AQA A Psychology - Stress

Notes on Stress

  • Body's response to stress
  • Causes of stress
  • Personality and Stress
  • Stress Management

Stress - The Body's Response

SAM system - short term

Henry                                        Hypothalamus

Stops                                        Sympathetic

Nettles                                      Nervous

Stinging                                    System

Armadillos                                 Adrenal

Monkeys                                   Medulla

And                                           Adrenaline

Naughty                                    Noradernaline

Frogs                                        Flight or fight

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Stress - The Body's Response

HPA axis - long term

Henry                                   Hypothalamus

Can Run Fast.                     CRF (hormone released)

People                                 Pituitary

Always Catch The Hens       ACTH (hormone released)

And Clucky                          Adrenal Cortex

Chickens.                            Cortisol

Golly!                                  Glucose (slow release to maintain energy)

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Causes of Stress - Life Events

Holmes and Rahe - 1967

 Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) 

  • 43 major life events with LCU score


  • May not be valid as retrospective (looking back into past) so may have forgetten some things
  • Only a correlation, cannot say life events cause illness
  • Individual differences - death of elderly spouse after long painful illness may not be stressful
  • Age bias - aimed at certain group ie married with children
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Causes of Stress - Daily Hassles

Delongis - 1982

75 married couples given hassles/uplifts scale

  • Found no relationship between life events or uplifts and health
  • Did find relationship between hassles and minor health issues


  • Bouteyre - French psychology students - found correlation between score on hassles scale and depressive symptoms
  • Gervais - Nurses kept diary of hassles and uplifts for a month - found hassles decrease job performance and increased job strain, uplifts counteracted the hassles, increasing performance and decreasing job strain.
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Causes of Stress - Daily Hassles Cont.


  • Accumulation effect -  life events = lots of support. hassles build up to persistant irritstion resulting in anxiety and depression
  • Amplification effect - life events cause little stress but daily hassles are amplified and cause more stress. life events mean people dont cope with stress as well and hassles are more exaggerated.


  • May not be valid as retrospective (looking back into past) so may have forgetten some things
  • Only a correlation, cannot say daily hassles cause illness
  • Biased - Delongis made up the  hassles scale so obviously she'd going to say it is a good measure of stress and illness
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Causes of Stress - Workplace

Work Overload - Having too much work to do in the time available OR the work being too difficult.

Lack of Control - Not having any input about what, when or how you do your job.

Role Ambiguity - Not being clear about what your job involves in terms of hours, responsibilities, who manages you etc. E.G. someone tells you to do something but someone else tells you not to do that.

Role Conflict - When a job involves more than one role and they're difficult to fulfill together OR when it is difficult to fulfill both home and work roles satisfactorily. 

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Causes of Stress - Noise

Glass and Singer - 1969

 60 undergraduate students assigned to one of five conditions:

  • Loud predictable noise
  • Loud unpredictable noise
  • Soft predictable noise
  • Soft unpredictable noise
  • No noise

Measured galvanic skin response (GSR) and persistence at unsolvable task Found lowest GSR and highest persistence with no noise. Lowest persistence and highest GSR was found in unpredictable conditions.


  • small sample, just students - not representative
  • individual differences - personality can affect persistence
  • Ignores physiological effects - temperature can effect GSR
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Personality and Stress - Type A

Friedman and Rosenman - 1959

Type A: Hostile, competitive, materialistic, exaggerated sense of time urgency.

Type B: Relaxed, less ambitious, more patient, focussed of quality of life.

3200 Californian men aged 39-59. interviewed then given health check. 8 1/2 years later noted the incidence of CHD.

Found 257 of the men had developed CHD, 70% of which were Type A.


  • Difficult to determine personalty with precision
  • large sample so quite valid
  • correlation only, cannot assume causation between variables
  • gender and culturally biased sample - unrepresentative
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Personality and Stress - Hardiness

 Kobasa - 1979

Kobasa identified a cluster of personality traits (defined as hardiness) found in people who are good at coping with stress:

  • Commitment: strong sense of purpose and likes to get involved in things
  • Challenge: see change as a challenge rather than a threat
  • Control: feel in control of what happens to them

Studied a group of highly stressed men managing big companies.

Found that those who exercised a lot and were high in hardiness had least illness.

She concluded that three important determinants of health are hardiness, exercise and social support.

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Coping with Stress

Folkman and Lazarus - 1980

Used the Ways of Coping Questionnaire and found these two main coping strategies:

Emotion-focused coping dwells on the emotional distress and includes strstergies such as:

  • Denial - not thinking about stressor and/or carrying on as if nothing has happened
  • Venting emotions - crying, anger, etc.
  • Wishful thinking - if only this hadn't happened

Problem-focused coping dwells on the problem and how to deal with it. It involves:

  • Taking control of stressor -finding out about it, taking steps to deal with it
  • Evaluating pros and consof different options for dealing with stressor
  • Seeking social support

There has been a lot of research into the types of coping strategies and how effective they are. Most show that problem focused approaches are the best. 

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Stress Management - Physiological

Beta Blockers 

  • work by reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, reducing adrenaline and noradrenaline. 
  • directly affect the heart and circulatory system
  • They are very good for people with heart problems and also performers and professional sports men and women because they reduce performance anxiety.

Benodiazepines (BZ's) 

  • work by slowing down the activity of central nervous system, by increasing the activity of neurotransmitter GABA. 
  • This slows down nerve cell activity which causes relaxation and reduces the activity of serotonin which a neurotransmitter linked with anxiety.


  • Easy to use - take very little effort from the patient
  • BZ's can become addictive - people show withdrawal symptoms
  • Beta Blockers are linked with developmental diabetes
  • Treat the symptoms but not the cause
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Stress Management - Physiological


  • Involves operant conditioning to reduce symptoms of stress
  • Individual is attached to machine showing blood pressure or heart rate for example - any machine showing some biological measure of stress
  • Patient then learns relaxation techniques that make biological measure of stress go down and they can see it working
  • Feedback of reduced stress = positive reinforcer
  • Patient then uses the relaxation techniques in stressful situations


  • No addiction
  • No side effects
  • Long term treatment for symptoms but still doesn't treat the cause
  • Take a lot of time and effort from the patient
  • Not clear if feedback works or just relaxation techniques
  • Difficult to find reliable and valid biological measure of stress
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Stress Management - Pyschological

Hardiness Training - Kobasa opened the Institute for Hardiness and offered steps to increase and hardiness and therefore cope better with stress:

  • Focusing - patient is taught to recognise signs of stress and identify causes of stress
  • Re-living stressful experiences - patient is encouraged to go over situations and judge why it was stressful, how they coped, and how it could have been better or worse
  • Self Improvement - insights gain the reliving experiences are used to learn new coping techniques. Aim is to get clients to see stressful situations as positive challenges and to take control


  • Studies have shown it to be effective 
  • Has been used successfully by Olymic swimmers to ensure they're committed to challenge and in control of stressful situations
  • Can have beneficial effects on many aspects of daily life
  • It is difficult. It is not a 'quick fix'. Takes a lot of time and effort from the patient
  • Good alternative to drugs
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Stress Management - Pyschological

Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a combination of cognitive therapy which focuses on changing maladaptive thoughts, and behavioural therapy which focuses on changing maladaptive behaviours.

An example of CBT is Stress Inoculation Therapy (SIT) which aims to replace irrational thoughts with positive rational ones. There are 3 steps to SIT:

  • Cognitive preparation - The therapist and client analyse the situation to find what client sees as stressful, how they cope and how they would like to cope, and make plans to proceed.
  • Stress reduction - Techniques to reduce stress are learnt and rehearsed. these include breathing exercises, self instruction and coping statements.
  • Application - Techniques learned are tried out. To begin with in role play situations and then in real life. Contact with therapist is maintained and progress discussed.


  • Research shows it is effective and helps client to deal with many problems
  • Gives client skills and confidence to cope with a variety of stressors
  • Requires a lot of time, effort and money
  • Unclear which part is most effective
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These are just what I've been looking for! :) Thanks! 



These revision cards are great! Thanks a lot! :)

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