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Stress & Its Effects on the Brain and Body Research Paper

Summary and Hypothesis

Negative aspects of factors that affect human body functions cause stress. Negative factors, or stressors, arise from abnormalities in the physiological functions of the body.

The physiological processes that keep the human body functioning properly may suffer interference from outside or within the body such that they are not in equilibrium (Goldstein & Kopin, 2007).

This is the biological perspective of stress. From a psychological perspective, stress is characterized by behavioral symptoms accompanied by a negative state of mind. A person experiencing psychological stress may withdraw from various participative aspects of life.

In addition, a person experiencing stress will show physical changes, and physiological processes in the body might be affected. Psychological stress results to unwillingness of an individual to engage in social activities.

Imbalance in the physiology of the body results to conditions such as hypertension, lack of sleep, and irregularity of sexual desire.

Stress has many effects that are less evident in the first stages of its development (Goldstein & Kopin, 2007). Psychological stress is scientifically associated with physiological processes in the cell and the balance of chemical activity in the body.

For example, if an individual senses that a dangerous event is about to take place, he or she might react physically by running away or emotionally by getting psychologically prepared to fight back. Thus, psychological reaction involves physiological processes.

This proves that reaction to stress has both psychological and physiological aspects. While the anatomy and physical construction of the brain is well known, its operation and the precise mechanisms responsible for its proper functioning are poorly understood (Fleshner et al., 2011).

This makes it necessary to study psychology through empirical examination and randomized trials.

In this paper, stress is examined from both biological and psychological perspectives. Physiological factors that cause stress and the external factors that influence physiology of the human body are examined. Throughout an individual’s life, residual stress is always present.

When an infant is born, mechanisms are usually in place so that the child reacts to stressors whenever they are present. Thus, stress is natural and cannot be eliminated. A situation where one does not experience stress at all is inconceivable.

When there are no stressors at all, an individual will not feel pressured to react to any event even when the matter is of critical urgency. If a particular stressor affects a person repeatedly, the reaction of the individual to the stressor is often different on every occasion.

The experience of the event in the past may either improve the ability of the individual to cope with stress or worsen it (Goldstein, & Kopin, 2007).

Stress is only considered harmful to an individual if it builds up beyond a certain level. However, stress is normally present in all human beings, and is a critical factor in fostering motivation.

Stress may be caused by a situation outside the body such as a traumatizing event, but may also be a result of an uncomfortable state of the body (Blackburn & Munro, 2001). Conditions such as constant or repetitive pain, nausea, cold, extreme warmth and even pressure cause excessive stress.

Various experiments have been used to investigate the nature of stress and the manner in which people react to it.

Some of the approaches used to examine the concept of stress are based on biological evidence alone, while others are based on empirical analysis of the state of the human mind (Valentino & Bockstaele, 2008).

The level of stress in an individual may be determined by the extent to which the physical equilibrium in the body has been disturbed.

On the other hand, the behavior of the affected individual may be evaluated for a psychological analysis. Reactions such as anxiety determine presence of excessive stress (Kudielka & Wüst, 2010).

Introduction And Background

Walter Cannon linked stress to the balance of chemical activity in the body in the early 1920s. This was the beginning of association of stress with the situations external to the body. Early psychobiologists such as Hans Selye supported this perspective.

Later, scientists such as Lindemann found an association of stress with events that did not necessarily cause changes in the physiology of the body (Valentino & Bockstaele, 2008).

In that essence, stress is a complex condition that can only be described by the symptoms and reactions exhibited by those who suffer from it.

Major events in history such as the holocaust and the two world wars were influential in the study of stress.

The psychological state of the former soldiers who fought in the wars and the survivors of the holocaust helped scientists to link traumatizing events to long-term effects of stress (Valentino & Bockstaele, 2008).

These scientists used various models such as the concept of individual stress and that of family stress. The reactions of people to stress as a group and that of an individual were studied in reference to historical events such as the great depression of the1920s and 1930s.

During the First World War, scientists approached stress from a physiological point of view. People exhibiting symptoms of stress were thought to be suffering from physiological disorders that hindered the brain from functioning properly (Blackburn & Munro, 2001).

While classical scientists associated stress with groups such as families and prison inmates, contemporary scientists associate stress with an individual. The scientists focus on the effects of stress on the human body and the state of mind.

Research Discussion

Stress is known to affect the health of an individual, depending on specific reactions to it. In that essence, scientists have experimented and studied the physiological reaction to mental stress by the body. In addition, the effects of stress on individual minds are studied.

Stress is known to change the mental reaction patterns of an individual particularly if it persists for a long time. The reaction itself is the activity of chemicals released by specific parts of the body.

There are various reaction patterns exhibited by different individuals who are experiencing situations that are known to cause stress. R.S. Lazarus and Albert were the first scientists to study stress from the perspective of the nature of reaction exhibited by an individual experiencing stress.

They did this study by subjecting some people to stressful vision. Several individuals were required to watch graphic and bloody scenes of a film and report their feelings about the particular film to analysts.

Some of the people who were involved in the experiment reacted by saying that the situations presented were not real and were created artificially (Blackburn & Munro, 2001). Others expressed concern for the plight of the people who were undergoing painful experiences in the film.

It was found that the kind of reaction and the intensity of the reaction of the individuals depended on the environment of the person. Experiences had critical influence on the manner in which people reacted to the film.

However, experience did not mean that the people involved experienced less stress (Blackburn & Munro, 2001) In fact, in some cases, experience reduced ability of the person to cope with stress. In the particular experiment, it became difficult to describe the cause of particular reactions.

A stressful situation such as the films had many factors in its details that had the ability to cause stress. It became difficult to distinguish the details that a particular person focused on.

Consequently, it was clear that stress depended on the reaction of the particular person to specific details and could not be generalized.

Organization and Analysis

The idea of looking at stress from the perspective of coping was adopted by modern psychologists. Two approaches to coping with stress are known. When there is presence of a factor that is causing stress, some people will choose to confront the issue and find a solution.

These people see the situation as a barrier that must be overcome. On the other hand, a person experiencing a problem that causes stress may choose to change the perspective from which he or she views the situation.

The situation then ceases to be an emotional issue to the particular individual. This approach of coping with stress may be dangerous if it becomes an individual’s way of dealing with every difficult situation.

Furthermore, people who consider this approach of dealing with stress pervasive call it mal-adaptive stress coping. Changing the perception about a stressful situation that might cause harm does not eliminate the possibility of the situation causing damage.

Thus, the first approach of formulating a solution to the problem is the best way to manage factors that cause stress since the problem may eventually be solved. This approach is called the adaptive approach to stress coping.

People have similar patterns of adopting coping methods in stressful situations. It is not possible for people to share identical stress causatives since their lives are different.

One’s social status, expectations, hopes, and beliefs are some of the factors that determine a person’s perception of a situation. The perception determines the different people’s reaction to stress.

For example, a wealthy man might not consider college school fees for his daughter to be a stressful matter. On the other hand, a person earning little money may consider this a stressful problem.

Since no two situations are precisely identical, it is difficult for reactions of different people to the same problem to be identical (Valentino & Bockstaele, 2008).

If people of ideally similar capabilities are subjected to identical stressful situations, the reaction pattern in an effort to cope with the problem will be the same. The first step in the reaction is the attempt to find a solution to the problem.

If the situation has a particular achievable solution, it is likely that the individual will try to solve the problem. On the other hand, if the situation has no apparent solution, the reaction becomes emotional, and the individual may adopt escapism as a way of dealing with the stress.

Ideally, similar situations cause relatively identical reactions in people of similar capabilities. Stress such as that related to similar situations at work or at home among family members causes similar reaction patterns (Valentino & Bockstaele, 2008).

Some of the physical changes that take place in a human being in an effort by the body to overcome stress include the release of hormones that cause vascular constriction and speed up cardiac action.

Some other processes such as digestion and transmission of nervous signals may also stop so that physical feeling is not possible in some parts of the body. Depending on the individual, the rise of the level of resistance to stress occurs in varying patterns (Valentino & Bockstaele, 2008).

People who often overreact to stressors raise the level of resistance to stressing factors, and are highly susceptible to diseases and disorders related to stress.

When an individual’s mind has a memory of a stress-causing factor, stress may occur repetitively, eventually leading to development of a disease (Kudielka & Wüst, 2010).

However, it is evident that the possibility of developing disease even after undergoing stress varies from one individual to another.

Diseases that might occur due to repetitive stress can be serious and permanent disorders due to overreaction of organs to the stressful situations. On the other hand, reaction to stress causes excessive consumption of energy and other resources.

If the reaction to stress is prolonged, the immune system is suppressed due to diversion of energy. Pathogens may then flourish in this environment and cause disease. This occurs even with the mild situations that cause minimal but persistent stress (Kudielka & Wüst, 2010).


From the above analysis, one can conclude that stress is a complex concept with varying definitions that depend on individual perception. However, it is evident that stress must always be there to prompt reaction to situations that must be attended to.

In addition, stress can be either beneficial or harmful. Motivation and innovation are constructive aspects of reaction to stress. On the other hand, stress is capable of causing disorders and diseases to humans if it persists.

When an individual is exposed to stress causing factors for a long time, the stress may become permanent. This may also occur if the stress-causing factor is of a significantly high magnitude such that it leaves an impression in the cognitive memory of the individual.

Other situations cause stress that an individual may not have the capability to cope with. In these situations, one is not able to solve the causative problem or ignore it. Consequently, stress increases and persists culminating in chronic depression.

Such stress may cause cardiovascular disease, mental disorder, and affect the general health of an individual negatively (Blackburn & Munro, 2001).

Another deduction is that reaction to stress is almost similar if all other factors are constant. This can only happen in ideal situations. Such situations are difficult to simulate, but scientists try to create their approximations for the purpose of experimentation.

On the issue of coping with stress, the problem solving approach is more constructive since the stressor may finally be eliminated.

On the other hand, in the second approach the stressor is ignored and is no longer perceived as a threat. Thus, the problem might continue to cause damage. However, this approach is suitable for countering stressors that are not harmful when they are ignored.


Blackburn, G., & Munro, R. (2001). Chronic Pain, Chronic Stress and Depression: Coincidence or Consequence?. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 13(12), 1009-1023.

Fleshner, M., Maier, S., & Lyons, D. (2011). The neurobiology of the stress-resistant brain.. Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 14(5), 498-502.

Goldstein, D., & Kopin, I. (2007). Evolution of concepts of stress.. Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 10(2), 109-120.

Kudielka, B., & Wüst, S. (2010). Human models in acute and chronic stress: Assessing determinants of individual hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis activity and reactivity. Stress: The International Journal on the Biology of Stress, 13(1), 1-14.

Valentino, R., & Bockstaele, E. V. (2008). Convergent regulation of locus coeruleus activity as an adaptive response to stress. European Journal of Pharmacology, 583(2- 3), 194-203.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Stress & Its Effects on the Brain and Body." December 29, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/stress-its-effects-on-the-brain-and-body/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Stress & Its Effects on the Brain and Body'. 29 December.

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