Stress: Meaning & Type

When was the last time you felt drained, had difficulty in breathing, sleeping problems, sore eyes, or heartburn due to some pressing issues? There is hardly any individual who has never experienced symptoms akin to the above; feeling of tension or stress, as we call it in a formal language, is a normal phenomenon of human life. Such feelings have both positive and negative impacts. Technically, it is called as stress

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What is Stress?

H. Selye first described the word stress in a psychological context as

"non-specific responses that resulted from a variety of different kinds of stimuli."

The American Psychological Association's dictionary for psychology defines stress as "the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every body system, influencing how people feel and behave.

How do we know if we are stressed?

When someone is in stress, it manifests in his/her physiology, psychological, and social life. Thus we can understand the symptoms of stress through these three divisions−

Physiological Symptoms

  • Respiratory difficulties like shortness of breath

  • Cardiovascular difficulties like increased heart rate

  • Musculoskeletal conditions like muscle pains, migraine

  • Gastrointestinal issues like indigestion or nausea

  • Nervous system dysfunctions like hormonal disturbance

Psychological symptoms

  • Reduced cognitive efficiency in tasks requiring attention, analysis, etc

  • Negative emotions like anger, demotivation, irritability

  • Sleep issues

  • Maladaptive decision-making and perception

Social symptoms of stress

  • Social anxiety

  • Social withdrawal

  • Substance abuse

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What does cause stress?

Stress can be understood with the help of the 3-dimensional classification of stress given by Sarafino & Ewing, who described stress within the dimensions of intensity, frequency, and duration. All these dimensions are determined by certain factors as described below−

  • Physical factors are physiological conditions like disability, disease, pain or strain, etc

  • Life experiences and events that pose an extremely emotional and cognitive strain on an individual

  • Psychological factors are stress causes that originate from psychological strains, overwork, emotional disturbance, cognitive overload, etc

  • Social factors usually include causes in society, culture, and our real or implied interaction with others

Stress factors are also classified in the form of three stressors i.e.

  • a chemical or biological agent,

  • environmental condition,

  • external stimulus or an event seen as causing stress to an organism

Cataclysmic stressors occur suddenly and are not limited to any individual, i.e., it can happen to many people at a time—for example, an earthquake or terror attack. The second kind of stressors is personal stressors that pertain to major life events of the individual like a divorce, death of a loved one, unemployment, etc. Finally, stress may also occur due to background stressors which are everyday annoyances like noise in the locality, traffic, etc

At this point, it is important to acknowledge that none of these factors alone cause stress, the stress we experience is usually an intricate interplay of more than one of these factors. For example, a person who had a breakup felt psychological and emotional consequences, leading to stress. Furthermore, these factors are often used for the classification of different types of stress

Classifying Stress

Various researchers have classified stress differently; however, significant of them are discussed below−

  • Acute stress: This type of stress is intense in nature and occurs rapidly, often unexpectedly, after a traumatic event. Its symptoms usually persist for more than a month and deeply affect the mental balance of the individuals

  • Episodic acute stress: Similar to acute stress, but the only difference is that it occurs frequently and often in a known pattern or episodes

  • Chronic stress: It occurs regularly, and its various symptoms are experienced regularly, causing to lifestyle and behavioral dysfunctions.

  • Emotional stress: It is considered as one of the most painful and it impacts on individual's emotional well-being. It is manifested majorly in emotional reactions and dysfunction

  • Burnout Stress: It is characterized by physical, psychological, and emotional exhaustion, along with a lack of control in one's life. It directly impacts one's daily work, efficiency, interest, and motivation

  • Physical stress: It originates and affects the physical health of an individual. One of the major factors causing this stress is physiological factors.

  • Psychological stress: This stress results from psychological maladaptation and issues like anger, depression, trauma, anxiety, and frustration, among others

  • Psycho-social stress: It results from one's inability to cope up with experiences and events that occur in one's social context, like relationship issues in marriage, employment issues, etc

  • Psycho-spiritual stress: This stress indicates a lack of alignment with one's life goal, inability to find meaning in life, or misaligned personal and social norms or beliefs. It impacts one's psychological and physical health and directly affects social relations and interactions.

Researchers like Selye have also conceptualized stress in terms of the positive and negative impacts of stress. It is to say that there exists stress that leads to negative consequences and is called distress. At the same time, another kind of stress that is good and results in positive enhancements of one's performance is called eustress.


Stress is as complex to understand as it is common. Unlike most other organisms, stress in humans is a result of a variety of factors pertaining to subtly interrelated yet independent fields of study within and sometimes beyond psychology. But stress, as a matter of academic interest and also as a matter of interest among the masses, is extremely relevant for optimum functioning of a society, individuals as well as to provide contingency measures to those who are suffering from stress related maladjustments or are prone to such conditions.


Simply Easy Learning

Updated on: 13-Oct-2022


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