This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Common Stressors

Each phase of life has its special stressors (stimuli which cause stress). In the college population, typical stressors are cramming for tests, worrying about friends or love relationships, or trying to work at a job while going to school. Pre-college adolescents rate events such as "divorce of parents" or "wrecking the family car" most stressful.

What are major stressors for college students? What is evidence that moving can be stressful? What did a psychologist recommend, to minimize this effect?

A common stressor for people of all ages is moving to a new location. Clinical psychologist Ronald Raymond, who worked for a relocation counseling firm, found evidence for great stress associated with moves.

Of 2,000 people studied, only 30% did it without "anguish." Fear and a sense of isolation take over upon arrival at a new town, and this can paralyze people right when they should be making new friends. Fearing rejection, many rationalize that the new community is unfriendly (Brooks, 1983)

Raymond found that the worst time, for people who move, is about two months after arriving at the new community. At that point the honeymoon period of excitement over new opportunities is over. Culture shock may set in. Unfamiliar streets, foods, and social rituals become disturbing. The best medicine, Raymond says, is preventative. One should become involved with others in the new community immediately upon arrival, during the honeymoon period, when it is easiest.

What are some occupations have a reputation for being stressful?

Getting fired is notoriously stressful. (In Chapter 9 it was described as one of the few things, along with death of a spouse, that can put a lasting dip in a person's normal happiness level.) However, being employed is no guarantee against stress. Certain occupations are traditionally regarded as high-stress jobs. These include being an air-traffic controller, member of the police force, or an executive. The helping professions like social work, counseling, and clinical psychology are quite stressful and are associated with a high rate of burn-out. Professions where workers must constantly face deadlines, such as printing and publishing, are notorious for high alcoholism rates that presumably reflect stress.

MacLennan and Maier (1983) emphasize that stress is increased by lack of control.

What factor increases stress, in laboratory studies?

We found that rats exposed to footshock became sensitized to both amphetamine and cocaine only if they cannot cope with or control the shock. (MacLennan and Maier, 1983, p.1091)

This shows it is not the stressful stimulus (stressor) itself that causes stress: it is the inability to cope with the stressor that causes stress. Rats who were allowed to cope with footshock by running from one compartment to another, thus escaping it, suffered fewer negative effects than rats who were hooked to the same shock apparatus (receiving shocks at the same time) but could not control it through an escape response.

Animal studies show the effects of stress on immune competence : the disease-fighting capability of the body.

How might stress increase chances of illness?

...Stress-induced increases in corticoid hormones produce secondary effects involving T cells, B cells (bursa equivalent), NK (natural killer) cells, and thymic components, all vital elements of the immunological apparatus. (Riley, 1981, p.1101)

In one study, Visintainer, Volpicelli and Seligman (1982) showed that rats given inescapable shock were less likely to reject tumors. Rats who were able to control the shock showed no such effect, even though they received as many jolts as the helpless group. So stress could even affect cancer risk. These were the types of studies that led to the discipline of psychoneuroimmunology, discussed earlier. However, as noted in that section, the exact nature of the interaction between experience and immune system functioning has been hard to pin down.

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