Stress, Coping, and Health Psychology



Stress, coping strategies, and health behaviors all influence well-being. Research in health psychology, the study of health behaviors, informs our understanding of how people's behaviors play a role in their health. Stressors come in all shapes and sizes, from catastrophic events to major life transitions to the hassles of everyday life. There are many factors that influence the effects of stress, including cognitive appraisal, physical reaction, and coping strategies. There are a number of ways that stress affects the body, including a decreased immune response and an increased risk of heart disease. Individual factors such as personality and explanatory style can also change the way stress affects a person. Lastly, there are a number of healthy and unhealthy behaviors that people engage in that influence susceptibility and response to stress. Being aware of these factors can improve a person's overall health and well-being and help mitigate stress's potential negative effects.

At A Glance

  • Stress, tension, negative emotions, or physical discomfort experienced when demands strain coping resources, comes in many forms—catastrophes, significant life changes, and daily hassles. All types can impact health and well-being.
  • Events thought of (or appraised) as threats result in more stress than events appraised as challenges.
  • Physical reactions are similar regardless of the types of stressors. The body's response to stress is called the general adaptation syndrome, a three-phase response involving an alarm reaction, resistance, and exhaustion.
  • Stress influences immune and endocrine activity, influencing the body's overall health. Stress can slow wound healing, make people more likely to catch colds, and reduce vaccine effectiveness.
  • Chronic (long-term) stress can negatively affect nearly every system in the body, increase the risk for heart disease, and impair the body's ability to fight cancer.
  • Stress often triggers maladaptive behaviors, behaviors that are socially unacceptable or interfere with a person's ability to function in daily life or learn new things, such as substance use. However, stress can also lead to stronger relationships and personal growth.
  • Coping responses that target a specific problem or emphasize emotion regulation are more effective than avoidant coping or venting.
  • Social support predicts emotional well-being and health by offering tangible resources and opportunities to express emotions and encouraging healthy behaviors.
  • Type A personality, pessimism, and an external locus of control amplify the impact of stress, whereas type B personality, optimism, an internal locus of control, and hardiness reduce the impact of stress.
  • Behaviors such as smoking, excessive use of drugs and alcohol, and unhealthy eating can exacerbate stress and impair health. Exercise, seeking treatment, communicating well with providers, and following treatment plans can help alleviate stress and promote health.