The Affects of Stress on Physical Health
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
FRISBIE, J. L. (2002). The Affects of Stress on Physical Health. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Affects of Stress on Physical Health
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
This study tested whether stress affected physical health in negative ways. It consisted of a group of twenty-one students, from a psychology 200 class, who were administered surveys. The survey asked them questions regarding phycial symptoms of health and stress and they were asked to rate, from always to never, how often they experienced the hypothetical situations in the questions. I found that as the level of stress increased, the physical symptoms did also. In other words, negative physical symptoms are greatly associated with, and caused by different types of stress. Therefore, the results of the study clearly support the hypothesis that certain negative, physical illnesses and disease are the result of stress.

There has been extensive research done on stress and how it affects different individuals emotional and physical states. For instance, Aldwin (1994) believed that negative stress had a lot to do with the person-environment transactions and what their reactions to those were. He also believed that the level of stress that the person was experiencing had to do with the cultural background that they came from. Lazarus (1998) and Selye (1983) thought that the intrusion of stress was caused by "strain", which produced a pattern of physico-chemical responses in the glands, tissues, and vascular systems. Finally, according to Pierre Janet (1893), the memories of traumatic stress are stored at a somatic level. This allows them to be expressed through certain behavioral characteristics. The reason that I chose to do research on this topic further is because I have always been interested in how the body reacts physically to stress. This is mainly because of personal experience. I tend to worry about many things, trying to pretend or act like things don`t bother me, but they do. To elaborate, I have always wanted to find ways to overcome the stressful things that go on in my life and be able to put them out of my mind. More importantly, helping others overcome the same feelings of helplessness and other things that are associated with stress is very important to me. This is because stress will often affect an individuals health negatively. It can also leave them feeling depressed, (Anderson et al., 2002). Furthermore, the purpose behind the research that I am doing is to try to provide information stating that my hypothesis of stress affecting mental and physical health in a negative way is correct. Hopefully, my findings will compare well with others that have done research in this area. Perhaps, also I can find more information from the surveys that I give to the students.

The participants involved included a psychology 200 class that I administered the surveys to. The school that these students attend is Missouri Western State College in Saint Joseph, Missouri. The materials that I used included the surveys. The class that I gave them to had thirty-five students normally. However, only twenty-one students were there at the time. I handed out the surveys accordingly. In other words, when I looked at my information that I had collected, I had twenty-one data sheets to compare. The procedure involved some of the same types of things. The surveys were administered and the students were not given a set amount of time to finish. They were allowed to take however long was needed to answer the questions appropriately and effectively. There was a small set of instructions at the top of the survey telling them how to fill it out. I thanked them for their time after everyone had completed.

A Pearson correlation coefficient was calculated for the relationship between physical symptoms and stress. A strong, positive correlation was found (r(19) = .485, p < .05), indicating a significant linear relationship between the two variables. Physical symptoms increase with stress. The participants had, in fact, at least once in their lives, felt helpless, depressed, or sad because of the stress that they had experienced. Therefore, the data that I retrieved concludes that the overall participants did experience negative results because of stress in their lives.

The results of the study clearly support the idea that stress affects physical health in a negative way. This is made evident by the fact that the scores from the surveys indicated that as stress increased, so did the physical symptoms associated with it. These findings are consistent with the results from the studies of Joseph Ciarrochi, Deane, and Anderson (2002), who stated that emotionally perceptive individuals seem to be more strongly affected by stress than ones who are less perceptive. Therefore, they experience higher levels of depression, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation. I, personally found that often times the participants involved in my study would experience an increased heart rate, clammy hands, and feelings of helplessness when they were in a stressful environment. Feelings of helplessness are a key factor in depression, and in severe cases, suicide. In addition, and to elaborate, not only does perception play a major part in stressful situations and how they are interpreted, but a sense of uncontrollability also needs to be examined. This is classified as a negative cognition response in anxiety and its defined as a feeling of helplessness due to a persons perceived inability to predict, control, or obtain desired results, (Barlow et al., 1996). Again, my results are similar to these. For instance, the people in my experiment that reported they felt they didn`t have control of what was going on in their lives experienced greater stress. Some of the participants felt physically ill before a major thing in their life that they felt was stressful. In other words, when individuals feel as if they cannot control a certain outcome or situation, they often times experience physical symptoms of stress. Therefore, my results compare well with Barlow`s research as well. Some of the possible limitations in this study that could`ve caused the results would be that perhaps the participants felt pressured, since the questions put them at minimal risk. When dealing with an abstract term or topic like stress, sometimes the people involved will not answer accurately because they are afraid of what the experimenter might think of them if they did. Also, it is an embarassing thing to admit that nausea is associated with stressful situations, because the person wants to feel and seem like a capable individual who can handle situations with a high amount of control. In addition, they might be in denial and not want to admit to themselves that they have experienced those things. Certain extraneous variables may have played a part. For example, the student might have just come from a huge exam that they were really worried about, and the last thing that they wanted to do was fill out a survey, so they just hurried through it, without really reading the questions or taking the time to figure out what the questionnaire`s topic was. It is also important to mention that most of the participants were female and they were all from a psychology class. So, it wasn`t an entirely representative, random sample, which could`ve affected the study in a negative way. It is significant to note that some of the results from the study may have been due to the conditions of that particular day. If the confouding variables indicated above had not been present, then maybe the scores would`ve, in fact, been different. If there had been more questions on the survey, then maybe the information that I found would be different. Perhaps a greater variety of questions might`ve been helpful. Also, as noted above, if there had been more male participants in the experiment, then maybe the physical symptom score would not have been as high. Females, I believe, tend to worry about things more and focus on situations, dwelling on them far more than males. So, this definitely could`ve been a determining factor for the results of the study. However, even though different circumstances would`ve brought about different information, I believe that there would have been a significant relationship with stress and negative physical symptoms associated with it. My opinion is based on the results of previous studies that have focused on this topic. Further research should be done on stress, simply because the determining factors that could potentially cause it are increasing every day, in today`s society. Therefore, knowing the causes of it and how to prevent them is crucial for everyone. Since I have found that stress affects physical health in a negative way, if people are specifically aware of how it affects them, it is easier to attack or get to the root of the problem and prevent the negative response. I believe that it is very essential to study older people, because depression is very prevalent in this section of the population. Depression, of course, is associated with feelings of helplessness, which in turn, cause stress, then causing negative physical responses. Often times, older adults are ignored in today`s society and they need to be targeted as well. A variety of ages should be included in experiments that actually create an environment that would potentially be stressful. I think that it would be interesting if the experimenter was in the hall or something (of course they would have assistants helping them), and just stopped certain people asking them things that would be "stressful". Then, after that, explain to them what was going on, and ask them if they would mind answering some questions or something of that nature. I am not certain whether this would bring about useful and helpful information, but it would be an approach that I have not heard of, and it would be interesting to see what the findings would be on that type of study.

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Submitted 4/30/2002 1:00:46 PM
Last Edited 4/30/2002 5:01:00 PM
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