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Published: Friday 25th of January 2013

Stress: Definition, Effects and Dealing with Stressors (Essay Example)


One of the major problems being faced today is stress. Everyone at one point in time experiences stress. Many scholars and researchers have attempted to define stress. Lazarus Folk man (1984) defines stress as potentially harmful or exceeding our coping resources. It is internal. The effects are caused by an environment, society or physical situations. Another scholar, called David Fontana, says that stress is a demand made upon the adaptive capacities of the mind and body. According to these definitions, one factor clearly stands out. Stress is a condition whereby an individual has a lot of demand, which has been placed upon them. They are unable to meet these demands either physiologically or psychologically. This leads to a breakdown. An only single negative side of stress is popularly known. Stress can be presented as a positive thing or negative. It is positive when one gains something from an opportunity presented. This could be achieving a set goal or fulfilling a promise. Positive stress is an essential factor in our lives. The term used to describe positive stress is Eustress (‘eu’ means good in Greek). In the absence of positive stress, an individual lacks some energy and spirit that is necessary for peak performance. It is, therefore, viewed as a motivator. Negative stress is called Distress, and it is very harmful. It causes physical, emotional or even psychological pain. There are numerous ways of dealing with stress which will be outlined below.

Causes of Stress

A little stress is important, as it helps us to adapt to changes in our environment. However, not everyone is stressed by the same factors. An intensity of those stressors also varies from one individual to another. Somebody can tolerate stress up to a certain level before it becomes negative stress. There are many factors, which seem to be constant stressors for everyone.

Examples of Stress Factors

  1. Infections such as terminal illnesses, eg. Cancer, hypertension, or any type of injury. The injury could occur as a result of sports, carelessness or accidents. Major transitions in life also compel us to cope with the change such as movement from childhood to puberty.
  2. Physical environment such as climate change, pollution (land, water and air) and noise.
  3. Work, health, family, finances, social activities and other factors which an individual means of life centers on.
  4. Conflict and disappointments.
Stressors are commonly defined as the environmental, physical and social causes. On the internal stress state, they induce various responses. Some of the responses from the stress state include, physiological responses, for example, irritability, anxiety, feeling unable to cope with the world and hopelessness.

Stress Cycles

The effects of stress are numerous depending on how long the stressors are maintained. For example, if they are long-term, emotional effects, psychological effects, behavioral effects and cognitive effects will be observed. The effects create discomfort and distress in an individual. They also hinder adaptation to each environment and tend to become stress, thus, beginning a cycle of distress. An example is a patient who has spent a lot of money to get treatment for a disease. The disease gives the patient stress. After the cure, the stress continues because of worry about payment of the medical bill. The stressors have moved from one effect to the other. This same case applies to a patient that has gotten an amputation after an accident. They may continue to be worried about the situation after being continuously worried about the accident. There are several ways people have developed to cope with stress. This helps them to respond adaptively. The wellness cycle is, thus, developed. The new fields of behavioral medicine focus mostly on teaching people some of the adaptive methods of dealing with stress in order to promote the wellness cycle.

Consequences of Stress

Stress is sometimes a positive thing. It is a proven fact that low levels of stress improve performance. An example is students - they can only prepare well for an upcoming exam if they have low levels of stress. On the other hand, excess levels of stress are very harmful.

Classifying the Causes of Stress

There are three categories to classify the causes of stress:
  • Physiological effects
The most common symptoms of stress are a reduction in immunity, peptic ulcers, heart disease, hypertension, numbness of limbs, chronic fatigue, difficulty in breathing, hormonal changes, and increased heart rate.
  • Psychological effects
An individual, experiencing stress, may encounter the following: anxiety, boredom, depression, tension, hopelessness, irritability, anger, helplessness and nervousness.
  • Changes of Behavior
The most common symptoms are decreasing efficiency, accident proneness, making mistakes, passiveness, and inability to make decisions, sleeplessness, under-eating or overeating, increased smoking, drug addiction and forgetfulness.

How the Level of Stress is Determined

The level of stress is determined, whether dangerous or not, using multiple variables. For example, if one has good social support and proper coping mechanisms stress levels can be reduced. How a person views stress is also very important. A stressful situation may be perceived stressful by one person and not stressful by another person. The intensity of a stressor also influences. Different individuals can tolerate stressors to varying levels before they turn negative stress. Personality also influences. Those with a type A personality are soft-hearted. They are easily affected by stress. Most of them end up in cardiovascular discords. On the other hand, those with hardiness or emotional stability are able to withstand the effects of stress. They are rarely affected.

General Adaption Syndrome (GAS)

Another definition of stress is by Hans Selye. He is a world-renowned biologist. Hans defines stress as the “non-specific response of the body to any demand upon it.” This response by the body is termed as “General Adaptation Syndrome” (GAS). There are three stages of General Adaption Syndrome:
  1. Alarm reaction. At this stage, the prompt responses of the body prepare the individual to cope with the stressor. They are mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. The body has identified that there is a stressor. It then triggers the appropriate response.
  2. Stage of resistance. The stage of resistance begins when the stressor continues to be present. The body resists to its effects. At the forefront line of defense are certain hormone responses which oppose the effect of the stressors. ACTH, a hormone, is released during this time.
  3. Stage of exhaustion. The ability to respond to the new and continuous stressors is compromised at this stage. The individual succumbs to the stress and is unable to face the stressor. In this stage, the psychosomatic illness develops. The stressor overcomes the individual.
Stress causes several psychosomatic diseases. Medical help for the physical problems is recommended. At the same time, psychological factors should also be looked into. Treating the medical part will only make the stressor become recurrent in the individual.

Coping with Stress

An individual can deal with stress in several ways, for example, facing or confronting the stressor, distancing from it, self-control, accepting responsibility, planning a problem-solving strategy, seeking social support, escaping or avoiding the stressor and positive reappraisal. There are two types of coping mechanisms seen in individuals: the instrumental coping and the emotional coping. For the instrumental coping, an individual focuses on a problem and tries to find a solution to it. On the other hand, for emotional coping, an individual focuses on one's feelings that a problem has generated and tries to find a way to cope with them. In the world today, do-it-yourself approaches, self-help remedies, and weight loss diets are being given a lot of attention in the mass media. Many individuals are investing time and energy in order to maintain their health. However, there are specific techniques that have been developed in order to manage the inevitable, continuous, or prolonged stress. They include:
  • Exercise
Simple exercises, such as walking or jogging, swimming, playing tennis, riding a bicycle or playing softball, are vital when it comes to coping with stress.
  • Relaxation
Specific relaxation techniques, such as biofeedback, meditation or simply taking it easy, occasionally help to eliminate the stressful situation. It also helps to manage a continuous stressor more effectively. It has been scientifically proven that meditation helps to cope with physical and mental pressure. Taking it easy means reading a good book, watching a good television programme or listening to light music.
  • Behavioral self-control
People can achieve self-control by deliberately managing the consequences of their own behavior and action. They can also be aware of their individual red flags or potential limit besides controlling their behavior. This will help people to reduce stress. For example, an individual can avoid situations or people who they know will put them under stress. Having a rigid strategy of focusing on just one coping method helps to increase the stress levels. Social support is very important as it helps to reduce the effect of stress. The advice, help, material support or moral support offered by people helps to reduce the stress. In addition to the above, skill training, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, psychotherapy, family therapy, environmental changes, group therapy, are found to be very useful in coping with stress. Biofeedback involves control of physical signs such as a headache. One may also opt to use drugs as a strategy in dealing with stress.


As we’ve seen, stress can be both positive and negative, and there are various ways of dealing with it. We have lots of research that has been done on the subject, and there are also age-old techniques that can be used. The main point is to limit the negatives associated with stress.