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Outline and evaluate research into the physiological effects of long-term stress

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Introduction

Psychology-Stress Outline and evaluate research into the physiological effects of long-term stress To be able to outline and evaluate research into the physiological effects of long term stress, we first must be able to define the term stress. Stress is a physical response to an external stimulus. Stress levels depend on the person's perception of the environment versus the person's perception of their own ability to cope known as the transactional model. Long term stress can also be called chronic stress which is on-going or has been apparent for a long period of time. The part of the brain that is responsible for all things in the body stress related is the hypothalamus. A stressor causes the hypothalamus to stimulate the pituitary gland also known as the 'master' gland. This produces Adrenocorticotropic Hormone which causes the adrenal cortex, the outer layer of the brain to release Corticosteriods, Glucocorticoids and Cortisol in long term stress. Corticosteroids arouse the sympathetic nervous system which secretes adrenaline and noradrenaline in acute stress; Glucocorticoids affect the metabolism of blood sugar release as energy reserves and Cortisol suppresses the immune system which is why a lot of people have heard about it in long term stress. Cortisol can increase the risk of heart disease and other ailments but new studies have also shown that it can shrink the brain. High levels of Cortisol found in older adults have shown that they performed poorly in memory tests as well as having a smaller hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. ...read more.

Middle

The person at this stage appears to be coping and is resisting to the stress however if another stressor is introduced then the person will over react even about a simple every day stressor such as losing your keys when in a hurry. Cortisol production is still increasing which can cause the production of white cells to be reduced consequently the immune system becomes weakened. The final stage is exhaustion. This happens when stress is prolonged and the demands of the environment are too great to cope by the person. At this stage the person's blood pressure and blood sugar rises and an increased risk of disease can occur. For example, depression, stomach ulcers and heart disease. This can cause the person to be hyperactive because of the increase in blood sugar and the best way to reduce this is to remove the stressor. Symptoms such as a raised heart beat and sweating may reappear from the ANS therefore the immune system may not be able to cope because the production of necessary proteins have been slowed down in favour of other needs to cope with the stress. Selye proved that the significance of the role of the HPA played an important part in long term stress and the link with physiological illness. As with any experiments there are always strengths and weaknesses. The strengths of Selye's experiment are that it was done under careful, scientific observation and it also generated a lot of other useful research. ...read more.

Conclusion

Many private clinics experiment on monkeys as they believe they are the closest animal to a human but we all know through Darwin's theory of evolution that over time different animals have adapted to the environment in different ways some needing to more than others therefore results of animals compared to humans can provide no real evidence of the link between stress and physiological illness. From the evaluation above the conclusion stands at although Selye's experiment provides us with a detailed account of the link between long term stress and physiological effects it does not however take into account the individual differences and the different demands of the environment depending on where the individual lives. It also does not have a clear link of where the HPA takes over from the SAM system therefore it is difficult to show a clear level of what is a normal level of stress and what is not and if certain stressors cause a bigger illness such a heart disease or cancer that others. Research into the effects of physiological stress is difficult because we are all so different therefore a level of stress for one person may be too much or low for another person. Selye may have discovered a link between long term stress and illness but he did not evaluate the differences between the levels of hormones in the body of different people or the number of stress factors in a person's life as well as how the individual copes or resists to the stressors. Candice Burton 1 ...read more.

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