What role does stress play in mental illness?

Just chucking up what I wrote but forgot to actually publish in week 10… oops.

Stress plays a fundamental role in our functioning as human beings and in the development of society. It is defined as a normal physical response to threatening or upsetting events, which is generally considered an important part of our behaviour because it motivates us to meet deadlines and requirements, or to perform well under pressure. Further, the ‘stress response’ that we feel when our bodies believe that they are being threatened heightens our awareness and reactions, while also giving us extra energy to defend ourselves. That being said, excessive stress is unhealthy because it overwhelms us and thus negatively affects our ability to communicate, complete tasks and manage our lives properly.

This overwhelming kind of stress is a known contributor to mental illnesses such as extreme anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is because while low amounts of stress (‘adequate’ acute stress, or stress that is not overwhelming) can improve productivity and motivation, excessive feelings of stress lead to irrational cognition and feelings of defeat and hopelessness. Furthermore, the pathophysiological significance of stress is huge because chronic stress disrupts various vital bodily systems. For example, it can raise blood pressure, suppress or increase appetite, contribute to infertility and speed up the aging process. Further, stress is a major contributor to unhealthy sleeping patterns that are commonly linked to mental illness. Most prominently amongst these is a condition called insomnia, which is the inability to fall or remain asleep for the desired amount of time, and is often linked to anxiety and depression.


Stress and Mental Illness

1. Esch, Tobias; Stefano, George B.; Fricchione, Gregory L.; Benson, Herbert (2002) The Role of Stress in Neurodegenerative Diseases and Mental Disorders, Neuroendocrinology Letters, Boston, USA, found at: http://www.nel.edu/pdf_w/23_3/NEL230302R02_Esch_rw.pdf – last viewed 8/4/2014

The Role of Stress in Neurodegenerative Diseases and Mental Disorders is a comprehensive source about how stress and anxiety affect mental disorders and cognitive decay. The authors begin by defining stress and discussing the history of our understanding of what stress is, why we feel it and how prominently it affects our societies, and continue by discussing various neurodegenerative diseases and how they may be caused or affected by stress. Furthermore, the subjects are related back to the biological perspective when the function of the hypothalamus pituitary gland and hippocampus work to maintain memory and thus cognition.

The language used in the article is concise and to the point, while also being accessible to amateur readers. Further, the logical layout is helpful in understanding the document and the concise abstract at the beginning gives a thorough description of the motivation behind the study, as well as the overall conclusion of the article.


2. Stress Symptoms, Signs & Causes – found at http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm – last viewed 9/4/2014

‘Helpguide.org’ is a ‘trusted non-profit resource’ that provides extensive information regarding lifestyle choices, mental health and child-rearing practices. This article gives a strong description of what stress is, how it is caused, the dangers of excess stress and how to avoid these problems associated with stress. As well as acknowledging the issues involving excess stress, the author also acknowledges that stress is an important part of our lifestyles and societies.

Due to the fact that the article is written with a popular audience in mind, it is written in understandable but factual language. The document also gives various examples that can be easily related to in order to give the reader entire comprehension of the concept. For example, later in the document there is a section that outlines how stress influences people differently and how we all are stressed by different things. It does this by outlining scenarios that include real situations of real people, allowing familiarity with the concepts in similar situations to the reader.

The website claims to be written by experts in order to help the reader resolve health challenges. The ‘About Us’ section of the website outlines the credentials of the writers and editors that contribute to the site and all have university qualification and experience in literary fields. 

Are you narcissistic because you are not neurotic?

While doing my experiment report and thinking some thinks related to neuroticism’s effect on our personalities I stumbled upon this mind-bending thought. We often describe high-scoring neurotic personality traits quite easily, with things like ‘lack of self-confidence, prone to stress, anxiety and depression’ etc., but how can we describe the low-end of neuroticism? Vanity? Narcissism? Up-them-selves-ness? 

I feel that a low neuroticism score indicates that one understands his/her capabilities and has the ability to view his/herself from the ‘outside’, as if looking from above in a kind of self-examination. This implies that low-scorers don’t only know very well what they are capable of, but what they are not capable of also. Further, this theory supports the idea that highly neurotic people lack the ability to self-examine and determine the limits of their own capabilities, and it is this lack of knowledge that leads to the stress and anxiety associated with neurotic personalities. 

Please let me know what you think. Also, check out the article below if you’re at all interested. It’s good. 

Live long and prosper. 


Conditioning = Experience = Personality = Preference

I’d like to expand on what I mentioned in my previous post, as the topic has recently become even more relevant in class. I’m also going to kind of just explain some thinks that I’ve been thinking. 

As I said, I believe that at least to a certain extent, the conditioning (reinforcements and punishments) that we receive tend to shape who we are by teaching us which behaviours will give us desirable results. 

When it comes to neuroticism (which I find totally fascinating), I find Carl Jung’s explanation excellent: normality is the bane of our personality. When/if we try or are forced to be ‘normal’, what we have experienced and mixed into our personality is violated and we are unconsciously stuck between a rock and a hard place. I think this is what makes people neurotic: not knowing whether to aim to ‘fit in’ or to truly be ourselves. Please note I am definitely not saying that Bill should be allowed to be a serial killer because that’s ‘who he truly is’. There are boundaries. 

In terms of reciprocal determinism, you could say that one can not be influenced by external stimuli because he or she has his or her own beliefs and thoughts, but aren’t these beliefs and thoughts just another by-product of our conditioning? Isn’t the idea of ‘Rewards+Punishments VS Beliefs+Thoughts’ just two opposing things that are in fact subconsciously merged? 

Regarding Psychology By Candlelight’s recent post ‘An Unreliable Test?’

I must say I agree with you, in that few of these personality tests really give an accurate description of who we are. Although, I think the idea with personality tests is that they give a reasonably accurate estimate regarding a person’s commonly displayed traits – not an exact description or analysis. I think that an exact description is impossible, because as you said, people tend to change, both over time and depending on mood/situation. 

Taking this into account, I’ve come up with an idea that I think explains at least certain aspects of personality. I believe that we trial and test different personality traits throughout the earliest parts of our lives and adopt certain characteristics into our personalities because we believe that they have yielded agreeable consequences. We could be more or less classically conditioning ourselves in our personalities. This idea is similar to the existential approach to personality, which states that we have no fixed nature and thus we must create our personalities. 



In year 10 I studied ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, a 20th century American novel written by Ken Kesey of which we are (hopefully) going to see a stage production!

The story’s protagonist, although it is not made clear in the film adaptation, is a deaf and mute Native American man in a mental institution, (referred to as ‘Chief’). I apologise as the following is like a 10% spoiler, (not really though). Near the end of the story he reveals to the other main character that he is not actually deaf nor mute. He evidently has some serious mental issues (including paranoia and schizophrenia) and I find it fascinating that for many years he pretends to be deaf and mute. It becomes clear that he has done this because the mistreatment he has received in his life has diminished his confidence, assertiveness and manhood (traits which First Nation men traditionally live by). His self-esteem is so low that he believes he can do nothing but remain silenced.

This post is not entirely relevant to our psychology unit, but I believe that the Chief’s mental situation shows something about how personality can be changed through the environment one lives in and the treatment one receives.

You should all read the book; it is truly thought-provoking and it symbolically represents some dystopian elements which is just superb.

Personality = Preference?

A comment that our teacher made just then really made me scratch my head. It was relating to the Jim Twins, and how they both smoked Salem’s and drank Miller light; the question was, are these preferences a result of their similar personalities? And furthermore, do people with similar personality traits have similar preferences when it comes to consumables, clothing and decor? Ultimately, do certain personalities yield certain preferences? 

I think to a certain extent they do. With clothing, for example, social extroverts with outgoing and bright personalities may more often wear colourful/floral clothing than introverts who prefer their own company (although, this is purely based on experience/stereotypes and is not universal. I also want to acknowledge that these traits are not always separate). When it comes to food/other consumables I think other factors are more important. For example, if an adventurous and excitement-seeking person travels to Asia, he or she will be more likely to try the fried stingray than someone who is more reserved and comfortable with observing. With the Jim Twins, it’s probable that their preference for the same cigarettes and beer was a result of fashion: they may just have been the products that were commonly consumed by people of similar class/situation to the twins. Then again, it could be said that smokers and drinkers tend to be more hedonistic than others: is this a personality similarity between the twins? 

I’d love to hear what you all think of this idea, and if you think what I said is totally unjustified please let me know too. 


Living Dangerously

‘There’s a way of playing safe, there’s a way of using tricks and there’s the way I like to play, which is dangerously, where you’re going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven’t created before.’

– Dave Brubeck


Failing to Learn

‘Failure in a success-oriented culture is hard to take. We are failing and our children are failing in our schools at an alarming rate. Even children who achieve enviable grades are failing to learn much of what we hope to teach them: abstraction, curiosity, and, most of all, appreciation.’

– From the textbook ‘Educational Psychology’