Videos from Baylor University offers insight on causes of stress, the effects on the body and how to cope
WACO, Texas (Aug. 19, 2019) — Whether making the transition to college, starting a new job, ending a relationship or retiring, change can cause psychological stress, which in turn can make for wear and tear on the body.
The good news is, we can develop coping mechanisms to reduce stress and live happier, healthier lives, say Baylor University psychologist Annie Ginty, Ph.D., and her University of California-Irvine collaborator, Sarah Pressman, Ph.D. Using a grant from AXA Research Fund — which supports projects in health, environment, new technology and socioeconomics — Ginty and Pressman produced three short videos to help students and the general public understand what stress is, what it does to our bodies and how to handle it.
The videos stem from a two-year AXA postdoctoral research fellowship by Ginty, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. She investigated the relationship between biological responses to stress and adaptation during a stressful transition, particularly students’ adjustment to college.
The videos, 1 to 3 minutes each, are housed on AXA’s YouTube channel and bear Baylor’s new logo.
“Psychological stress is bad for health; exercise stress is good,” said Ginty, who works with nonprofits to serve at-risk adolescents by providing high-intensity interval training workouts to reduce stress and improve health.
“When we think about exercise, your heart rate and metabolic system increase, meaning you’re breathing harder. The rest of your muscle physiology is changing. Your body is working together to maintain homeostasis for balance. This is good stress,” she said.
“But with psychological stress, the heart works much harder than the rest of the body. That metabolic imbalance can be hard on the heart and make the body more vulnerable to disease.”
In the videos, Baylor students discuss the causes of psychological stress in their lives, how their bodies react and ways they handle stress. For them, a college education poses looming deadlines, fear of living up to expectations, anxiety about tests and adjusting to a new atmosphere.
In the first video — “Stress and Your Health” — they describe such reactions as higher heart rate, restlessness, loss of sleep, skin breakouts, headaches and tense muscles.
“If I fail at a test, I then in my mind see myself not getting into medical school, which is a pretty big domino effect,” said Devin Mangold of Wolfforth, Texas, a senior neuroscience major in the Honors College at Baylor.
Such stressors can take a toll on moods and emotions, putting the physiological stress system into overdrive and possibly becoming a threat to long-term physical health — which in turn creates more stress.
The second video — “Effects of Stress on Your Body” — explores how stress can affect emotions and the body. Stressed people may become anxious, sad, worried and angry.
The stressors can interfere with sleep and can leave less time to exercise. People also tend to eat foods with higher fat and higher carbohydrates, said Pressman, associate professor of psychological science at UC-Irvine. That can lead to muscle tension, which can translate into injury.
The third video — “Coping with Stress” — is about the importance of coping mechanisms so that minor stressors don’t turn into serious health issues. Social networking has been shown by research to reduce the effects of stress in such ways as lowering blood pressure. The best ways to cope are physical activity, a healthy diet and cognitive reappraisal.
“Cognitive reappraisal” is “a fancy way of saying we’re changing how we interpret our situation,” said Danielle Young, Psy.D., clinical research coordinator of the Baylor Behavioral Medicine Laboratory in the department of psychology and neuroscience department. “It’s the difference between saying, ‘This is going to be the hardest test ever, and I’m going to fail’ and ‘This is going to be a hard test, but I’m going to do the best I can.’ Even that slight shift in thought can make you less stressed.”
A recent study by Ginty of 230-plus Baylor students examined the effect of reappraising stress.
“We found that if we gave brief instructions about how increases in heart rate during stress mean they were ‘ready’ and were not a ‘bad thing,’ people rated their levels of anxiety as more helpful to their performance,” Ginty said.
The video encourages individuals to experiment with coping techniques that work for them. Students who appear in the video suggest methods from working out to cooking to reading to walking their dogs.
“My natural demeanor is laid back, but internally, I stress myself,” said senior neuroscience major Simba Masando of Harare, Zimbabwe. Early in college, he “just went headfirst into the material” of a capstone course. “Now as a senior, I’m doing some preliminary courses I’m not necessarily interested in, but they’re required. I’ve alleviated some pressure in the major, but some of the requirements are a little more worrisome.”
As a member of Baylor Behavioral Medicine Lab, what he’s learned about stress oping has been “greatly helpful” as he looks ahead to post-graduate school and his eventual goal of opening a school in Zimbabwe.
“I’m an avid learner,” he said. “School is my job, as I see it, but my hobbies are learning, too. In basketball, there’s always a new move I want to learn; in piano, there’s a new technique. If you take the piano away from me, I’ll try guitar. And if you take basketball away from me, I’ll try tennis.”