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Combined Serological and Psychological Assessment of the Dynamics of Stress and Recovery in Bungee Jumpers

Günther Fleck & Brigitte Hueber, Military Psychology Service, Vienna, Austria

It is a well-known fact that strong affective-physiological arousal reactions provoked by different stressors will not end abruptly after the stressful episode is over, they rather need more or less time for recovering. People differ in their potential to recover from stressful experiences. The recovery potential of an individual may contribute to subjective well-being and health. In this field study an attempt is made to study the dynamics of stress and recovery of a very dramatic event: The bungee jump. This event was chosen since it contains the potential to produce strong stress reactions. The question to be examined was if people with a high actual state of well-being create less strong stress reactions before their bungee jump and show better recovery effects after the bungee jump than people with a low actual state of well-being. For this purpose people practizing their first bungee jump were asked to participate in the experiment. The subjects (N=23) passed serological as well as psychological assessments before their first bungee jump. The serological assessment contained pH, pCO2, Base excess, HCO3, pO2, O2, Na, Mg, Ca, and Glucose as indicators for biochemical stress reaction patterns. The psychological assessment had its focus on the actual state of well-being, i.e., the recovery-strain-state, measured by the Recovery-Stress-Questionnaire (Kallus, 1995). This instrument allows to assess two important areas of subjective well-being: The actual state of experienced strain, and the actual state of experienced recovery. Additionally, the subjects were asked to execute a short physical exercise immediately after the jump to reduce the provoked stress reactions and to enhance the recovery processes. After the physical exercise again the biochemical variables were measured. Two hypotheses were tested: I. Subjects with  low strain values will develop weaker stress reactions before the first bungee jump than subjects with high strain values. II. Subjects with high values in recovery will recover better after the jump than subjects with low values in recovery. The first hypothesis could be partially confirmed: Subjects with actual low strain values differed significantly from subjects with actual high strain values at least in the parameters O2, pO2, pH and HCO3, but not in the other parameters. The second hypothesis could not be confirmed: Subjects with actual high recovery values did not differ from subjects with actual low recovery values in any biochemical parameter.

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