MCAT Content / Stress / The Nature Of Stress

The Nature of Stress

Topic: Stress

Stress is the strain that is experienced when an organism’s equilibrium is disrupted, and it must adapt.

Stress is a phenomenon that spans both the normative and pathological spectrum of the cognitive and emotional processes. The source of stress, or stressor, can range from daily hassles (e.g. traffic, paying bills) to major personal events (e.g. going to college, the birth of a child) to cataclysmic events (e.g. natural disasters, war).

Stressors can be categorised into two groups: Dependent stressors, such as relationship problems or failing a test, are those events that are due, at least in part, to an individual’s characteristics or behaviors, and they have been shown to be more predictive of depression. And independent stressors is something that happens regardless of your personal behavior, feelings, thoughts, attitudes, etc. e.g. get hit by drunk driver

There is considerable variability in how people experience and manage stress. People’s cognitive appraisals, or personal interpretations of the situations that triggered stress, can account for many of these differences. According to the appraisal view of stress, people make two appraisals which determine their overall emotional reaction to the event:

1. Primary appraisal: Evaluating a situation for the presence of any potential threat. If a threat Is present, a secondary appraisal is generated.
2. Secondary appraisal: Assessing the personal ability to cope with the threat. An individual who does not believe that he or she can handle the threat well experiences a higher level of stress than someone who appraises his or her ability more highly.

Stress has profound effects on psychological and behavioral functioning. The fight-or-flight response often activates the emotion of fear. Emotion and cognition serve as an adaptive purpose by guiding the decision to fight or flee in a stress-provoking situation. Chronic stress, however, contributes to psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Despite the negative effects of stress, there are some situations in which a certain amount of stress can enhance performance. Research has shown that people perform better under a mild amount of stress, particularly when they have expertise in the task at hand. However, the benefits of arousal follow a curved path: once stress levels exceed the optima amount, stress can cause memory and cognitive impairment.

 

Practice Questions

 

Khan Academy

 

MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Section Bank P/S Section Passage 10 Question 79


Key Points

• Stress is a phenomenon that spans both the normative and pathological spectrum of the cognitive and emotional processes. The source of stressors can range from daily hassles to cataclysmic events.

• There is significant variability in how people experience and manage stress. People’s cognitive appraisals can account for many of these differences.

• According to the appraisal view of stress, people make two appraisals which determine their overall emotional reaction to the event.

• During the primary appraisal, the person evaluates a situation for the presence of any potential threat. If a threat Is present, a secondary appraisal is generated.

• During the secondary appraisal, the person assesses personal ability to cope with the threat. An individual who does not believe that he or she can handle the threat well experiences a higher level of stress than someone who appraises his or her ability more highly.

• The interactions of endocrine hormones that have evolved to stabilize the body’s internal environment can be disrupted by stress.

• Although our bodies can respond to and deal with stress in the short term, long-term exposure to stress hormones can have detrimental effects.

• Stress has profound effects on psychological and behavioral functioning.


Key Terms

stressor: a source of stress

cognitive appraisals: personal interpretations of the situations that triggered stress

primary appraisal: evaluating a situation for the presence of any potential threat

secondary appraisal: assessing personal ability to cope with the threat

fight-or-flight response: a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival



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