Author Topic: Stress and hedonic adaptation  (Read 9806 times)

velocistar237

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Stress and hedonic adaptation
« on: April 17, 2012, 06:58:51 AM »
Studies have shown that long-term stress affects health. Hedonic adaptation says that happiness returns to a set point after positive or negative life events. If someone gets a more stressful job, does that mean that their happiness will eventually come back up to normal, but they'll still have worse health? I don't understand how these two ideas work together. Could it be that buying something that reduces stress could make you better off permanently even if the happiness effect is only temporary?

James

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2012, 08:17:54 AM »
I think it makes sense to think that a person taking a high stress job may become accustomed to the stress and return to a similar baseline of happiness over time, but the stress over time may cause health problems and other issues that may lead to drops in happiness that would again be transitional.  In other words, the stress from the job may not lead to permanent reduction in happiness, but the long term affects of that stress my continue to push down happiness in ways other than the stress itself, resulting in long term decrease in happiness despite adaptation to the stressful job.

Buying something that reduces stress could certainly provide permanent improvements outside of the issue of happiness.  Whether it is "worth" that improvement is personal and subjective, and would need to be weighed against the alternative use of that money.

Interesting thoughts.

nolajo

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2012, 05:11:37 PM »
I think there may be a couple of factors at play. First, a high-stress job isn't a one-off experience. In all likelihood it's a number of experiences big and small that are probably occurring with some frequency. There simply may not be enough time for adaptation to truly happen and a person to come back to their equilibrium before the next crisis hits. Some sort of small positive thing in life (be it shopping or whatever) might be enough to counterbalance it, but I think the anecdotal evidence has shown this to not usually be true. There's no particular parity between a bad day at the office and a pair of shoes. The better answer seems to be tackling the stress/your reaction to it rather than trying to make it even out.

Second, the physiological reactions associated with stress - elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and the release of adrenalin for instance - have already happened. At least some of the detrimental effects to your health, therefore, are a fait accompli and it seems that while you might gain some positives from that pair of shoes, it probably wouldn't totally even out health-wise. The stressed shoe-shopper might be a little healthier than the plain old stressed person, but better still would be the person who has either eliminated the stress or learned to deal with it better as it happens.

I think James is probably right, that over time adaptation might make a person get accustomed to the stress, regardless of coping mechanisms or lack thereof, but it wouldn't eliminate some of the health problems that would be the next thing to have to be evened out. That said, I come down very strongly on the side of figuring out ways to be less stressed to begin with and I don't think that shopping would really tilt the scale towards happiness or make a meaningful dent on a lot of the health issues associated with stress.

onehappypanda

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2012, 03:43:35 PM »
Many people reach a point where stress becomes part of their daily routine. They get stressed during rush hour on the way to work. They get stressed during crazy times at their job. They get stressed on the drive home, and sometimes even after they get home if there are family issues.

That stress starts to feel "normal" to them because it's like that all the time. That's what adaptation is- the stress is still there, but it becomes the norm. That doesn't make it less harmful though. It still causes very real physical symptoms: muscle tension and pains, elevated heart rate, rushes of cortisol, breakdown of tissues, and eventually advanced symptoms like a depressed immune system and more illness. Even more long-term, chronic stress is linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and a much higher risk of developing Alzheimer's.

I actually worked in a research lab looking at the effects of stress for awhile, and it was amazing the number of people who had objectively stressful lives (caretakers and people with stressful jobs in particular) but who insisted that they felt fine and not stressed at all. Naturally, most of those people were much more likely to have the above physical symptoms, which they'd never thought to attribute to stress before. Most of them, when they worked on reducing their load of stress, say major improvements in health.

Being able to see ourselves as happy even in tough or stressful times is very adaptive, it gives us the mental energy to keep going. But stress is a very physical thing- the stress response you get is equivalent to the physical response you'd get in a threatening situation. If you're constantly responding physically to stress, your brain might start to see it as normal even as it's doing harm to your body.

Hopefully that was somewhat clear, I know both concepts are kind of hard to wrap your head around. As far as "buying something" goes I'm not sure what that's referring to? Purchases tend to create a very temporary physical euphoria, but they don't ultimately do much for chronic stress. The only way to reduce the effects of chronic stress would be to reduce the stress itself (by taking away the stressor or minimizing its impact on your life) and/or increasing your coping strategies, so that you don't actually get the physical stress response as strongly and can learn to shut the stress response down yourself. Most purchases won't really help you do either of those things.

Bakari

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2012, 08:01:49 PM »
I think all 3 responses above did a good job of explaining the finer points and details, but no one seems to have directly stated the basic thing:
Stress is not the opposite of happiness.

The opposite of happiness is sadness.
The opposite of stress is relaxation.

The two are often correlated, but they are not inherently linked, so, sure, you can have either one without the other, or their inverse without the other.

Say, for example, someone lived at an amusement park and rode rollercoasters all day.  That would simultaneously cause both stress AND happiness (assuming they enjoyed it).  ON the other hand, being confined to bed rest could cause relaxation and sadness.

If you are buying something that directly acts on the cause of the stress thats a different story.  Like, if the road rage on daily commute is a source of stress, and you buy a bicycle to ride to work, or if all your neighbors have been broken into and you buy a house in a different neighborhood.  But the act of purchasing a "treat" for oneself doesn't affect stress one way or another, it affects happiness (albeit only temporarily) which may mask stress from the conscious mind momentarily.

bdub

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2012, 03:33:30 PM »
Stress can have a positive impact.  This is known as eustress (opposite of distress). 

This positive stress can help individuals in increased motivation and inspiration to finish certain project or creative thinking when completing a task.

http://www.mystressmanagement.net/eustress-stress-with-positive-effects.html

James

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #6 on: April 27, 2012, 04:44:34 PM »
Stress can have a positive impact.  This is known as eustress (opposite of distress). 

This positive stress can help individuals in increased motivation and inspiration to finish certain project or creative thinking when completing a task.

http://www.mystressmanagement.net/eustress-stress-with-positive-effects.html


Excellent point, absolutely stress can be positive.  I remember the stress of having to finish an art project in college for a public showing causing me to put in my very best effort.  And the stress of needing money made me work hard at negotiating the best deal possible at my first job out of school.  But the key to those was that it was temporary stress.  A stressful job that is continuously stressful is highly unlikely to be the sort of stress that is positive.  But there is definitely positive stress out there, and there is a great stoic quality to enjoying that stress and allowing it to make us better rather than letting it knock you down.

onehappypanda

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2012, 01:55:44 PM »
Stress can have a positive impact.  This is known as eustress (opposite of distress). 

This positive stress can help individuals in increased motivation and inspiration to finish certain project or creative thinking when completing a task.

http://www.mystressmanagement.net/eustress-stress-with-positive-effects.html

That is only true of short-term temporary stress, which is adaptive. Chronic stress- what many people deal with on a regular basis- is always harmful both physically and mentally.

grantmeaname

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2012, 03:43:09 PM »
That is only true of short-term temporary stress, which is adaptive. Chronic stress- what many people deal with on a regular basis- is always harmful both physically and mentally.

I don't know about that. I'm wary of that word always. To give a counterexample, I feel like the courses in which I've learned the most and grown the most as a person were the ones which were continually demanding. That's 10 weeks to a year of continual stress that I wouldn't say physically or mentally harmed me.

onehappypanda

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2012, 06:12:38 PM »
That is only true of short-term temporary stress, which is adaptive. Chronic stress- what many people deal with on a regular basis- is always harmful both physically and mentally.

I don't know about that. I'm wary of that word always. To give a counterexample, I feel like the courses in which I've learned the most and grown the most as a person were the ones which were continually demanding. That's 10 weeks to a year of continual stress that I wouldn't say physically or mentally harmed me.

A chronic stressful situation wears down your body, always. Normally I'm wary of the word always, being someone well versed in scientific jargon, but there's no real way around this one. Stress creates the release of hormones, cortisol and adrenaline being the well-known ones that are beneficial in the short-term because they help you accomplish your goal, and short-term they aren't harmful because you have time to recover afterwards. But if you're constantly pumping stress hormones into your body, and you're in a constant state of stress-induced arousal, it starts to wear away at your body tissues and neurons. It takes years and years to see an effect, but it's pretty akin to aging early (which is why a 50-year-old who has lived under high stress often looks older).

Does that mean stress should be avoided at all costs? Nope. Stress helps you get stuff done short-term, and your example of coursework shows that there may be benefits inherent in stressful things that outweigh the costs of being stressed. But that doesn't change the fact that there are costs. Though really, a 10 week course, even a year-long course, doesn't really compare to real chronic stress. A course is a more-or-less controllable event with a finite end point, and you're doing it for your own interest or utility. Chronic stress usually refers to years of someone dealing with either a very stressful situation (caring for a sick loved one is common) or a generally stressful lifestyle (combination of hectic job, family responsibilities, financial problems, etc.) that they can't control or get away from until they get to the point where the body has been under so much pressure with no real chance to recover, that it develops major issues.

Bakari

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #10 on: May 01, 2012, 04:08:36 PM »
I would imagine its much the same as weight bearing exercise.
If you do it 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, you don't get stronger, you just wear down your immunity and are always sore.  You have to have recovery time.

Then the question would be how one defines "continuous" for mental stress.
Having 15 hours off each night, 2 days each week, and 2 weeks per year of vacation each year may not be enough given a stressful enough job (cop in a big city, air traffic controller, social worker), but what if they only worked part time?

I have no theory as to the answer, just a thought...

onehappypanda

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Re: Stress and hedonic adaptation
« Reply #11 on: May 02, 2012, 12:02:45 PM »
I would imagine its much the same as weight bearing exercise.
If you do it 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, you don't get stronger, you just wear down your immunity and are always sore.  You have to have recovery time.

That's a really good example. Heavy resistance training is a type of physical stress- mental stress like anxiety works much the same way. A little bit has its benefits, but if it's too much or there's no chance to recover, it's bad news bears.

As far as what defines "too much" or what it means to say continuous, that's hard to say. We know you need time in between bouts of stress to recover and get back to baseline, but I've never seen anyone determine how much time you actually need. I imagine it would vary based on the person.