Stress Concept, Features and Types

30/08/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

Considering stress as a response led to some of the confusion in terms: originally the term “response to stressors” was used, to be shortened to the more convenient “stress response.”  It was then an easy step to further shorten this to “stress,” thereby effectively moving stress to refer to the response rather than the stimulus. There is then a logical circularity in explaining a person’s response to stressors, which are usually defined as anything that elicits a response. There is a tautology if stress is defined as a response to something that is stressful.

Harold G. Wolff (1898-1962).  In 1953, Harold Wolff published “Stress and Disease”, an early book on psychosomatics. He did not fully define stress, seeing it as “man’s response to many sorts of noxious agents and threats.” The term “response” suggests something active, and should not be equated with passive strain. “I have used the word [stress] in biology to indicate that state within a living creature which results from the interaction of the organism with noxious stimuli or circumstances, i.e., it is a dynamic state within the organism; it is not a stimulus, assault, load, symbol, burden, or any aspect of environment, internal, external, social or otherwise.”

Martin Seligman.  Seligman’s studies on rats further contributed to freeing stress literature from a mechanistic view of stress as a stimulus – response process.  “Exposing animals to inescapable, uncontrollable electric shocks seriously impairs the avoidance or escape behaviours of the same animals when they are re-exposed in an environment in which the shocks are controllable by the animal. It seemed to be the animal’s perception of the event that makes it stressful”.  Seligman here uses “perception” to refer to recognition and interpretation of stimuli based on the animal’s memory.  Recall, also, the work on “executive monkeys.”

Hans Selye originated using the word stress after completing his medical training at the University of Montreal in the 1920s. He observed that no matter what his hospitalised patients suffered from, they all had one thing in common as they all had fever. In his view, they all were under physical stress.

He recommended that stress was a nonspecific strain on the body caused by irregularities in normal body functions. This stress resulted in the release of stress hormones. He called this the “General Adaptation Syndrome” (a closer look at general adaptation syndrome, our body’s short-term and long-term reactions to stress).

In short, stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel helpless, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known to be as “fight or flight,” or the stress response. During stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. Stress can also benefit you to rise to meet challenges.

Features of Stress

Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviours, thinking ability, and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Some of the features of stress are mentioned as follows:

  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders
  • Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
  • Obesity and other eating disorders
  • Menstrual problems
  • Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in both men and women
  • Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon

Types of Stress

Acute Stress

Acute stress is the greatest common method of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the current past and estimated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is inspiring and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. Acute stress symptoms are recognised by most people. Going home from the office by waiting to leave on time so that food can be cooked and can be served to the family or going to attend the parents meeting of the child in the school. Acute stress doesn’t have enough time to do the wide damage associated with long-term stress. The most common symptoms are:

  • Emotional distress includes three emotions and it is a mixture of anger or irritability, anxiety and depression.
  • Muscular problems including tension headache, back pain, jaw pain and the muscular tensions that lead to pulled muscles and tendon and ligament problems.
  • Stomach, gut and bowel problems such as heartburn, acid stomach, flatulence, diarrhoa, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Acute stress can happen to anyone which is curable and manageable.

Episodic Acute Stress

Episodic acute stress leads to the people who are always in hurry. In reality, they are lazy who love to do the work at the end moment. They make big promises, try to reach the sky, but somewhere the landing gets stuck where there is no way to be either on the earth or in the sky.

It is absolute for the people with acute stress reactions to be over aroused, short-tempered, irritable, anxious and tense. Often, they describe themselves as having “a lot of nervous energy”. Always in a hurry, they tend to be sudden, and sometimes their irritability comes across as hostility. Interpersonal relationships decline rapidly when others respond with real hostility. The workplace becomes a very stressful place for them.

There is a “free-floating, but well rationalised form of hostility, and almost always a deep-seated insecurity”. Such personality characteristics would seem to create frequent episodes of acute stress for the Type A individual. Friedman and Rosenman found Type A’s to be much more likely to develop coronary heart disease than Type B’s, who show an opposite pattern of behaviour.

Another form of episodic acute stress comes from ceaseless worry. “Worry warts” see disaster around every corner and pessimistically forecast catastrophe in every situation. The world is a dangerous, unrewarding, punitive place where something awful is always about to happen. These “awfulisers” also tend to be over aroused and tense, but are more anxious and depressed than angry and hostile.

The symptoms of episodic acute stress are the symptoms of extended over arousal:

Persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain and heart disease. Treating episodic acute stress requires intervention on a number of levels, generally requiring professional help, which may take many months.

Often, lifestyle and personality issues are so ingrained and habitual with these individuals that they see nothing wrong with the way they conduct their lives. They blame their woes on other people and external events. Frequently, they see their lifestyle, their patterns of interacting with others, and their ways of perceiving the world as part and parcel of who and what they are.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is not as thrilling and exciting as acute stress. This is the grinding stress that wears people away day after day, year after year.

Chronic stress spoils body, minds and lives. It causes chaos through long-term abrasion. This type of stress is found in failure of marriage, job stress, extra marital affairs, etc. It’s the stress that the never-ending “troubles” have brought.

Chronic stress comes when a person never sees a way out of a miserable situation. It’s the stress of unrelenting demands and pressures for seemingly interminable periods of time. With no hope, the individual gives up searching for solutions.

Some chronic stresses stem from traumatic, early childhood experiences that become internalised and remain forever painful and present. Some experiences profoundly affect personality.

The worst aspect of chronic stress is that people get used to it. They forget it’s there. People are immediately aware of acute stress because it is new; they ignore chronic stress because it is old, familiar, and sometimes, almost comfortable.

Chronic stress is harmful and it spoils one through suicide, violence, heart attack, stroke and, perhaps, even cancer. People wear down to a final, fatal breakdown. Because physical and mental resources are exhausted through long-term attrition, the symptoms of chronic stress are difficult to treat and may require extended medical as well as behavioural treatment and stress management.