This a person was exposed to (stress

This study examined race and gender along
with other generic stress factors like age, employment, education level,
income, number of children, marital status, and living conditions in a
multidimensional study. In the end they found that the only factors that
significantly contributed to the global stress of an individual were
race-related stress, gender-related stress, and overall generic stress (no
individual generic stressor was significantly correlated to global stress
level). The number of stressors a person was exposed to (stress exposure) and
their individual interpretations and evaluations of the stressors (stress
appraisal) contributed to the specific type of stress, whether race-related,
gender-related, or generic. All three types of stress were related to the
global stress of an individual. Global stress was significantly correlated to
distress, but it did not exhibit as strong of a correlation as other
relationships. This is likely due to individual confounding variables like
cultural pressures or personal psychological stability. However, neither
race-related, gender-related, nor generic stress alone had a significant
correlation with distress levels. In the end, this study concluded that in
order to properly assess stress, gender and race must be evaluated and
considered.

In addition to assessing gender and
race-related stressors, most researchers examine life events, the individual’s
perception of their demands and capabilities, their current negative affect
(Cohen, Tyrrell, & Smith, 1993), and major life traumas (Marx & Sloan,
2003). Life events like buying a house or having a child are usually ranked in
lists such as Henderson’s List of Recent Experiences (Henderson, Byrne, &
Duncan-Jones, 1981), which not only list these events but also assess the
positive and negative impacts. Assessing traumatic events is also important for
determining levels of distress in an individual. In a study conducted by Marx
and Sloan (2003), participants that experienced childhood sexual abuse
exhibited higher levels of psychological distress than those that experienced
other types of childhood trauma or no childhood trauma at all. Additionally,
they found that women experienced higher levels of distress in response to the
same stressors, but there were no differences found in stress response by
ethnicity or race. However, this lack of stress-level differences by race and ethnicity
could be misleading, as this study only examined the relationship between
childhood trauma and distress and did not specifically examine race-related
stressors.

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There are many factors at play in
examining stress levels. Self-reports are used almost exclusively when evaluating
chronic stress (Glaser, et al., 1993). Unfortunately, self-reports are
inherently biased and not always reliable. There are other possibilities for
measuring chronic stress, such as biofeedback machines, however these
biofeedback machines are more for helping reduce chronic stress levels rather
than just measure them (Giggins, Persson, & Caulfield, 2013), since they
can be expensive and time consuming. Therefore, measuring stress accurately can
be difficult and even biased.

The Biology of Psychological Stress

Acute psychological stress stimulates the
release of catecholamines like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine; these
are largely responsible for the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight”
response (Saladin, 2015). These neurotransmitters excite beta-receptors and
cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and the force of myocardial
contractions (Liu & Mori, 1999; Saladin, 2015). Acute stress also increased
white blood cell (WBC) counts, blood viscosity, and anticoagulants (Epel &
Lithgow, 2014; Liu & Mori, 1999). Although catecholamines themselves are
reactive and related to increased oxidative stress, they can actually be
beneficial for cellular functioning by increasing cells’ resistance to
oxidative stress (Epel & Lithgow, 2014). Stress also stimulates the over
release of glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids’ main functions are to maintain
metabolism and regulate other hormones (Vyas, et al., 2016). Chronic stress
leads to long-term elevation of glucocorticoid levels, which can cause damage
to biomolecular structures due to the elevated levels of reactive oxygen
species (ROS) associated with them (Vyas, et al., 2016). Chronically high
glucocorticoid levels are linked to increased oxidative stress that off-balance
cellular homeostasis and can lead to premature aging and age-related diseases (Tomiyama,
et al., 2014). Glucocorticoids are responsible for many cellular changes (see
Figure 3). Elevated levels of cortisol are also linked to depression (Zhu, et
al., 2014). Both catecholamines and glucocorticoids are stimulated through the
hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) cortex. Cortisol is synthesized and
released from the adrenal cortex (Vyas, et al., 2016) and catecholamines are
synthesized in the adrenal medulla (Liu & Mori, 1999). Hyperactivity of the
HPA axis plays a significant roll in psychological stress levels and oxidative
stress (Tomiyama, et al., 2014; Zhu, et al., 2014)

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