What is Stress?

Stress is a feeling of strain and pressure.

Symptoms: may include a sense of being overwhelmed, feelings of anxiety, overall irritability, insecurity, nervousness, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, depression, panic attacks, exhaustion, high or low blood pressure, skin eruptions or rashes, insomnia, lack of sexual desire (sexual dysfunction), migraine, gastrointestinal difficulties (constipation or diarrhea), and for women, menstrual symptoms.

Causes: Stress can be external and related to the environment, but may also be created by internal perceptions that cause an individual to have anxiety or other negative emotions surrounding a situation, such as pressure, discomfort, etc.

Humans experience stress, or perceive things as threatening, when they do not believe that their resources for coping with obstacles (stimuli, people, situations, etc.) are enough for what the circumstances demand. When we think the demands being placed on us exceed our ability to cope, we then perceive stress.Stress can be created by influences such as work, school, peers or co-workers, family and death. Other influences vary by age.

  • Small amounts of stress may be desired, beneficial, and even healthy. Positive stress - Eustress- helps improve performance, and also plays factor in motivation, adaptation, and reaction to the environment.
  • Excessive amounts of stress - Distress- however, may lead to many problems in the body that could be harmful, diseases that are influenced by stress are clinical depression, cardiovascular disease.

What is Distress?

Distress is an aversive state in which a person is unable to adapt completely to stressors and their resulting stress and shows maladaptive behaviors. It can be evident in the presence of various phenomena, such as inappropriate social interaction (e.g., aggression, passivity, or withdrawal).

People under constant distress are more likely to become mentally or physically sick. People often find ways of dealing with distress, in both negative and positive ways.

The first ways include listening to music, calming exercises, sports and similar healthy distractions, while negative ways can include but are not limited to: use of drugs or alcohol, and expression of anger, which are likely to lead to complicated social interactions, thus causing increased distress.

Psychological stress and disease

There are evidence that when humans are under chronic stress, permanent changes in their physiological, emotional, and behavioral responses are most likely to occur. Such changes could lead to disease. Behavioral changes can be smoking, alcohol consumption, eating and exercise, Stressful events, such as job changes, often result in insomnia, impaired sleeping, and health complaints

Chronic stress results from stressful events that persist over a relatively long period of time, such as caring for a spouse with dementia, or results from brief focal events that continue to be experienced as overwhelmingly long after they are over, such as experiencing a sexual assault.

Chronic stress and a lack of coping resources available or used by an individual can often lead to the development of psychological issues such as depression and anxiety (see Depression and Anxiety linked file for further information). This is particularly true regarding daily stressors. These types of stressors tend to have a more negative impact on health because they occur daily and thus require the body's physiological response to occur daily. This depletes the body's energy more quickly and usually occurs over long periods of time, especially when these microstressors cannot be avoided (i.e.- traffic on the way to work).

Even though psychological stress is often connected with illness or disease, there are individual differences in vulnerability to the potential pathogenic effects of stress. Individual differences in vulnerability arise due to both genetic and psychological factors.

  • Definition and types of stressors

A stressor is any event, experience, or environmental stimulus that causes stress in an individual. These events or experiences are perceived as threats or challenges to the individual and can be either physical or psychological. Researchers have found that stressors can make individuals more prone to both physical and psychological problems, including heart disease and anxiety.

Stressors are more likely to affect an individual's health when they are "chronic, highly disruptive, or perceived as uncontrollable".

It is possible classify different types of stressors into four categories:

1. Crises/catastrophes

This type of stressor is unforeseen and unpredictable and, as such, is completely out of the control of the individual.Examples of crises and catastrophes include: devastating natural disaster such as major floods or earthquakes, wars, etc. Though rare in occurrence, this type of stressor typically causes a great deal of stress in a person's life.

2. Major life events

Common examples of major life events include: marriage, going to university, move away, death of a loved one, birth of a child, etc. These events can be either positive or negative.

The length of time since occurrence and whether or not it is a positive or negative event are factors in whether or not it causes stress and how much stress it causes.

3. Daily hassles/microstressors

This category is the most commonly occurring type of stressor in an individual's everyday life. This includes daily annoyances and minor hassles. Examples include: making decisions, meeting deadlines at work or school, traffic jams, encounters with irritating personalities, etc. Often, this type of stressor includes conflicts with other people.

Travel-related stress results from three main categories: lost time, surprises (an unforeseen event such as lost or delayed baggage) and routine breakers (inability to maintain daily habits).

Daily stressors, however, are different for each individual, as not everyone perceives a certain event as stressful. For example, most people find public speaking to be stressful, nevertheless, a seasoned politician most likely will not.

There are three major psychological types of conflicts that can cause stress.

  • The 'approach-approach' conflict occurs when a person is choosing between two equally attractive options.
  • The 'avoidance-avoidance' conflict, where a person has to choose between two equally unattractive options.
  • The 'approach-avoidance' conflict. This occurs when a person is forced to choose whether or not to partake in something that has both attractive and unattractive traits.

4. Ambient stressors

As their name implies, these are global (as opposed to individual) low-grade stressors that are a part of the background environment. They are defined as stressors that are "chronic, negatively valued, non-urgent, physically perceptible, and intractable to the efforts of individuals to change them". Typical examples of ambient stressors are pollution, noise, crowding, and traffic. Unlike the other three types of stressor, ambient stressors can (but do not necessarily have to) negatively impact stress without conscious awareness. They are thus low on what it is called "perceptual salience".

Work-related Stress

Job stress results from the interaction of the worker and

the conditions of work.

Stress, by definition, is the interaction between an individual

and the demands and burdens presented by the external environment. Stress occurs due to a demand that exceeds the individuals coping ability, disrupting their psychological equilibrium.

Hence, in the workplace environment stress arises when the employee perceives a situation to be too strenuous to handle, and is threatening to their well being.


Workplace stress is quite normal, however if excessive symptoms of stress are shown then it interferes with productivity and performance and impacts physical and emotional health.

Physical symptoms that may occur because of occupational stress include fatigue, headache, upset stomach, muscular aches and pains, chronic mild illness, sleep disturbance and eating disorders. Psychological and behavioral problems that may develop include anxiety, irritability, alcohol and drug use, feeling powerless and low morale. The spectrum of effects caused by occupational stress includes absenteeism, poor decision making, lack of creativity, accidents, organizational breakdown or even sabotage. If exposure to stressors in the workplace is prolonged, then chronic health problems can occur including stroke.

Possible Causes

Bullying in the workplace like threat to profession or personal status, Isolation, Excess Work or Destabilization (i.e. lack of credit for work, meaningless tasks etc.) create a hostile work environment for the employees that, which in turn, can affect their work ethic and contribution to the organization.

A person's status in the workplace can also affect levels of stress. While workplace stress has the potential to affect employees of all categories, from manager to those who have very little influence to those who make major decisions for the company. However, less powerful employees - those who have less control over their jobs - seems more likely to suffer stress than powerful workers. Managers as well as other kinds of workers are vulnerable to work overload.

Economic factors that employees are facing in the 21st century have been linked to increased stress levels.

If not handled properly, the stress can become Distress.

Other causes:

Employees have to develop the ability of coping with the specific hours worked, the level of productive rate expected, the physical environment, as well as the expectancy of the work desired by management.

The role in the organization is associated with the hierarchical ranking of that particular employee within the organization. Upper management is entitled to oversee the overall functioning of the organization. This causes potential distress as the employee must be able to perform simultaneous tasks.

Career development. Security of their occupation, promotion levels, etc. are all sources of stress, as this business market in terms of technology of economic dominance is ever-changing.

Interpersonal relationships within the workplace. The workplace is a communication and interaction based industry. Relationships -either developed or developing- can be problematic or positive. Common stressors include harassment, discrimination, biased opinions, hearsay, and other derogatory remarks.

The organizational climate or structure. The overall communication, management style, and participation among groups of employees are variables to be considered. In essence, the resultant influence of the high participation rate, collaborative planning, and equally dispersed responsibilities provides a positive effect on stress reduction, improved work performance, job satisfaction, and decreased psychosomatic disorders.

School - related Stress

Things children worry about in elementary school will partially differ from the stressors they endure in middle and high school. Nonetheless, for the beholder, each particular stress is of paramount importance and has the potential to snowball with surprising speed and strength if not dealt with appropriately.

Possible Causes

Here is a list of some of the major anxiety stressors related to school that children and teenagers identify:

Starting a new school, worry about schoolwork, grades, test anxiety, fear of being called on or of wetting self, dealing with a learning disability.

Also social fears (school related) like: being chosen last for a team, worry about changing bodies, fear of not fitting in-having the "right" body type, the "right" clothes, not being part of a clique, not having a place to sit at lunch, fear of teasing, bullying, violence, worry about being away from home, peer pressure-drugs, alcohol, sex, cheating, could promote anxiety.

In addition to these school-related stresses, a child may be enduring other anxiety-producing events or situations at home or elsewhere.

Some examples of these stressors are: Divorce, remarriage, Stepparent / Step-sibling issues, adoption, death of a loved one or a pet, geographic move, persistent family conflict, parent unemployment and financial strains, legal problems, domestic violence, abuse, neglect, parent substance abuse, chronic illness / disability of self or family member, exposure to frightening events in the media.

These anxieties, although not specifically derived from school, will almost certainly find their way into the school environment and affect a child's school functioning. Behavior problems in school may not be evidence only of school problems, but possibly other stress with friends or family.


Stress can take many forms andmay not show up exactly looking like anxiety in certain children.

Other sign of stress can be expressed in emotional, physical, social, and behavioral ways.

Emotional: Excessive worry, irritability, sadness, frustration, anger, neediness, tearfulness, fearfulness, agitation, sensitivity to noise, low self-esteem, distrust of others / the world, confusion, apathy, indecisiveness.

Physical: Loss of appetite, stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, hyperactivity, tics, psychomotor agitation, speech impairments, acne / rashes, muscle tension, fainting spells, heart palpitations, nausea / vomiting.

Social: Withdrawal / isolation, intrusiveness (poor boundaries with others), family conflict, peer difficulties, lapses in social judgment, arguing, separation anxiety, teasing, bullying, extreme shyness.

Behavioral: Loss of concentration, overeating, aggression, anhedonia (loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities), nightmares, clinginess, regressive behaviors (thumb, sucking, bed-wetting), impulsivity, tantrums, poor hygiene, noncompliance with rules, insomnia, hypersomnia, truancy, complaining, decline in grades, overreacting, losing temper.

When left untreated, or when stressors are chronic and do not diminish over time, a stress reaction may evolve into a more serious psychological or medical condition. It is important to address the sources of the stress, either informally or with professional help.

Many stressful situations are temporary and will pass quickly, and the stress symptoms will recede. More longstanding and severe stressful situations are cause for greater concern.

Children exposed to chronic or recurring stress should be considered at risk, and will benefit from developing a set of adaptive coping strategies to help them manage their mood, behavior, relationships, and self-esteem. Different individuals will take to different strategies, preferring the ones they enjoy most or those that seem to work best at de-escalating their anxiety.

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