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Stress, Health and Disease


Entry requirements

Students are strongly advised to first complete the ‘Introduction to Psychology’ and Personality, Clinical Health Psychology’ courses.


Psychological stress, or stress in short, is a major problem facing modern society. Stress is therefore one of the current main topics in health psychology. The effects of stress can vary from minor effects on the emotions and cognitive performance to clinical syndromes, both physical and psychological.

The course covers psychological and biological models of stress, the drastic effects of emotions on the human body, the evolutionary origin of the stress response, and stress as the cause of somatic diseases and symptoms. Various types of stressors will be discussed, such as major life events, work-related stress, everyday problems, the phenomena of worry and subconscious stress, and the risk of somatic diseases such as anxiety and depression.

No other concept is so ill-defined in or outside science and at the same time so important for our health as stress. Not surprisingly the media – especially internet – are teeming with erroneous information about its effect on health. Therefore the field of stress and health seems ideal to further develop the academic skill of systematically gathering trustworthy information.

Course objectives

The student understands:

  • why we respond to modern psychosocial stressors with evolutionary ‘old’ bodily responses that can threaten health;

  • the major psychobiological mechanisms underlying acute and chronic stress responses;

  • how the ‘stressed’ mind can influence the whole body and why this can lead to a variety of diseases, pain and other subjective health complaints, including medically unexplained complaints;

  • the role of perseverative cognition such as worry, and ‘unconscious stress’;

  • the major models of work stress;

  • the main approaches to stress management.

The student is able to:

  • distinguish scientifically supported claims from unsupported claims in the media concerning stress and health (and by generalization other topics);

  • systematically find relevant scientific literature using a single, complex keyword profile;

  • using this advanced literature searching technique, construct a scientific, and thus controllable and reproducible answer to a question concerning the influence of stress on health;

  • report this answer in a concise and coherent review, presented in writing and orally, and discuss it in a scholarly fashion.

The student has some experience with ‘mobile stress management interventions’.


For the timetable of this course please refer to MyTimetable


NOTE As of the academic year 2021-2022, you must register for all courses in uSis. You do this twice a year: once for the courses you want to take in semester 1 and once for the courses you want to take in semester 2.
Registration for courses in the first semester is possible from July. Registration for courses in the first semester is possible from December.
The exact date on which the registration starts will be published on the website of the Student Service Center (SSC). First year Bachelor students as well as premaster students will be registered by the Student Service Center; they do not need to register themselves.

The registration period for all courses closes five calendar days before the start of the course.
Also read the complete registration procedure

Mode of instruction

The course consists of 8 2-hour lectures, as well as 6 compulsory work group sessions in which students are asked to answer a question from the community concerning stress and health (of their own choice) in an academic manner, i.e. using state-of-the-art literature. There will be scope to practise with some ‘mobile’ stress management techniques. The work-group sessions culminate in an oral presentation. Students are expected to do a considerable amount of work in smaller groups in between the sessions.

Assessment method

The lecture part (theoretical) will be assessed by a written multiple-choice examination, consisting of questions relating to the reading list and the lecture materials.

The work group part (skills) will be assessed by several assignments and several questions in the abovementioned examination. Attendance of all work group sessions is compulsory.

The working groups are in principle, as with most other second year courses, no longer an elaboration, application or rehearsal of materials from the theoretical part, such as was the case in many first year courses: they are a stand-alone part of the course. In the working group sessions an important skill, namely how to search scientific literature, is developed further (building on the ‘Tutorial Academic Skills’ course), with stress and health as a central topic, acting as an example for other psychological subjects.

The examination and the work group sessions are separate: students who fail one are not required to retake the other. The final mark for the course consists of the average of the mark for the examination (70%) and for the work group sessions (30%).

The Institute of Psychology uses fixed rules for grade calculation and compulsory attendance. It also follows the policy of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences to systematically check student papers for plagiarism with the help of software. Disciplinary measures will be taken when fraud is detected. Students are expected to be familiar with and understand the implications of these three policies.

  • All Semester I bachelor and master psychology courses and examinations (2020-2021) will be offered in an on-line format.

  • If it is safe and possible to do so, supplementary course meetings may be planned on-campus. However, attendance at these meetings will not be required to successfully complete Semester I courses.

  • All obligatory work groups and examinations will be offered on-line during Central European Time, which is local time in the Netherlands.

  • Information on the mode of instruction and the assessment method per course will be offered in Brightspace, considering the possibilities that are available at that moment. The information in Brightspace is leading during the Corona crisis, even if this does not match the information in the Prospectus.

  • At this time it is not possible to provide information about Semester II (2020-2021).

Reading list

  • Robert Sapolsky. (2004). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. 3rd edition. New York (NY): Henry Holt and Company.

  • Jos F. Brosschot (2018) Course Reader ‘Psychology of Stress, Health and Disease’ including several articles on the subject (to be made available on Blackboard).

Contact information

Dr. Jos F. Brosschot
Melissa Kortenoever, MSc.