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Psychosocial Stress: Definition, Indicators & Impact

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

We all have a need to belong socially. When this need is threatened, we can experience stress. This lesson will define and describe the indicators of psychosocial stress, and discuss its potentially harmful impacts.

Psychosocial Stress: An Example

After almost 14 years of marriage, Jamie finds herself a newly divorced, single mom of two young children. She was awarded the family home in the divorce proceedings and intends to stay there while she raises her children. However, she's having difficulty fitting into her new role. The neighborhood she lives in is very family oriented, and she seems to be the only divorced mom living there.

In addition, all of Jamie's friends were also her ex-husband's friends, which makes for awkward social encounters. Jamie and her ex attended all the celebratory neighborhood gatherings, but now Jamie no longer gets invited. Jamie is stressed and anxious, and often prefers to stay inside rather than take her kids to the neighborhood playground. She doesn't feel like she fits in and is becoming depressed over her new circumstances.

What is Stress?

All of us experience stress in one form or another on a daily basis. Stress is our body's natural reaction to threats, whether they are real or imagined. Stress is not always a bad thing, and it can be adaptive in situations where it is warranted. Adaptive stress, for example, might occur in a situation where an aggressive dog is chasing us. Our bodies sense the threat of the dog, and increases hormone and adrenaline production which signals us to run away from the dog. This stressful reaction is helpful because it maximizes our chances to escape the situation unharmed.

When stress becomes maladaptive, or unwarranted, it can become harmful. For example, Ann does not feel comfortable in a large crowd of people. As a result, she starts to avoid crowded venues. At first, Ann avoids only large venues, but soon her fear is extended to places that we visit as a normal part of life. As a result of the stress she experiences, Ann's world grows smaller and smaller as she now avoids grocery stores and shopping malls. Ultimately, Ann's inability to cope leaves her home-bound.

What is Psychosocial Stress?

Psychosocial stress is stress experienced as a result of our social interaction with others. Let's go back to Jamie and her divorce discussed earlier in the lesson. Jamie's social situation is changing due to a divorce, and some of the social consequences related to that divorce. As a result, Jamie becomes stressed and begins doubting her own self-worth. The divorce, in Jamie's case, is an example of a psychosocial stressor. Some other examples of psychosocial stressors can include school performance, difficulties with friendships, and even bullying.

The Effects of Psychosocial Stress

How we deal with psychosocial stress, and stress in general, is critical to our physical well-being. Chronic stress, or stress experienced over an extended period of time, such as Jamie's, can have significant negative impacts on our health. Some of the ailments chronic psychosocial stress can cause include:

  • Mental illness
  • Abnormal rise in blood pressure
  • Digestive disorders
  • Alcohol or drug dependency
  • Heart disease

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