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What is stress?

Created by Ryan Scott Patton.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Although I enjoy cats, I must say that I'm really more of a dog person. A couple years ago, or I guess one year ago now, my wife got me a puppy dog for my birthday, and she got me a little beagle. His name is Hank. And like most beagles, my puppy dog, Hank, loves to chase bunny rabbits, but it's not so much a friendly game of chase that he's playing with this bunny rabbit. Hank is actually pretty intent on swallowing the bunny rabbit whole as soon as he catches it. So you might say that in this picture this bunny is experiencing a little bit of stress, and in doing so, we'd be using that word to describe a threat or a challenge. However, we might also say that the bunny is stressed. And now we're talking about the bunny's response. So psychologists try to clarify this really slippery definition by calling the threatening, or challenging event, which in this case is the eminent clamping down of my puppy dog's teeth, the stressor, so stressor. So my puppy dog's teeth are the stressor. The subsequent physical and emotional response would be the stress reaction. So in this case, we're talking about the bunny's response, that physical and emotional response to the stressor. So this whole scene then is what a psychologist might call stress. So then stress isn't really just a stimulus or a response. Rather, it's kind of the process by which we appraise and we cope with the environmental threats and challenges. So we're appraising the stressor, and then our stress reaction is our coping with the environmental threat, or the challenge. So based off this definition of stress, a pretty famous psychologist named Richard Lazarus, he determined that stress arises less from actual events and more from our assessment of those events. The word he used to describe that assessment was our appraisal. Then describing this appraisal, he suggested that there were really two stages to the cognitive appraisal of stress. So you have primary appraisal. Primary appraisal is the initial evaluation that focuses on the threat in the present situation, so your appraisal of what's going on right now, what threat I'm experiencing right now, and there are three categories of response to this primary appraisal. For instance, one response might be that whatever this perceived threat is is really irrelevant to me. Maybe it doesn't matter at all. That's kind of what irrelevant means, just that I see this threat, but it's not affecting me. I'm not in danger at all. I don't find this to be particularly important, so it's irrelevant. Another response, even better than an irrelevant response, might be a benign or a positive response. So benign or positive. Maybe this threat, maybe for example, a bird sees a dinosaur stomping through the forest, but that dinosaur is actually kind of a positive threat because it's about to take out one of the bird's enemies. So we might have a benign or a positive response to this stress. The last kind of major category of response would be that this event is actually stressful. In this case, we're finding that stressor to be potentially harmfuler, or challenging, or threatening. So if you look back over to this example here, if I'm the rabbit in this picture, my appraisal of this situation is dinging like crazy that this is in the stressful category. So if this primary appraisal is negative, we move forward with the second appraisal. So the secondary appraisal involves the evaluation of the individual's ability to cope with the situation. So the individual that's perceiving the stressor, what is their material preparedness to deal with that stressor? So you have a further appraisal of harm. What that's saying is what damage has already been caused? So if you're this rabbit, no damage has been caused yet, but gosh, that beagle puppy is nipping at your heels. So that brings us to the second category of secondary appraisal. That's an appraisal of the threat. So what future damage could be caused? In this case, if you're that rabbit, lots of damage could be caused. For instance, my entire leg meat might be pierced by some sharp as heck puppy dog teeth here in just a couple of seconds. So that threat is quite high. The third category of secondary appraisal, the third further assessment is of the challenge. That describes how can the situation be overcome or conquered. If I'm that rabbit, I'm thinking I can run like the dickens and try to make it back to my little rabbit hutch. And so this is a pretty straightforward concept for most of the animal world. There's a stressor, and then a stress reaction, and a stressor, and a stress reaction. And it goes and so on. But for humans, it's a little bit different because as humans we have this higher level of cognitive functioning than the other animals in the world. We have this seemingly unique ability to not only respond to stressors, so not only have a stress reaction, but also to anticipate stressors. That makes the whole triggering and the duration and the response to stress really a little more interesting, and those are the topics that we're gonna cover as we explore the psychology of stress in the next videos.