consciously or subconsciously. When this happens think of fight or flight. Either we can think this situation is threatening to us or it’s something we can conquer or get over. We also have secondary appraisals that evaluate and assess our resources to determine how we handle the stressor.

Appraisals can be different for everybody even if it’s the same situation. For example, if I saw a snake (it could be at PetSmart), I would immediately appraise the situation to be threatening. My secondary appraisal would be my resources, my legs to move away from the aisle or my car keys to escape just in case the snake escaped its cage. My husband on the other hand, would appraise the situation as something he could overcome or may not be stressed by the situation at all. If we were looking at the same snake however, his stress maybe because of my reaction to the snake, not the snake itself. What can stress one person out may not phase another.

Appraisals can also change over time. Another personal example, at one point I used to be terrified of dogs. I had been bitten as a child. If I saw a dog, my subconscious appraisal was that the situation was threatening, and I would cry, scream, and beg to leave whatever place the dog(s) were. About 7 years later my cousin, whom I was very close with, got a dog. His gentle nature and my constant appearance in his home changed my appraisal. I no longer saw the situation as threatening. Later on, I grew to be a dog lover with my own two spoiled puppies.

This is an example of coping. Coping is “thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that people engage in when trying to reduce stress” (Gruman, 2017). In essence this means what do you do to reduce the stress that the event, person, or situation caused.

In my last example, I unknowingly was involved in problem-focused coping which is exactly how it sounds. I faced my problem head on to reduce the power it had to stress me out. Did I consciously think “Hey, you really have got to get over your fear of dogs. It’s ridiculous.” No, I did not, I was 10. But I did think, “I want to be around my older cousin more so if that means dealing with her dog then fine.” Pepper was a gentle lovable dog, he made it easy to start to look forward to his cuddles when I saw him. Pepper himself didn’t make my fear of dogs obsolete, but his nature did help me cope. Eventually he was a point of stress relief and now so are my dogs.

There is another type of coping called emotion-focused coping. It deals with how people try to regulate their own emotions in order to reduce the effects of stress. It’s commonly thought of in terms of things we can not change, however, it’s important to note that this does not mean that we avoid the stress. Avoiding stress can lead down a destructive pathway which could possibly bring on more stress.

I experienced emotion-focused coping when I found out that Pepper died. I do not like to be sad, but I let the emotion come forth and I also thought about all the things Pepper opened me up to. Because of Pepper I have two dogs that I love so much. I learned how to take care of an animal because of him. I also learned how to train a dog and instill obedience. My dogs have a better life because of my own interaction with Pepper.

If you notice my end results in both dog examples was that they lead to a healthy outcome. Using the coping methods appropriately lead to a healthy management of stress. Other coping mechanisms for stress management are relaxation training, expressive writing, and using cognitive behavioral therapy to identify stressors, discuss appraisals, and practice coping strategies (Taylor, 2018). Stress may not cause illness; however, it can greatly exacerbate it. Other factors affect stress like socioeconomic status, negative events. Stress can also impact sleep and the time frame to recover from the physiological effects on stress on the body.

To reduce the likelihood of developing chronic stress or incur any of the negative effects of stress it’s important to also have a support system. Social support according to Taylor is information from others that one is loved and cared for, esteemed and valued, and part of a network of communication and mutual obligations. This means that people are better able to cope and have healthier outcomes with social support.

There are difference types of support such as tangible assistance, which is like a monetary gift or someone physically helping you move. Informational support is getting advice or information on situations we’ve never faced before such as getting marital advice as a newlywed. Emotional support is what we receive from people that love and care about us and our well being. Though this doesn’t list all types of support, these are just a few things to possibly reduce our haste to stress out.

Stress is something that can’t be avoided. Our bodies were made to respond to it for our survival, but it can be managed so that it won’t take over our lives and our health. Let’s make use of all of those strategies to keep up healthy and thriving.



Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (2017). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.

Taylor, S. E. (2018). Health Psychology. New York: McGraw Hill Education.


Sep 14

The toxicity of stress

A recent CNN article titled, “’Toxic stress’ can harm your child” by Nadine Burk Harris, discusses how chronic stress in childhood due to adverse experiences can cause a slew of health concerns.  According to Harris, a Pediatrician who works in one of San Francisco’s low income neighborhoods, chronic stress can affect brain and body development; increasing the chances of developing chronic pulmonary obstructive disease in addition to other chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.  She states that research has discovered that these same children will possess increased inflammatory markers as adults.

Stress has been defined as “a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being” by Lazarus and Folkman (as cited in Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012, p. 183).  Their view is called a transactional model of stress (Schneider, et al., 2012) and supports Harris’ claim that “toxic stress” is chronic stress caused by negative experiences.  Lazarus and Folkman would call these experiences “stressors” since their model states that some experiences induce stress and others do not (Schneider, et al., 2012).

While Harris mainly refers to negative experiences common to low-socio economic areas, they are not confined to those areas alone.  Lazarus and Folkman state t  hat experiences are appraised by the individual and that “no two people will experience [a situation] in exactly the same way” (Schneider, et al., 2012, p. 183).  Additionally, some researchers argue that stress is not only a result of negative experiences, stating that positive experiences can also cause stress (Schneider, et al., 2012).  For example, a study involving couples planning their wedding illustrated high levels of stress when compared to other typical couples (Schneider, et al., 2012).  These findings could imply that children may experience “toxic stress” even when involved in positive experiences –again, if the individual appraises the experience as stressful.

If stress is perceived by the individual, the next step in the transactional model is coping –which “refers to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that people engage in when trying to reduce stress” (Schneider, et al., 2012, p. 184).  Similar to the way in which each individual appraises an experience as stressful or not, so too will be determine their coping mechanism (Schneider, et al., 2012).  However, coping mechanisms can be generalized in two categories: problem-focused and emotion-focused (Schneider, et al., 2012).  Problem-focused coping refers to when an individual is direct in dealing with the issue; whereas emotion-focused coping refers to when an individual adjusts their emotions to offset the feelings of stress (Schneider, et al., 2012).  Harris suggests that by simply interacting with children in positive ways such as talking and playing, it will support healthy development.  Her approach aligns with problem-focused coping since it is action based and deals directly with the problem.

Ultimately, research agrees that stress can negatively impact health; which agrees with the last stage of the transaction model: health outcomes (Schneider, et al., 2012).  Harris’ argument also aligns with these findings, indicating that children with “toxic stress” are more susceptible to many chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.  Research findings by Sarafino (2002) and Brannon & Feist (2000) concur, illustrating higher incidences of health issues that ranged from headaches and asthma to respiratory diseases and infectious diseases (Schneider, et al., 2012).  It is safe to say that stress is something everyone should be wary of.  When faced with a stressful experience, it is imperative to control the situation through a coping mechanism of choice.  If stress levels are controlled, it can positively impact one’s health and longevity.


Burke Harris, N., (2014, September 26). “Toxic Stress” can harm your child. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/26/opinion/harris-toxic-stress/.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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