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  • v.95(1); 2022 Mar

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Focus: The Science of Stress

Introduction: the science of stress.

The term stress was widely popularized in its biological connotation in 1936 by Hans Selye, who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change” [ 1 ]. Stress was originally understood to be a collection of peripheral symptoms that accompany a variety of chronic illnesses affecting different parts of the body. However, since its conception, the term has taken on a broader meaning and encompasses the body’s response to any mental, emotional, or physical disturbance. It is now well accepted that stress is both a symptom and a major risk factor for anxiety, migraines, substance abuse, obesity, and heart disease [ 2 ]. In 2007, the American Psychological Association launched a Stress in America™ survey to document national levels of stress, assess mental and physical impacts, and correlate stress intensity to external factors, including the political climate and the state of the economy. The outcomes of subsequent surveys have established stress as a major contributor to the national mental health crisis that disproportionately impacts different groups across the country [ 3 ].

In a perspectives piece on the neuroscience of stress, Simisola Johnson discusses the evolution of the stress response and the role of the nervous system in eliciting neuroendocrine and behavioral responses that promote survival. However, as opposed to acute stress that can have beneficial effects, chronic stress can lead to severe impairments in circuits that regulate neuroendocrine signaling. For example, in addition to the direct biological consequences of SARS-CoV2 infection on the brain, chronic stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic impacts similar neuronal signaling pathways in the CNS and PNS that hamper normal physiological function. In addition to impacting the brain, chronic stress also alters metabolism at the cellular level. Using a house sparrow model system, Beattie et al. combined chronic psychological stress and daily food restriction to test whether chronic stress decreases the animals’ ability to cope with acute stressors. The study measures a variety of parameters including levels of metabolites, total activity, and markers of the neuroendocrine stress response to assess overall stress responses. Both of these papers highlight the importance of studying the compounding effects of stress that are increasingly prevalent in a post-pandemic era.

Stress experienced by mothers during pregnancy can have deleterious effects on both the infant’s neuropsychiatric and behavioral health. Various studies have found associations between maternal prenatal distress and child developmental outcomes. Children exposed to prenatal stress are at increased risk for displaying disruptive behavioral problems, possessing lower motor function, and even developing neuropsychiatric illnesses at later stages. However, in a self-reported study examining the initiation and course of breastfeeding and room-sharing, Simons et al. found that there was no link between the quality of maternal caregiving and maternal prenatal distress. Although they found that levels of prenatal evening cortisol (a physiological marker of stress) at the end of pregnancy are positively correlated with their study parameters, a lack of homology with other stress markers urges future studies to examine alternative mechanisms. Davis et al. examine how increased reactive oxygen species in the embryonic brain generated due to prenatal stress affect the morphology and activity of neuronal cells during development and in mature brains. The authors found that treatment with antioxidant agents reversed the observed effects on neuronal cells but did not prevent behavioral impacts. The results of these studies emphasize a need to study intergenerational transmission of stress and its long-term effects.

The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 3.6% of the world’s population has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [ 4 ]. Risk factors for developing PTSD include exposure to a traumatic life event, lack of social support, and a genetic predisposition. Liu et al. examined the relationship between personality type, social support, and prevalence of PTSD among Shidu Parents in China. They determined that those with social support and extroverted personalities were least likely to develop PTSD after losing a child. Nagy Youssef provides a perspectives piece on studying the transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of trauma. Conducting more studies on the inheritance of DNA methylation across generations can provide new insights into the impact of trauma and resilience across communities.

In this issue, the biological and social dynamics of stress are examined. Original research, reviews, and perspectives are presented on how stress affects development, metabolism, and various cellular and organ level processes of physiology. We hope this issue contributes to an emerging field and highlights the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the wide implications of stress.

  • Selye H. The Stress of Life . New York: McGraw-Hill; 1956. [ Google Scholar ]
  • What is stress? The American Institute of Stress . 2017. Retrieved March 22, 2022. Available from: https://www.stress.org/what-is-stress
  • American Psychological Association . 2020. Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis. American Psychological Association . Retrieved March 22, 2022. Available from: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report-october
  • World Health Organization . 2013. Who releases guidance on mental health care after trauma. World Health Organization . Retrieved March 23, 2022. Available from: https://www.who.int/news/item/06-08-2013-who-releases-guidance-on-mental-health-care-after-trauma#:~:text=Traumatic%20events%20and%20loss%20a%20common%20experience&text=An%20estimated%203.6%25%20of%20the,previous%20year%2C%20the%20study%20showed
  • UP Textbook Guide
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  • A Shifting Structure
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  • Conclusions

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  • Example Essay
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  • Example Descriptive Writing
  • Skill: Word Choice
  • Sources: Quoting
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  • Example Personal Statement
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  • Skill: Development
  • Revise a Personal Statement
  • Timed Writing (Audience & Register)
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  • Cause-Effect Writing

Example Cause-Effect Writing

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  • Appendix A: Sentence Variety
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causes of stress essay pdf

Chronic Stress

       The stress response has always been part of our nature, and isn’t necessarily bad. Our body responding to stressors is actually something that serves as a defense in times of danger. When you encounter a stressor, the brain signals the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline. In turn, these hormones stimulate the heart causing an increased heartbeat and a rush of blood to the parts of the body that need to activate to help us fight or flee (Pietrangelo & Watson, 2017). In a time of stress, the body prepares to defend, to think and react quickly. Such a reaction is necessary for survival when the stressor is something dangerous like a bear. However, people are experiencing more stress today from non-dangerous situations, and this stress for many people is prolonged, which is not healthy for our bodies. Why is this happening? According to the research of psychologists, many factors can cause chronic stress. Work and major life changes can be a cause of stress, and in turn, stress is able to exert a strong influence on a person’s health and behavior.  

Causes of Stress  

       In addition to changes in life, work often causes stress. There can be many reasons for this. First, work occupies an important place in people’s lives, and when they really desire to succeed in their work, they worry about their performance or finishing projects successfully. For many Americans, “workplace ambitions can lead to feelings of self-induced pressure to perform” (Snyder, 2017, para. 3). This desire to excel can be seen as a good stressor, but nonetheless causes stress. Another reason that stress can come from work is that financial security is tied to a person’s job. For families, this financial security often comes from the parents’ employment, and any member of the family can experience stress due to work challenges because they are perceived as threats to the financial security of the family (Snyder, 2017).

       Finally, stress comes from work for many people that feel their supervisor has unrealistic expectations or demands too much from them. When people feel unable to succeed at a task, stress is a very natural response. For these reasons, stress can be induced by work.   Major life changes are one of the principal causes of stress. Major life changes include moving to a new home, getting married, pregnancy, or changing jobs. One of the most common life changes that causes major stress is the death of a loved one (Jones, 2016), and it is even more stressful if the loved one is a spouse (Alton, 2018). Especially in the case of a spouse dying, this type of major life event causes stress because there are many changes that occur suddenly. Losing a spouse affects family stability, emotional support, and often financial support (Alton, 2018). These events are also stressful because there are many legal and financial matters to arrange that can be very confusing. There are contractual obligations that must be met as they are set forth in the deceased person’s will as well as claiming money from life insurance policies or trust funds. In addition to these matters being new and confusing, they also have serious consequences, so people feel added pressure to take care of these issues properly. It is little wonder that for people who experience major life events, stress is sure to follow.  

Effects of Stress  

       Constant stress on the body has serious physical health effects. Some of the negative physical effects of chronic stress are due to the acute stress response, which hampers digestion, increases blood pressure, makes the heart beat faster, and floods your body with extra chemicals (Snyder, 2017). This makes the heart work much harder than it needs to, and it’s not healthy to be in a constant, heightened state. That is why one of the major long-term health effects of stress is cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke (Marks, 2021). Other physical effects of chronic stress can be caused by the way people cope with stress. For example, unhealthy   eating (combined with a lack of exercise) can lead to obesity. Chronic stress can significantly impact a person’s physical health.  

       Mental health problems are also among the major negative effects of chronic stress. Depression and anxiety are very common in individuals who constantly report high levels of stress (Snyder, 2017). Many college students offer a sad example of how chronic stress can have these effects. One study found that the majority of college freshman reported an increase in stress from before their enrollment to after their first semester; they also reported increased levels of depression, anxiety, and isolation (Snyder, 2017). Many research studies have shown that this connection is more than simply a correlation (Alton, 2018). These mental health effects are clearly a result of the stress many people experience.  

       In addition to health, stress can negatively affect human behavior. The stress response also has a role to play here. When the body reacts to stress, blood is pulled from the prefrontal cortex and goes to the emotion centers of our brain (Snyder, 2017). This affects the logical processes of the human mind. Without enough blood flowing to the logical center of the brain, people often lack mental clarity or the ability to make decisions well. As a result, people who suffer from chronic stress may not seem to make the best decisions. They may rush into a decision or have a hard time prioritizing what needs to be done. Many times, they do not fully consider the implications of an action the same way that they would have if they weren’t under so much stress.  

        In summary, stress has natural causes and can have lasting effects. Stress can come as a result of work or changes in life and it can lead to significant health problems and changes in behavior. Because stress is so common for people living in our fast-paced lives, we need to understand the realities of chronic stress before we take steps to try to change it. Remember that stress isn’t bad; it’s prolonged exposure to stressors without a break that really does the damage. Once the realities are understood, we should take steps to control our own stress   levels so we can live a long, healthy, and happier life.

Exercise 5.1: Annotate an Essay

Scan the essay below and annotate it according to the following directions. 


1. Draw a star next to the hook.

2. Draw a box around the background information.

3. Underline the thesis. 

4. Label the Causes with  C and the Effects with  E . 

1. Underline the topic sentences in each body paragraph.

2. Draw an arrow to show the words that show how the topic sentences support the thesis statement. Draw the arrow from the word(s) in the topic sentence to the word(s) in the thesis statement. 

3. Number the supporting details. 

4. Circle the cohesive device words and phrases

5. Highlight all in-text citations. 

6. Draw an arrow from each in-text citation to their matching full citation on the reference page. 

1. Underline the restated thesis. 

2. Circle the key words that are kept from the thesis statement or that are replaced with synonms. 

3. Box the background information, summary, or global extension. 

4. Draw a star next to the concluding sentence. 

5. Label the concluding sentence. What type is it?

1. Underline the name of the section "Reference". 

2. Circle the author's last name(s)

3. Draw a star by the year of publication. 

4. Draw a box around the title of the article, website, or book. 

5. Label the source. What type is it? Is it an article from a journal or newspaper, website, or other?

Exercise 5.2: Analyze a Cause/Effect Essay

Use the questions below to analyze the example essay. 

  • Does the introduction provide the general information a reader needs in order to understand the topic?
  • Does the introduction end with an effective thesis? Does it match the style of the essay?
  • Do each of the body paragraphs begin with an effective topic sentence?
  • Are the body paragraphs sequenced in a logical order?
  • Look at each body paragraph. Do the supporting sentences support the topic sentence?
  • Look at each body paragraph. Are the supporting sentences sequenced in a logical order?
  • Look at each body paragraph. Is there enough development? Are there more details or examples that would help the reader?
  • Look at each body paragraph. Does the concluding sentence close the paragraph logically?
  • Does the conclusion paragraph start by restating the thesis?
  • Does the conclusion paragraph have a suggestion, prediction, or opinion at the end?


Alton, R. (2018). Understanding Stress. Psychology Explained, 3(2), 34-39.  

Jones, S. (2016). Stress: The causes and the consequences. Retrieved from   https://psych.edu/stress  

Marks, H. (2021) Stress Symptoms. WebMD.   Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-symptoms-effects_of-stress-on-the-body

Pietrangelo & Watson. (2017). What is stress? Retrieved from   https://mentalhealth.edu/stress (link no longer live)

Snyder, A. (2017). Everything you need to know about stress. Retrieved from   https://stressfacts.edu (link no longer live)

This content is provided to you freely by EdTech Books.

Access it online or download it at https://edtechbooks.org/up_writing_winter/ce_example_essay .

Stress and Its Effects on Health Essay

Introduction, physical effects, psychological effects, behavioral effects.

Stress is the emotional strain or tension experienced by an individual due to a reaction toward various demanding and influential situations. The challenging or compelling situations are termed stressors. Stressors can be internal or external and include life changes such as losing a significant figure, low socioeconomic status, relationship problems, occupational challenges, and familial or environmental factors. An individual’s response to stressors influences the outcome of their life. Health is a state of complete social, emotional, and physical well-being and not merely the absence of disease. Stress is a common risk factor for negative health status secondary to negative adaptation and coping with the stressors. Stressors can create a strain on one’s physical, psychological and behavioral well-being, leading to lasting effects that are detrimental to one’s health.

Stress is associated with various physical health impacts on an individual. In an online cross-sectional survey by Keech et al. (2020) to determine the association between stress and the physical and psychological health of police officers, the findings illustrate that stress negatively impacts physical and psychological well-being. One hundred and thirty-four police officers were involved in the study (Keech et al., 2020). The findings demonstrate that stress resulted in various short and long-term physical effects that included increased heart rates, sweating, high blood pressure, and long-term development of the cardiac condition. In addition, stress resulted in the development of gastrointestinal disorders such as peptic ulcer and irritable bowel syndrome. Keech et al. (2020) note that stress’s associated physical health effects are explained by various mechanisms that include overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis.

Overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system results in increased sympathetic actions on the peripheral body organs leading to increased sweat production, heart rate, respiration rate, and urinary and bowel elimination. The study notes that chronic stress without positive adaptation measures results in the progressive development of hypertension, peptic ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome as long-term effects (Keech et al., 2020). Within the gastrointestinal tract, chronic stress activity on the sympathetic nervous system results in increased parietal cell action. Overactivity of the parietal cells results in excessive gastric acid production, gradually eroding the mucosa, and ulceration occurs.

The effects of stress on the cardiovascular system are explained in a review by Kivimäki & Steptoe (2017) to determine the impact of stress on the development and progression of cardiovascular diseases. In the review, stress is identified to cause cardiovascular conditions secondary to the effects of sustained sympathetic action on heart contractility and peripheral vascular resistance (Kivimäki & Steptoe, 2017). The sympathetic nervous system contributes to normal heart and blood vessel contractility. However, when the system is overstimulated, a surge in contractility above the normal limits ensues, leading to the progressive development of heart conditions.

Psychological well-being incorporates a positive mental health status evidenced by an individual’s satisfaction with life, happiness, rational thinking and decision-making, and positive mood patterns. Stress has been associated with alterations in an individual’s psychological wellness. An explanation for alteration in an individual’s psychological well-being secondary to stress is negative adaptation. Keech et al. (2020) note that an individual’s response to a stressor determines whether stress results in positive or negative effects. In the online cross-sectional survey by Keech et al. (2020), the findings illustrate that pressure resulted in the development of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders as long-term effects among the participants. Exposure to stressful situations resulted in progressively developing anxiety among the individual secondary to persistent worry over the issue. The anxiety results in other physical manifestations, including increased heart rate, palpitations, sweating, and altered mobility. Depression and bipolar conditions were also associated with chronic stress secondary to the impacts of stress on neurotransmitter function and nerves.

Similar findings are noted in a cross-sectional study by Zhang et al. (2020) to compare the prevalence and severity of stress-associated mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and insomnia among healthcare workers during the COVID pandemic. Five hundred and twenty-four healthcare workers were involved in the study. The study findings illustrate that 31.3% of the participants developed depression secondary to the stressful working environment, 41.2% reported anxiety, and 39.3% reported sleep disturbances (Zhang et al., 2020). The scientific explanation for the relationship between stress and depression was attributed to the effects of stressful periods on neurotransmitter homeostasis. Chronic stress results in the altered regulation of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. Alterations in serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine resulted in the progressive development of depression and anxiety. Sleep disturbances reported by the participants are attributed to alterations in cortisol hormone homeostasis secondary to overstimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis.

Stressful situations can also lead to alterations in the behavioral patterns of an individual. The most common behavioral effects secondary to stress include the development of eating disorders, altered sleeping patterns, impaired concentration, and drug abuse especially alcohol. Alterations in sleep and eating patterns are linked to stress’s effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPA). Exposure to stressful events leads to increased activation of the HPA axis with a net effect of increased catecholamine production (adrenaline and noradrenaline) (Moustafa et al., 2018). Increased adrenaline and noradrenaline production results in dysregulation in the eating and sleeping patterns. Sustained high levels of cortisol results in difficulty falling asleep and increased metabolic processes. The biological clock regulates the typical sleeping pattern that relies on producing the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin production by the pineal gland is regulated indirectly by the concentration of serum cortisol levels and directly by light perception. Imbalances in the serum concentration cycle secondary to stress results in imbalanced melatonin production and concentration with a net effect of sleeping difficulties.

The emotional strain caused by stress increases the risk of alcohol and other illicit drug use and dependence. Moustafa et al. (2018) conducted an integrative literature review to determine the relationship between childhood trauma, early-life stress, alcohol and drug use, addiction, and abuse. The review findings illustrate that stress increases the risk of alcohol and drug use, addiction, and abuse among the victims. An explanation for the increased risk is the individuals’ lack of identification and implementation of effective coping strategies (Moustafa et al., 2018). Lack of effective coping strategies results in maladaptive measures such as illicit drug use and alcohol consumption. Extensive use of the maladaptive measures results in progressive addiction and drug abuse among individuals with an increased predisposition to other health effects. Alcohol consumption and other illicit drug use over time increase the risk of developing cardiac, respiratory, and liver conditions.

Stress is the emotional strain or tension experienced by an individual due to a reaction toward various demanding and influential situations. Individual response to stressors influences their health. Maladaptive response to stress results in various physical, psychological, and behavioral negative effects. Negative effects of stress on physical health include increased heart rates, sweating, high blood pressure, and long-term development of the cardiac condition. Psychological effects include the development of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders. The behavioral effects of stress on an individual include the development of eating disorders, altered sleeping patterns, impaired concentration, and abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Based on the research findings, it is essential for healthcare providers to identify strategic measures and health initiatives to educate and sensitize the community members on effective stress management approaches in all settings to aid in combating the health effects.

Keech, J. J., Cole, K. L., Hagger, M. S., & Hamilton, K. (2020). The association between stress mindset and physical and psychological well being: Testing a stress beliefs model in police officers . Psychology & Health , 35 (11), 1306-1325. Web.

Kivimäki, M., & Steptoe, A. (2017). Effects of stress on the development and progression of cardiovascular disease . Nature Reviews Cardiology , 15 (4), 215–229. Web.

Moustafa, A. A., Parkes, D., Fitzgerald, L., Underhill, D., Garami, J., Levy-Gigi, E., Stramecki, F., Valikhani, A., Frydecka, D., & Misiak, B. (2018). The relationship between childhood trauma, early-life stress, and alcohol and drug use, abuse, and addiction: An integrative review . Current Psychology , 40 (2), 579–584. Web.

Zhang, X., Zhao, K., Zhang, G., Feng, R., Chen, J., Xu, D., Liu, X., Ngoubene-Italy, A. J., Huang, H., Liu, Y., Chen, L., & Wang, W. (2020). Occupational Stress and Mental Health: A comparison between frontline medical staff and non-frontline medical staff during the 2019 novel Coronavirus Disease outbreak . Frontiers in Psychiatry , 11 . Web.

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