Stress (psychological)
The word stress is used in many different contexts. However, psychological stress is not as vague and all-encompassing as most people believe it to be. Stress is not directly created by external events, but instead by the internal perceptions that cause an individual to have anxiety/negative emotions surrounding a situation, such as pressure, discomfort, etc., which they then deem “stressful”. 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. The feelings often associated with experiencing stress are anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

 and being overwhelmed.

Coping mechanisms

Individuals deal with perceived threats, or stress, in different ways. There are different classifications for these coping, or “defense” mechanisms, however they all are variations on the same general idea: There are good/productive ways to handle stress, and there are negative/counterproductive ways to do so.
Because stress is perceived, the following mechanisms do not necessarily deal with the actual situation that is causing an individual stress. However, often they do, but they are also considered coping mechanisms if they allow the individual to better cope with the negative feelings/anxiety that they are experiencing due to the perceived stressful situation, as opposed to actually fixing the concrete obstacle causing them stress.
The following mechanisms are adapted from the DSM-IV Adaptive Functioning Scale, APA, 1994.

Highly Adaptive/Active/Problem-Focused Mechanisms

These skills are what one could call as “facing the problem head on”, or at least dealing with the negative emotions experienced by stress in a constructive manner. (generally adaptive)

Tend and befriend
Tend and befriend is a behavior exhibited by some animals, including humans, when under threat. It refers to protection of offspring and seeking out the social group for mutual defense . The tend-and-befriend idea was originally developed by Dr. Shelley E...

 – This mechanism involves dealing with the stress by turning to one's social network for support, but an individual does not share with others in order to diffuse or avoid the responsibility.

• Humor – Note that this does not include sarcasm. This mechanism allows the individual to step outside of the situation, in order to gain greater perspective, and also to highlight any comic aspect to be found in their stressful circumstances.

Sublimation (psychology)
In psychology, sublimation is a mature type of defence mechanism where socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are consciously transformed into socially acceptable actions or behaviour, possibly converting the initial impulse in the long term...

 – This defense allows an “indirect resolution of conflict with neither adverse consequences nor consequences marked by loss of pleasure. Essentially, this mechanism allows the individual to channel their troubling emotions or impulses into an outlet that is socially acceptable.

• Positive Reappraisal – This is when an individual redirects their thoughts, their cognitive energy, to good things that are either occurring or have not occurred. This can lead to personal growth, self-reflection, and awareness of the power/benefits of one's efforts.

Other adaptive coping mechanisms include anticipation, altruism
Altruism is a concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions, though the concept of 'others' toward whom concern should be directed can vary among cultures and religions. Altruism is the opposite of...

, and self-observation.

Mental Inhibition/Disavowal Mechanisms

These mechanisms cause the individual to have a diminished (or in some cases non-existent) awareness about their anxiety, threatening ideas, fears, etc., that come from being conscious of the perceived threat.

Displacement (psychology)
In Freudian psychology, displacement is an unconscious defense mechanism whereby the mind redirects effects from an object felt to be dangerous or unacceptable to an object felt to be safe or acceptable...

 - This is when an individual redirects their emotional feelings about one situation to another, less threatening one.

Psychological repression
Psychological repression, also psychic repression or simply repression, is the psychological attempt by an individual to repel one's own desires and impulses towards pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one's consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious...

 – Repression occurs when an individual attempts to remove all their thoughts, feelings, and anything related to the upsetting/stressful (perceived) threat out of their awareness in order to be disconnected from the entire situation. When done long enough in a successful way, this is more than just denial.

Reaction formation
Reaction formation
In psychoanalytic theory, reaction formation is a defensive process in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions and impulses are mastered by exaggeration of the directly opposing tendency.-Theory:...

 – An individual substitutes their feelings or thoughts or behavior with the exact opposite. An attempt to remove any “unacceptable thoughts” from one's consciousness by replacing them with the exact opposite.

Other inhibition coping mechanisms include undoing, dissociation
Dissociation is an altered state of consciousness characterized by partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of a person’s normal conscious or psychological functioning. Dissociation is most commonly experienced as a subjective perception of one's consciousness being detached from...

, denial
Denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.The subject may use:* simple denial: deny the reality of the...

, projection
Psychological projection
Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people...

, and rationalization.

Active Mechanisms

These are ways of dealing with stress in which one literally takes action, or withdraws.

• Acting out – Often viewed as counter-normative, or problematic behavior. Instead of reflecting or problem-solving, an individual takes maladaptive action.

• Passive aggression – This is when an individual indirectly deals with his or her anxiety and negative thoughts/feelings stemming from their stress by acting in a hostile or resentful manner towards others. Help-Rejecting Complaining can also be included in this category.

Depending on the situation, all of these coping mechanisms may be adaptive, or maladaptive.

Stress responses

In terms of measuring the body's response to stress, psychologists tend to use Han Selye's general adaptation syndrome. This model is also often referred to as the classic stress response, and it revolves around the concept of homeostasis
Homeostasis is the property of a system that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition of properties like temperature or pH...

. This means that the body's response to stressors seeks to return to its equilibrium, or the normal level of stress resistance. During the alarm phase, the body begins to build up resistance to the stressor beyond normal resistance levels. The body continues building up resistance throughout the stage of resistance, until either the body's resources are depleted or the stressful stimulus is removed, leading into the exhaustion phase.

This response is designed to help humans in life or death situations, but all types of stressors can trigger this response. A stress response results in elevated physiological arousal, often associated with the release of stress hormones such as cortisol
Cortisol is a steroid hormone, more specifically a glucocorticoid, produced by the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and a low level of blood glucocorticoids. Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis; suppress the immune system; and aid in fat,...

. The physiological arousal in response to stressors is designed to help the body adapt quickly in order to survive and rid itself of the stressful stimuli.

This physiological stress response involves high levels of sympathetic nervous system
Sympathetic nervous system
The sympathetic nervous system is one of the three parts of the autonomic nervous system, along with the enteric and parasympathetic systems. Its general action is to mobilize the body's nervous system fight-or-flight response...

 activation, often referred to as the "fight or flight" response. The response involves pupil dilation, release of endorphins, increased heart and respiration rates, cessation of digestive processes, secretion of adrenaline, arteriole dilation, and constriction of veins. This high level of arousal is often unnecessary to adequately cope with micro-stressors and daily hassles; yet, this is the response pattern seen in humans, which often leads to health issues commonly associated with high levels of stress.

Stress and health

As seen in the previous section, the physiological response to stress demands much of the body's energy and resources. This often has a great impact on disease and risk for disease. When the body's energy is used to respond to minor (or major) stressors, the immune system's ability to function properly is compromised. This makes the individual more susceptible to physical illnesses like the cold or flu. Stressful events, such as job changes, often result in insomnia, impaired sleeping, and health complaints. 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
Anxiety disorder
Anxiety disorder is a blanket term covering several different forms of abnormal and pathological fear and anxiety. Conditions now considered anxiety disorders only came under the aegis of psychiatry at the end of the 19th century. Gelder, Mayou & Geddes explains that anxiety disorders are...

 (see below 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). Studies have also proven that perceived chronic stress and the hostility associated with Type A personalities
Type A personality
Originally published in the 1950s, the Type A and Type B personality theory is a theory which describes two common, contrasting personality types—the high-strung Type A and the easy-going Type B—as patterns of behavior that could either raise or lower, respectively, one's chances of developing...

 are often associated with much higher risks of cardiovascular disease. This occurs because of the compromised immune system as well as the high levels of arousal in the sympathetic nervous system that occur as part of the body's physiological response to stressful events.
However, it is possible for individuals to exhibit hardiness
Hardiness (psychological)
Hardiness , alternatively referred to as psychological hardiness, personality hardiness, or cognitive hardiness in the literature, is a personality style first introduced by Suzanne C. Kobasa in 1979...

—a term referring to the ability to be both chronically stressed and healthy. Many psychologists are currently interested in studying the factors that allow hardy individuals to cope with stress and evade most health and illness problems associated with high levels of stress.
Stress can be associated with psychological disorders such as general anxiety disorder
General anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about everyday things that is disproportionate to the actual source of worry...

, depression
Depression (mood)
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless...

, and post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...

. However, it is important to note that everyone experiences some level of stress, and diagnosis of stress disorders can only be performed by a licenced practitioner.

Types of Stressors

A stressor
Stressor is a chemical or biological agent, environmental condition, an external stimulus or an event that causes stress to an organism. An event that triggers the stress response may include for example:...

 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
Heart disease
Heart disease, cardiac disease or cardiopathy is an umbrella term for a variety of diseases affecting the heart. , it is the leading cause of death in the United States, England, Canada and Wales, accounting for 25.4% of the total deaths in the United States.-Types:-Coronary heart disease:Coronary...

 and anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

. Stressors are more likely to affect an individual's health when they are "chronic, highly disruptive, or perceived as uncontrollable". In psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

, researchers generally classify the different types of stressors into three categories: crises/catastrophes, major life events, and daily hassles/microstressors.


This type of stressor is unforeseen and unpredictable and, as such, is completely out of the control of the individual. Examples of crises
Crises is the eighth record album by Mike Oldfield, released in 1983. Oldfield's well known hit "Moonlight Shadow" appears on the album.- Album analysis :...

 and catastrophes include: devastating natural disaster
Natural disaster
A natural disaster is the effect of a natural hazard . It leads to financial, environmental or human losses...

s , such as major flood
A flood is an overflow of an expanse of water that submerges land. The EU Floods directive defines a flood as a temporary covering by water of land not normally covered by water...

s or earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

s , war
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...

s , etc. Though rare in occurrence, this type of stressor typically causes a great deal of stress in a person's life. A study conducted by Stanford University found that after natural disasters, those affected experienced a significant increase in stress level.

Major Life Events

Common examples of major life events include: marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

, going to college
A college is an educational institution or a constituent part of an educational institution. Usage varies in English-speaking nations...

, death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 of a loved one, birth
Birth is the act or process of bearing or bringing forth offspring. The offspring is brought forth from the mother. The time of human birth is defined as the time at which the fetus comes out of the mother's womb into the world...

 of a child, etc. These events can be either positive or negative. Research has found major life events are somewhat rare to be major causes of stress, due to its rare occurrences. 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. Researchers have found that events that have occurred within the past month generally are not linked to stress or illness, while chronic events that occurred more than several months ago are linked to stress and illness. Additionally, positive life events are typically not linked to stress—and if so, generally only trivial stress—while negative life events can be linked to stress and the health problems that accompany it.

Daily Hassles/Microstressors

This category is the most commonly-occurring type of stressor in an individual's everyday life. This includes daily annoyance
Annoyance is an unpleasant mental state that is characterized by such effects as irritation and distraction from one's conscious thinking. It can lead to emotions such as frustration and anger...

s 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. 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. First, the approach-approach conflict is where a person is choosing between two equally attractive options, i.e. whether to go see a movie or to go see a concert. The second type is the avoidance-avoidance conflict, where a person has to choose between two equally unattractive options, for example, to take out a second loan with unappealing terms to pay off the mortgage or to face foreclosure on one's house. The third type is an approach-avoidance conflict. This is where a person is forced to choose whether or not to partake in something that has both attractive and unattractive traits—such as whether or not to attend an expensive college (meaning taking out loans now, but also meaning a quality education and employment after graduation).

Stress Scales

Stress scales are lists of life events that can contribute to illness in an individual. The most common scale is the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, also known as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, or SRRS. Developed by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe in 1967, the scale lists 43 events that can cause stress.

To calculate one's score, add up the number of "life change units" if an event occurred in the past year. A score of more than 300 means that individual is at risk for illness, a score between 150 and 229 means risk of illness is moderate, and a score under 150 means that individual only has a slight risk of illness.
Life event Life change units
Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Begin or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Christmas 12
Minor violation of law 11

A modified version was made for non-adults. The scale is below.
Life Event Life Change Units
Getting married 95
Unwed pregnancy 100
Death of parent 100
Acquiring a visible deformity 80
Divorce of parents 90
Fathering an unwed pregnancy 70
Jail sentence of parent for over one year 70
Marital separation of parents 69
Death of a brother or sister 68
Change in acceptance by peers 67
Pregnancy of unwed sister 64
Discovery of being an adopted child 63
Marriage of parent to stepparent 63
Death of a close friend 63
Having a visible congenital deformity 62
Serious illness requiring hospitalization 58
Failure of a grade in school 56
Not making an extracurricular activity 55
Hospitalization of a parent 55
Jail sentence of parent for over 30 days 53
Breaking up with boyfriend or girlfriend 53
Beginning to date 51
Suspension from school 50
Becoming involved with drugs or alcohol 50
Birth of a brother or sister 50
Increase in arguments between parents 47
Loss of job by parent 46
Outstanding personal achievement 46
Change in parent's financial status 45
Accepted at college of choice 43
Being a senior in high school 42
Hospitalization of a sibling 41
Increased absence of parent from home 38
Brother or sister leaving home 37
Addition of third adult to family 34
Becoming a full fledged member of a church 31
Decrease in arguments between parents 27
Decrease in arguments with parents 26
Mother or father beginning work 26

Some Common Misconceptions about Stress

Stress, as a definition, is often used incorrectly. Stressors are events, situations, stimuli, etc. that can cause people to perceive threat, thus they experience anxiety, overwhelmed-ness, or other negative emotions. In fact it is not these events, these traumas, conversations, etc. that "stress" us out, but instead our perception of how we will be able to cope with these stimuli. (See definition of stress at top)

Physiologically, day to day/chronic stressors have a greater negative impact on individuals' health than do more acute, traumatic stressors that generally have a start and an end point (see classic stress response, above). For example, daily stressors like dealing with traffic, finishing homework assignments, etc., cause more harm on one's health in the long run than do stressors such as a death in the family, marriage, etc. (see "types of stressors" above; crisis/catastrophes v. major life events/macro stressors v. daily hassles/micro stressors.
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