What is stress? (Definition, Types, Causes, Symptoms, Effects on health, and Stress Management Techniques)

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What is stress?

Richard Lazarus defined stress as a state of anxiety produced when events and responsibilities exceed one’s coping abilities.

Hans Selye stated stress is the body's non-specific response to any demand placed upon it to adapt, whether that demand produces pleasure or pain.

Physiologically, stress is defined as the body's wear and tear rate.

Types of stress

Stress can be both positive and negative. However, the body cannot differentiate between the two, and both excitement and anxiety strain the body and the immune system.

Based on intensity and duration stress cab be classified into two types: Acute Stress and Chronic Stress.

Acute stress is the intense stress that lasts for a short duration and can rapidly exhaust the body to the point that it can even trigger anxiety attacks or states of shock.

Chronic stress is not as intense but it extends over time. It is often ignored until obvious physical symptoms arise.

Eustress: Hans Selye referred to eustress as beneficial stress (positive stress) which can be either psychological, physical, biochemical, or radiological. It occurs when stress motivates a person to move into action for accomplishing goals. Indicators of eustress are generally hope, vigor, or a sense of meaning.

Causes of Stress

Stress is experienced differently by each individual, hence the causes of stress vary across people. The various sources of stressors can be broadly divided into three categories. They are

1. Biological Influences

There are several biological and ecological factors that might trigger stress. From the perspective of chronobiology the three biological rhythms- circadian rhythms, ultradian rhythms, and infradian rhythms; are affected by the sunlight, gravitational force, solar fares, and electromagnetic field.

2. Psychointerpersonal Influences

It involves the thoughts, values, beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and perceptions of an individual. When any of these are challenged, violated, or changed it triggers stress.

3. Social Influences

Our social relations in addition to financial insecurity, effects of relocation, technological advances, violation of human rights, and low socioeconomic status are notable factors that contribute to stress.

Symptoms of Stress

The state of stress is not pleasant and causes a range of physical and psychological difficulties at a given time. The symptoms of stress can be categorized as follows:

1. Behavioral Symptoms of stress:

  • Restlessness
  • Compulsive Behaviour
  • Fidgeting
  • Nail biting
  • Increased smoking, alcohol or drug consumption
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Appetite changes

2. Mental Symptoms of stress:

  • Lack of Concentration
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty in decision making
  • Confusion
  • Panic Attacks

3. Emotional Symptoms of stress:

  • Tearfulness
  • Guilt
  • Bouts of depression
  • Impatience
  • Morbid jealousy
  • Irritability and anger

4. Physical Symptoms of stress:

  • Fatigue
  • Digestion Changes
  • Headaches
  • Infection
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating and Trembling
  • Breathlessness
  • Palpitations
  • Loss of sexual drive
  • Fainting

Effects of Stress on Health

We all encounter many stressors in our day-to-day life and manage to overcome them without experiencing any adverse effects. However, if stress is severe it might have some lasting effects on physical and mental health. Some of the negative effects of stress on health are:

1. Impaired Task Performance

Stress can affect the ability of a person to perform effectively on a given task. According to Baumeister(1984), pressure to perform often makes people self-conscious which in turn disrupts their attention and thereby interferes with performance.

2. Disruption Of Cognitive Functioning

Stress can have detrimental effects on certain aspects of memory functioning, decision-making, and interpretation of a particular situation.

3. Burnout

Burnout involves physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a lowered sense of self-efficacy that is attributable to work-related stress(Maslach & Leiter,1997). Therefore, stress causes weakness, low energy, a negative attitude about oneself, and declining feelings of competence at work.

4. Psychological Problems

Stress causes a number of psychological disturbances including poor academic performance, insomnia, sexual disturbances, and increased drug or alcohol abuse. Other than that it might even lead to psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and even schizophrenia.

5. Physical Illness

Stress causes high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, asthma, migraine, tension, and headaches. It may also facilitate the onset of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and other infectious diseases.

However, stress might also have some positive effects on the body depending on the stressor and the person experiencing it. Stressful events may motivate a person to satisfy his needs and overcome challenges. Confronting stress also improves a person’s coping strategies and increases stress tolerance.

Stress Management Techniques

Coping refers to the efforts to master, reduce, or tolerate the demands created by stress. Every individual copes differently with stress. Some of the effective methods of managing stress are:

Problem-Focused Constructive Coping

Problem-focused coping includes efforts to remedy or conquer the stress-producing problem itself. It includes techniques like:

Systematic Problem Solving

It involves the following steps

  • Clarify the problem
  • Generate an alternative course of action
  • Evaluate the alternatives and select a course of action
  • Taking action while maintaining flexibility

Seeking Help

Rather than trying to solve a problem alone, taking help from friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors can reduce the level of stress.

Time Management

The ability to use time effectively instead of wasting it is very important. Time can be used more effectively by monitoring our use of time, clarifying our goals, planning our activity using a schedule, protecting our prime time, increasing efficiency, etc.

Improving Self-Control

Self-control and discipline also help in reducing stress by decreasing frustration, conflicts, and pressure caused by spontaneous actions.

Emotion-Focused Constructive Coping

Emotion-focused coping includes techniques like:

Enhancing emotional intelligence

If people are able to perceive and express their emotions accurately and are aware of their emotions it will shape their thinking, decision making, and coping with stress. People should be able to understand and regulate their emotions properly in order to keep stress in check.

Releasing Pent-up emotions

If we try to inhibit the expression of our emotions and aggression it might increase stress. It is beneficial to get rid of the load by releasing the pent-up emotions to manage stress.

Managing Hostility and forgiving others

It is important for people to identify their anger and increase empathy and tolerance to manage hostility. It will help in better adjustment and improve wellbeing.


Meditation improves learning, energy level, work productivity, physical health, mental health, and general happiness by reducing tension and anxiety caused by stress (Alexander et. al.,1990). Meditation relaxes the body and the mind to a great extent and therefore helps in coping with stress.

Using relaxation procedures

Systematic relaxation soothes emotional turmoil and reduces stress. According to Herbert Benson, the four factors that are effective in the practice of a relaxation response are:

  • A quiet environment
  • A mental device
  • A passive attitude
  • A comfortable position


We are all aware of the physical benefits of yoga. However, yoga also helps in reducing stress and anxiety, promoting sound sleep, lowering blood pressure, reducing muscle tension, increase strength and flexibility.

Sayani Banerjee
Author: Sayani Banerjee

Hey there, curious minds! I'm Sayani Banerjee, and I'm thrilled to be your companion on the fascinating journey through the realm of psychology. As a dedicated student pursuing my master's in Clinical Psychology at Calcutta University, I'm constantly driven by the desire to unravel the mysteries of the human mind and share my insights with you. My passion for teaching and my love for research come together on my blog, psychologymadeeasy.in, where we explore the world of psychology in the simplest and most engaging way possible.

Read more on: Applied Psychology

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