Explain the effects of individual differences on the perception of stressors and the experience of stress.

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Recent scientific research concerning the effects of individual differences on the perception of stressors and the experience of stress has suggested that pathological effects in some individuals are caused by the malfunctioning of stress-inhibitory neural pathways. Therapeutic and psychological research in this area has concentrated on the importance of such factors as self-esteem and socialization in identifying stressors and coping effectively with stress.

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There has been a great deal of research on the effects of individual differences on the perception of stressors and the experience of stress over the past decade. This has taken two main forms: medical and scientific research into why some people develop pathological responses to stress while others do not, and therapeutic research into how best to treat individuals under stress.

In a 2017 article published in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences (attached below), Karl Ebner and Nicholas Singewald argue that individual differences in perception of and vulnerability to stress are explained by the functioning of stress-inhibitory neural pathways. The authors claim that certain "genetic, epigenetic and biochemical factors ... may drive maladaptive processes in these stress-inhibitory circuits," leading vulnerable subjects to respond to stress in a dysfunctional way. The findings cited in this article are highly technical, and are largely derived from animal studies. However, a few easily-understood factors which make individuals particularly susceptible to stress do emerge, such as heightened levels of anxiety, anhedonia, and submissiveness.

The psychological or therapeutic approach to individual differences has historically been to observe a dichotomy between "positive" and "negative" reactions of stress. Investigators and practitioners would note that one individual would see a situation as an opportunity for development, while another would regard the same situation as a stressor, and a cause for anxiety. While the current approach is to regard such responses as points on a continuum, rather than a simple dichotomy, certain personality traits are still identified as broadly adaptive or maladaptive. For instance, high self-esteem and effective early socialization are important factors in preventing a pathological response. Where these are well developed, the subject may not perceive stressors or experience stress at all. The current state of the field in this area is well summarized by Katharine Parkes and Emily L. Hughes in their article "Individual Differences in Coping with Stress" in The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences (abstract and link attached below).

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Explain how an individual's differences can affect the perception of stressors and the experience of stress.

Stress is a natural physical and mental response to situations that arise throughout an individual's day and lifetime. Due to the each individual's unique tolerance levels and perceptions of stress, stress affects each individual differently.

Common physical reactions to stress can include the following:

  1. Increased or decreased appetite
  2. Weight loss or weight gain
  3. Hormonal fluctuations that result in a loss of fertility, fluctuation/stop of menstrual cycle, or erectile dysfunction
  4. Muscle tension
  5. Headaches
  6. Heartburn
  7. Rapid breathing
  8. Increased heart rate
  9. Heart attack
  10. Insomnia
  11. Weakened immune system
  12. High blood pressure
  13. Bowel issues
  14. Decreased libido

Here are common mental reactions to stress:

  1. Effects on the central nervous system, which controls an individual's "fight or flight" response to stressful situations
  2. Effects on the endocrine system and hypothalamus, which releases stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) that fuel an individual's response to stressful situations
  3. Irritability
  4. Anxiety
  5. Lack of motivation
  6. Sadness and/or depression

Stress management is an important step that individuals can take in order to control stress and minimize the negative effects that stress can have on an individual's physical and mental well-being. Stress management strategies can also result in an overall improved health. Stress management strategies include

  1. Regular physical exercise
  2. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and yoga
  3. Taking up hobbies, such as reading a book and cooking
  4. Social activities
  5. Having a sense of humor

However, not all stress is bad. Short-term stress can be beneficial to an individual's health by assisting with problem solving and critical thinking.

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