Research Paper: Stress and Its Effect on the Brain

Pages: 5 (1450 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Psychology  ·  Buy This Paper

Stress and Effects on Brain

Stress and Its Effect on the Brain

Neuropsychological research into human stress response is extensive, although progress in understanding the chemical changes in the brain due to stress has only happened in the last 30 years (Wallenstein, 2003). Stress is an important field of scientific research since it spans from distress in everyday life to more extreme manifestations of stress in mental disorders such as depression (Modell & Holsboer, 2005) and schizophrenia (Lewine, 2005). Stress touches most every child and adult's life in various ways. Traumatic stress rises in the events of war, abuse, assault, rape, childhood loss, or car accidents, among other events. Often such events lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a pervasive form of chronic illness (Mueser, Rosenberg & Rosenberg 2009). Other factors such as poverty, illness, work pressure, and difficult life conditions also create stressors for the human brain and body (McEwan, 2002). These are sometimes felt as chronic and persistent. This paper will use contemporary sources of research and scientific models to discuss the neuropsychological basis for stress and the effects of the brain's stress response on a person's thoughts and emotions. While its focus will be on chronic stress, PTSD is considered as well since it is an important original source for the development of chronic stress.

The widespread use of the term stress in psychology gained currency with Selye (1956). Selye formulated a biologically-based understanding of stress. He focused on the body's general adaptation to a challenging stimulus through a syndrome of bodily changes. This was the start of psychological thinking about stressors that both directly harm the person physically and put the body out of harmony because of any perceived psychological fear of harm. Later research shifted the emphasis away from pure biological reflex toward how environmental stimuli are perceived cognitively and reacted to emotionally (Bremner, 2002). In other words, stressfulness came to be viewed not just as the brain's static chemical or metabolic response to an event, but as a dynamic and alterable part of the interaction between a person's mental functioning, past social experience, and the environmental conditions of the challenging stimulus itself (Bremner, 2002). This led to the contemporary research models that investigate not just the effects of stress but the environments that cause stress.

The physical effects of stress on the brain are evident. The brain's stress response originates in the hypothalamus, which is located at the top part of the brain stem and is responsible for a number of regulatory functions like body temperature and the dispersal of hormones into the blood stream (Wallenstein, 2003). The hypothalamus has a dynamic relationship with the pituitary gland that controls the human endocrine system and the adrenal glands which secrete adrenaline (Wallenstein, 2003). Both of these are extremely important in maintaining the body's hormonal balance and preventing bodily deterioration or disease (Wallenstein, 2003). They are vital to the body's fight-or-flight mechanism of self-preservation. Stress reactions arise from the hypothalamus as natural physiological responses to stressful physical, psychological, or social situations (Wallenstein, 2003). The physical stressors such as those that enact a fight-or-flight mechanism are temporary and involve sudden increases in glucose and adrenalin for energy (Wallenstein, 2003).

It has been determined, however, that more long lasting physical effects occur with psychological stress as a result of prolonged or excessive exposure to stress hormones. The release of hormones like cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline, if excessive due to excessive lengths of stressful situations, can have negative consequences on bodily organs (Bremner, 2002). Chronic stress can increase the stomach's proneness to ulcers, increase risk of heart disease, diabetes and asthma, impair the immune system, and accelerate artherosclerosis, among other harmful physical effects that have been studied and documented (Bremner, 2002, pp. 6-9). Research continues to show that stress has effects correlated with a decline in physical health and with a heightened susceptibility to negative symptoms.

Chronic or traumatic psychological stress can also cause physiological changes in the body as an adaptation mechanism. For example, researchers at Emory University discovered that childhood abuse created lasting alterations in physiological response to subsequent stress (Heim et al., 2000). This means that in traumatized people, stress reactions are heightened or exaggerated afterwards. Over time, these changes can create an exaggerated response to other stressors, can decrease the functioning of the immune system, and may lead… [END OF PREVIEW]

How Stress Effects Memory in Adults Research Proposal


Effect of Drugs on Stress Perception and Stress Adaptation Term Paper


Stress What Does Term Paper


Brain Research and a Brain Friendly (Compatible) Term Paper


Stress Refers to a State of Tension Thesis


View 952 other related papers  >>

Cite This Research Paper:

APA Format

Stress and Its Effect on the Brain.  (2010, June 3).  Retrieved September 17, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/stress-effect-brain/15098

MLA Format

"Stress and Its Effect on the Brain."  3 June 2010.  Web.  17 September 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/stress-effect-brain/15098>.

Chicago Format

"Stress and Its Effect on the Brain."  Essaytown.com.  June 3, 2010.  Accessed September 17, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/stress-effect-brain/15098.