Stress is anything that causes people to become tense, angry, frustrated, or miserable. It may arise after visiting a stubborn and uncompromising relative, shifting home, or applying for a job.
Stress has had its influence on people from all walks of life, from the rich to poor, the educated to the illiterate, the trader to the industrialist, etc. Factors that stress some people may cause others to become excited. One person’s stress may be another person’s pleasure. Whether a certain situation is stressful or not depends on how we appraise that life event and how we rate our ability to deal with it.
In psychology, stress is a demand made on the organism to adjust. It refers to a challenge made on a persons’ capacity to adapt to inner and outer demands. Stressful situations typically produce physiological and emotional arousal and elicit cognitive and behavioral efforts to cope with the stress. Stressors are the environmental events that stimulate these changes.
General Adaption Syndrome (GAS)
The word stress widely came into use when a Canadian Endocrinologist named Hans Selye (1907-1982) the recognized “father of stress” published a book titled “The Stress of Life” in 1978 while he was in medical school. Selye noticed that many patients have similar symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and fever regardless of the disease that was diagnosed. Selye developed General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), the stages that our body goes through when we face stressors. The GAS stages are:
The Alarm Stage
The first stage of GAS mobilizes or arouses the body, preparing for defensive action. A number of physiological and chemical reactions, such as the secretion of adrenaline, increases in respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure are experienced. These changes take place in order to pump more blood for muscular activity, which helps the body reduce the severity of any injury received. Once the threat is removed, the body returns to a lower, more optimal state of arousal. The alarm system takes the individual toward the flight or fight response.
If the stressor continues after the alarm stage, the body moves to the resistance stage in which the body cells upon the needed organ or specific body systems to deal with the stressor. The resistance stage is also called the adoption stage of the GAS. For example, a laboratory animal in the resistance stage may have a greater ability to resist extreme cold, but it becomes more vulnerable to bacterial infections. The body attempts to restore lost energy and repair whatever damage has been done.
If the stressor is not adequately resisted, the final phase, the exhaustion stage takes place. At this stage, our resistance weakens and we lose our adoptive quality creating pathological changes that result in disease e.g. allergies, ulcers, heart disease, and ultimately to death.
What is Stress?
Selye (1978) defines stress as the non-specific response of the body to any demand or unexpected event in the environment that requires an adjustment.
Stress is an adaptive response to a situation that is perceived as challenging or threatening to the person’s wellbeing – Quick and Quick, 1982.
R.S. Schuler (1980) defines stress as “a dynamic condition in which an individual is confronted with the opportunity, constraint, or demand related to what he or she desires and for which the outcome is perceived to be both uncertain and important. Schuler’s definition refers to the positive side of stress, as it refers to opportunity offering to potential gain which derives pleasantness (eustress). Constraints are blockages or hindrances that prevent an individual from doing what s/he desires. Demand refers to the loss of something desired.
Stress is in its severest form when individuals perceive the situation as an uncertain win or lose position. The level of stress is low if the person knows the winning or losing is a certainty. If the outcome of the event is unimportant and brings no consequences people experience no stress. Stress is usually perceived as having negative and damaging effects only, but a certain amount of stress is desirable and necessary to keep us alert and motivated to overcome obstacles of daily life. We consciously create mild stress in our lives to help overcome periods of frustration and dull routine. Sensory deprivation experiments show that the absence of stimulation is unpleasant. Each of us can function best at a moderate level of stress, which we may call “healthy tension”, which involves low muscle tension, an alert presence of mind, peaceful bodily feelings, increased creative intelligence, physical vitality, and a deep sense of wellbeing.
Eustress Vs. Distress
Healthy tension is a form of eustress or positive stress which is derived from the Greek word “eu”, which means “good” as in euphoria. For example, an employee is offered a job promotion in a different place, or a writer’s work is gaining him or her widespread recognition, a man and a woman are getting married, hosting the desired guest or other similar good things occur. These events suggest stress can be positive as an opportunity has been presented that offers potential gain. The positive challenges influence worker’s eustress which enhances the quality of the work and satisfaction obtained from the job.
The damaging form of stress is called distress, which is what most people call “stress”. Excessive pressure, unreasonable demands on our time, bad news, etc. generally result in negative consequences and dangerous side effects. Distress, if intense or prolonged, can overtax the adjective ability and have physically or psychologically harmful effects.
Stressor: The Causes of Stress
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Events that lead to stress are called stressors. Stressors put physical or emotional demands on the person. Stressors range from infrequent to commonplace situations. The main causes of stress are environmental, organizational, and individual factors.
Environmental Factors of Stress
Environmental stressors include social, technological, political change, economic and financial conditions, race and class residential or community conditions. The environmental sources of stress are numerous. Broadly it can be labeled into physical, economic, political, technological, terrorism as the main points.
Physical Environment: It includes war, crime, flood, natural calamities, diseases, accidents, societal community conditions, infection, extreme temperature, environmental pollution, electric shock, toxin, poisons, constant noise, problematic working conditions, etc.
Economic Factor: Economic sources of stress have imposed hardships on people whose finances can not cope with economic activities. Unemployment and job dissatisfaction are common sources of stress for many people in our society. Limited financial gain, fatigue at work, retirement, change to a different line of work, inflation, loan, etc. give rise to different stressful conditions. It also includes organization and job security.
Technology: The modern way of living, over-industrialization, population increase, urbanization, consumerism, and globalization have provoked the stress level of society immensely. New innovations can make an employee’s skills and experience obsolete in a short time. Computers, mobiles, robotics, automation, and similar nature technological innovations are creating a threat to many people. The need to know and understand to use them put a great deal of pressure and confusion. The replacement of human resources through this technology is also causing panic.
Terrorism (Violence): Terrorism is also a potential source. Mankind today lives in the fear of the new destructive power of modern warfare in which hostile groups can deploy nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Fear growing out of this threat has led some individuals to develop an overly aggressive attitude. There are also different kinds of terrorism stress such as civil conflict and violence, polarizing groups, group prejudice, discrimination, and racial minorities which are the subjects to elicit feelings of frustration, hostility, and stress.
Work is the most stressful part of our lives. Work satisfaction not only influences personal happiness but also survivors. Complications at work may come from job insecurity, loss of a close friend, lack of motivation, or from different pressures related to work such as:
Task Demand: Task demands are stressors related to the nature of a person’s jobs. Some jobs provide liberty, variety, working conditions, physical layout, and automation while others are more limited in these matters. Being a firefighter, senior executive, surgeon, air traffic controller, etc. is naturally more stressful than working as a bookkeeper, broadcast technician, computer programmer, etc.
Physical Demand: Working conditions and the physical work layout may pose physical threats to a person’s health. Unhealthy conditions, uncomfortable temperature, strenuous labor such as loading heavy cargo or lifting packages, coal mining, poorly designed offices, overcrowded room, lack of privacy, etc. might distract a person from work, leading to stress. Too much work leads to distractions whereas too little may also lead to boredom or feeling of isolation.
Role Demand: A role is an expected behavior associated with a particular position in a group or organization. Role demand stress occurs when people are expected to display different work and non-work roles. Role stress arises due to role ambiguity, role conflict, and role overload.
Interpersonal Demand: Interpersonal demand is a stress that is related to other employees. It is usually caused by group pressures, lack of social support from friends and subordinates, and lack of skills to handle an interpersonal relationship.
Organizational Structure: The pressure the individual faces while discharging duties may cause it. Differentiation and inconsistency in the rules, regulations, participation in decisions, and responsibilities may create stress in an organization.
Organizational Leadership: Leadership style may also create stress. Employees suffer greatly when a leader prohibits or limits the opportunity in the organization.
Organizational Cycles: Organizations go through different event periods, which are associated with organizational life stages. Usually, an organization has four important periods, establishment, growth, peak, and decline phase. In all these periods workers suffer a certain type of stress.
Stress result not only from the job-related forces but also from individual factors such as family and social relations, and economic problem associated with self, acculturative stress and inherent personality characteristics.
The Family Unit: Family is the largest source of stress. Marital dissatisfaction, issues related to the children, spouse, guilt feelings, etc. are some of the major factors related to individual causes of stress. The death of a spouse, divorce, marital separation, death of a close family member or friend, personal injury, illness, loss of property, changes in the health of a family member, and greater difficulties can be listed as life-changing events and the trauma leading to stress.
Financial Resources: Regardless of income overextending the level of expenses seems to be more stressful in the modern style of living. It is a fact that some people are poor money managers and these people always spend more than their earning capacity. Change in health of a family member, pregnancy, introduction of a new family member, and so on demands more financial resources than being alone. For some people, life is a “show off business” demanding unnecessary expenses taxing financial resources ultimately leading to stress.
Acculturative Stress: In recent times people are facing acculturative stress. It refers to the stress people experience while trying to adopt a new culture. Symptoms of acculturative stress may include anxiety, depression, uncertainty, language difficulties, and conflict about ethnic identity, and alcohol abuse. It causes conflicts over preserving old values and beliefs and adopting the values and morals of the new culture. Just think of your situation as a young adult when you think of celebrating your Birthday. How would you do it, with cake and candle, or visiting temples and worshipping Gods?
Genetic Factor: A persons’ experience of stress is also a heritable personality disposition. It affects an individual’s experience of stress, partly determining how the individual will think and behave in a stressful situation.