Stress and Violence Essay

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Stress is defined as mental, emotional, or physical strain. Stress can derive from various sources. Biological sources such as neurotransmitter imbalances, brain damage, and testosterone can influence overreaction to events and increase an individual’s stress levels. Situational cues related to stress include pain and fear. Environmental factors may also play a role in increasing stress, such as conditions of overcrowding, poverty, and a subculture of violence in a neighborhood.

Stress has been linked to violence in multiple respects. An individual’s experience of stressful stimuli can influence the individual’s propensity toward engaging in aggressive and violent behaviors, even if such behaviors will not alleviate the stressful stimuli. Acts of violence can then become a learned response to future stressful experiences. Reciprocally, the exposure to violence, directly or indirectly, is related to increased levels of stress. For instance, experts have diagnosed posttraumatic stress disorder in people who themselves were victims or witnesses of violence around them, even years after the violent events occurred. The violent offender can also suffer from stressful effects related to his or her use of violence. The offender’s use of violence may not be merely for enjoyment, but instead may be seen as necessary to comply with neighborhood norms of peer aggression, protecting one’s reputation, or an attempt to gain control.

Mediating factors have also been found in the link between stress and violence. Studies show that the use of alcohol and drugs, for instance, promotes the likelihood an individual engages in violent behaviors. One’s use of alcohol and drugs also increases one’s risk of being a victim of violence, often because the intoxicating substances reduce one’s ability to protect oneself. Another mediating factor is the presence of weapons in a situation, whereby weapons are related to increased stress levels, as well as to the escalation of violence in a situation.

Officials have developed prevention strategies in an attempt to reduce the connection between stress and violence. Some are aimed at ameliorating community characteristics that are associated with negative health and mental health problems. Other programs target the individual level by reinforcing coping skills and improving access to supportive resources involving family, friends, and community organizations.


  1. Flannery, R. B. (2000). Violence in America: Coping with drugs, distressed families, inadequate schooling, and acts of hate. New York: Continuum.

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