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

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Candice Burton


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. This may be linking long term stress with mental health but it can also be linked to physiological stress because it may be that the person is unable to carry out every day activities. It has also been found out that long term stress can lead to premature aging. As well as this, the physiological effects of long term stress can reduce testosterone and progesterone having an effect on reproduction.

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    The first link between long term stress and illness was discovered by Hans Selye in the 1930’s where he wrote about the General Adaptation Syndrome better known as G.A.S. His research came about by doing experiments on rats and seeing how they responded to different types of stress. He noticed that there was a pattern in the way in which the rats and hospital patients both reacted to stress. This is how the term G.A.S was introduced. Selye first started his research by exposing the rats to a variety of stressors including, bacterial infections, toxins, physical restraint and ...

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