Annotated Bibliography: Stress and Lifetime Longevity

Final Project Annotated Bibliography

How does stress impact lifetime longevity on a biological level?

Selye, Hans. The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956. Print.

Doctor of Medicine Hans Selye is widely considered the “father of stress,” as he coined the term through experimenting with lab rats in the mid-twentieth century. In his experiments with rats, he injected them with harmful substances in specific organs and studied how the rats reacted. What he found, however, was not what he expected; the rats did not demonstrate symptoms that should occur when a particular organ temporary functioned at a reduced efficiency. In other words, the rats reacted instinctively in a way different from what the side-effects should have caused. These reactions were based on a psychological response that in turn led to other biological reactions.

Selye called this response the General Adaptation Syndrome, which is made up of three stages: “1) the alarm reaction, 2) the stage of resistance, and 3) the stage of exhaustion.” He measured both positive and negative stress as the “totality” of changes observed to have taken place during General Adaptation Syndrome. Selye determined the adrenal glands, thymus, a group of three lymph nodes, and the inner surface of the stomach to be the biological factors most heavily affected by the syndrome. Although the technology available to Selye during his time was relatively rudimentary, he established the basis though which stress would be studied throughout the rest of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with his legacy of empiric research. The experiments Selye conducted work as a starting point for my research and point me in the right direction for deeper research.

Contrada, Richard, and Andrew Baum. The Handbook of Stress Science: Biology,
Psychology, and Health. Springer, 2011. Print.

The handbook covers in great detail the biological and psychological effects of stress in humans and compiles the work of scientists and researchers who improved on the concepts and theories of Hans Selye. And although Selye accurately identified the key parts of the body that are affected by stress, scientists referenced in the handbook have taken his research more than a step further to actually understand the factors behind the correlations. The debate over how strictly to follow definitions of stress is briefly mentioned and suggests opposing theories between earlier and later interpretations of the term itself. Other concepts introduced include stress networks and the importance of glucocorticoids.

More importantly, the handbook covers several of the implications stress has on overall health. Health complications that can arise from excessive stress include: changes in eating behavior, increases in drug use, worsened complications during pregnancy, depression and other mental health problems, physical trauma, cardiometabolic syndrome, cancer, susceptibility to infectious disease, worsened complications in HIV/AIDS, and other physical aches and pains. Great detail is given in support of other research I conducted on the relationship between stress, cancer/tumor-induction, and complications in HIV/AIDS. Stress affects human health in three general ways: “direct effects on physiological process, behavioral changes that affect physiology…, or changes in behavior.” Of course, such significant changes in health (such as those caused by stress) could certainly have a negative impact on lifetime and support a potential correlation.

Jackson, Mark. The Age of Stress: Science and the Search for Stability. 2013. Print.

Mark Jackson’s The Age of Stress discusses the “research of Selye and others, which focused on the relationship between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and the adrenal cortex in mediating chronic stress reactions…” The book aims to explain the biological and psychological factors behind why “…stress is now the most commonly cited cause of sickness absence from work and stress-related conditions, such as depression, heart disease and cancer…” This source further confirms some of the health complications that can arise from excessive stress levels (cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc.). A useful aspect, however, is the source’s compiling research from actual cancer specialists and other medical doctors who are knowledgeable not only in the field of Stress Science, but also specific biomedical areas.

The term “mobile equilibrium” is introduced which is very similar to Selye’s theory of homeostasis. Selye and other researchers followed a theory of intense Hippocratic processing of “ideas of balance and self-regulation,” whereas later scientists began to develop other concepts of psychology not inherently “physically chemically” based. Although this source has a lot of important information on my topic, it is essentially a wall of text that requires a great deal of skimming for key ideas. Another key theory is that stress is actually caused by socio-political and cultural contexts and not internally through instinctive chemical imbalances. An economic depression, for example, can lead to anxiety and stress; this might be another area I could choose to conduct research on: how do external factors affect an individual’s stress levels? Perhaps citizens of different countries experience different average levels of stress? This could translate to a more economical study between contrasting countries.

Gotlib, Ian, and Blair Wheaton. Stress and Adversity Over the Life Course. 1997. Print.

The important piece about Stress and Adversity Over the Life Course is the work’s coverage of the impact stress has over an individual’s lifetime. The book attempts to “map the influence of early stressful experiences on later life outcomes, studying the trajectories of stressors over the life course.” This will be particularly helpful as I draw conclusion about how stress can lead to various work positions in life. After considering different occupations, I can consider the average stress levels the individual might be subject to by utilizing other resources that specialize in this field.

The work considers stress levels among those who are married, high-school dropouts, dealing with various street delinquencies, work in the Toronto metropolitan area, etc. Various charts are given showing the relationship between these factors and other potential side-effects such as substance abuse and intermarriage violence. These relationships can then be uses to assess average stress level in the individual’s life relatively accurately. Of course, the resources discussed earlier in this annotated bibliography explain some of these side-effects and analyze how stress might correlate both indirectly and directly. Many tables and charts show the relationship between specific stressors and reported side-effects in case studies where those participating in the experiments are rigorously studied over the course of a section of their lives.

Kutash, Irwin, and Louis Schlesinger. Handbook on Stress and Anxiety. Jossey-Bass, 1980. Print.

Handbook on Stress and Anxiety compiles the research and experiments of a large number of scientists in the field of stress science. Anxiety is not something I’ve given much consideration in my other sources, so this will open my research up a bit and allow me to explore another potentially-significant factor in studying lifetime longevity. Oddly enough, feminism is also considered to play a role in determining one’s average stress level, according to one experiment cited in the compilation. A large portion of the work focuses on the theories behind these factors and discusses those of psychoanalytic, learning and behavioral, developmental, sociological, ethological and psychological, and neurobiological theories.

Written in 1980, however, the work places particularly high significance on the work of Hans Selye; this is a point of interest because the newer resources I’ve selected contain many theories that have been built on those that Selye developed earlier on in his studies. In other words, some claims made in this work will contradict those made in newer ones. Nevertheless, it will be valuable to obtain a better understanding of how far science has progressed in the field from when it was conceived earlier in the twentieth century. The authors acknowledge how little was understood of stress at the time and surely predicted the later developments that did come within the field.


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