Stress of the Sexes

Stress. We experience this systematic expression in our day to day lives. For some they experience stress more often than they’d like, while others appear to be “stress free”. Though what exactly is stress and how does it affect us? Stress, as defined in Exploring Psychology: Sixth addition in Modules, is “the process by which we perceive and respond to certain events, called stressors, that we appraise as threatening or challenging.” (Myers, 2005, p. 449)

Stress is looked at in two different forms, perceived stress and stressor exposure. Perceived stress is how each person views the events in their life as being stressful or not, and if perceived as stressful, how stressful the event is. Stressor exposure is an event that is presented to a person as being stressful, and whether it is threatening or challenging. It is important to know the how you perceive these events because how a person reacts to stress can have positive or negative affects on your health.

As found by Weekes, MacLean, and Berger (2005) your reactions to stress mentally and physically will manifest different dependent on your sex. As described later in this review, it will show that their study covers the correlation between sex and it physical affects based on the person’s perception of the event. Also covered is a lack of correlation between perceived stressful events between males and females.

How We React to Stress There have been many studies on stress and its negative health affects to the immune system. In fact Weekes, MacLean, and Berger (2005) found that “numerous studies have suggested that prolonged high levels of psychological stress predict poorer health” (p. 147) and that “numerous studies have found sex differences in rates of stress, depression and specific negative health symptoms”. (p. 148) It has yet to be determined by many of these studies whether or not there is some form of relationship between the effects of stress on health based on a person’s sex. This study is purely focused on the fact that a correlation may be present between perceived stress and stressor exposure based on whether the subject is male or female.

Every person is exposed to different forms of stress on almost a daily basis. Though each person will have a differing opinion as to whether an event is stressful and the extent of that stressor. Many have debated that “exposure to an event that most people would assess as stressful leads to health impairment only if the exposed individual perceives the event as stressful.” (Weekes, MacLean, and Berger 2005, p. 148)

This would make any psychologist wonder if we should put weight into how we perceive a stressful event. Yet many have studied that and shown that these elements manifest differently in our health. “For example, Cohen (1993) observed that while perceived stress (and negative affect) predicted risk of infection and immunosuppression, stressor exposure predicted rates of clinical symptoms.” (Weekes, MacLean, and Berger 2005, p. 148)

An issue with all of these studies was there wasn’t a significant look into the health affects from stress based on the sex of the individual studied. We find that women usually express stress through psychological activities, such as depression. Men, on the other hand, react in the complete opposite showing a greater propensity for physiological activities, especially those that cause negative health effects (i.e. smoking and alcohol use). This can’t be decided as concrete though since there have been studies that prove that men are more likely to have a psychological response and women to have a physiological reaction. The strange thing about these common reactions is that men have a higher morality rate even though they usually complain less of experiencing negative health problems.

The current study covers both sides of the debate looking to see if exposure to stress or the perception of stress is more significant with the sexes and how it manifests with physical health problems. This study will measure stress perception as “perceived stress and negative affect” and stressor exposure as “rates of exposure to typically stressful events”. (Weekes, MacLean, and Berger 2005, p. 148)

To determine whether how we perceive stress based on the stressor exposure (and on the subject’s sex) Weekes, MacLean, and Berger (2005) used a few different measuring techniques. The techniques utilized were the: Spielberger State Anxiety (Spielberger, 1983), Spielberger Trait Anxiety (Spielberger, 1983), Beck Depression Inventory or BDI (Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erlbaugh, 1961), Daily Hassle Scale (Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer, & Lazarus, 1981), and the Perceived Stress Scale or PSS (Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1983). All of these tests are questionnaires where the subject would base their answers on a four or five-point scale. Also two other questionnaires were made specifically for the study looking at stressors and health symptoms.

These two studies created were based on four-point scales as well. Used for the study were both male and female participants totaling to 107 members. The age range was 18-21, and each participant was an undergraduate student in an introductory psychology course from a collaboration of small liberal art colleges throughout California. These questionnaires are all an excellent choice for gathering data since they look for the participants’ opinions.

This definitely helps since a perceived stress can only be decided by the person being exposed to a stressor. The multiple questionnaires offered give us a large view and collection of data completely of the participants stress perception, which is the main reason for this study. Also it is good that these questionnaires are based on four or five-point scales since we’re then able to get comparable results across all participants, without restraint since nothing has to be verbalized by the participant.

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