• Shikha Shah

Stress and Living

Stress is the collection of emotional and physical changes that are felt in response to a perceived challenge or threat. Stress is just one by-product of hectic and busy lives. Stressors refer to factors that are responsible for causing stress such as any event, force or conditions. The course of stress can be seen as connecting three main conceptual domains: the source of stress, the mediators of stress, and the manifestations of stress. When looking at this process, a lot of focus is directed towards life events, and chronic life strains. While talking about stress and living, social stress is often taken into consideration. The sources of social stress can be found through the very boundaries of societies, their structures and cultures. Apart from societal structures and expectations, the stress level of a person also depends on how they perceive a situation, how well they are able to manage it and how they deal with it.

Stress can have psychological effects on the individual, such as: frustration, difficulty relaxing, feeling depressed, racing thoughts, pessimism, procrastination, substance abuse, etc. It can also have physiological effects like: Low energy, headaches, upset stomach, insomnia, chest pain, dry mouth, etc. High levels of stress may be associated with poor health and mood.

There are various theories explaining stress and how we cope with it. This may be achieved through a compensatory process involving certain physiological and psychological mechanisms.

One such theory is General Adaptation Syndrome' (GAS) which was proposed by Hans Selye. It describes three stages:

Alarm stage – during which the body reacts to the stressors with a burst of energy and the fight – fight stage is activated.

Resistance stage – during which the body adapts or resists the stressor

Exhaustion stage– energy is depleted if the stress persists. The body becomes susceptible to illness, or even death.

Another theory to explain stress was put forth by Lazarus and Folkman. In contrast to Selye, it takes a more cognitive approach.

According to the 'transactional model of stress and coping, individuals experience stress if they feel they do not have the personal and social resources to meet a certain demand. There is emphasis more on an individual’s perception of the situation, than on environmental factors.

According to Lazarus, psychological stress is a "particular relationship between the person and environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her wellbeing."

According to the 'transactional model of stress and coping, individuals experience stress if they feel they do not have the personal and social resources to meet a certain demand. There is emphasis more on an individual’s perception of the situation, than on environmental factors.

According to Lazarus, psychological stress is a "particular relationship between the person and environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her wellbeing."

Primary Appraisal takes place when the situation is perceived as either threatening or positive, relevant or irrelevant to our situation. Three factors are evaluated:

Is the threat substantial to that individual?

Is the encounter positive?

Is it threatening or harmful to the individual?

If the individual determines the situation to be threatening, it may be followed by illness, feelings of anger, disgust, disappointment, anxiety, etc.

Secondary Appraisal happens along with primary appraisal. When we assess what resources are available to us to help combat or cope with the stressor. An individual may draw on their will-power or determination. They may also seek help from external sources.

Problem-Based Coping may take place if we feel we can control the situation and manage the source of the problem. There are four steps to manage this stress. First, one will define the problem. Devising alternative solutions, drawing on existing or developing new skills to deal with the stressful situation takes place. This is followed by re-evaluating and finding new standards of behaviour.

Emotional-Based Coping may take place when an individual feels as if they cannot manage the source of the problem. They may draw on strategies to regulate the stress, such as avoiding ("I’m not going to work"), distancing oneself from the stress, acceptance ("The relationship is over, but my life isn’t") or they might seek solace in professional help or intoxicating substances.

The Mental Health Continuum also describes how a person’s state of mind can shift from mentally healthy to mentally unhealthy. At one end of the continuum is the Positive healthy functioning, while at the other end is the Severe mental illness. Those falling closer to the Positive, healthy functioning end of the continuum are able to handle problems or stressors quite effectively and can maintain a healthy lifestyle. Those on the other end continuum however may have poor health and may be unable to cope with stress, and may experience disturbances in thoughts and behaviours.

Even though it’s not practically possible to live stress free our entire lives, our goal is to establish and achieve mental stability. Stress is very often viewed in negative light, and as something that brings you distress. However, that isn’t necessary all the time. There is also healthy stress. We as humans are often experiencing some degree of stress and anything pleasant or unpleasant, that rushes the intensity of life, causes a temporary increase in stress, the wear and tear applied upon the body. A painful kick in the mouth and a passionate kiss can be equally stressful. Thus, it is necessary to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy stress, or Eustress and Distress.

Distress is a severe stress associated with negative feelings and physical impairments. It is a negative stress response and often involves negative affect and physiological reactivity: a type of stress that results from being overwhelmed by demands, losses, or perceived threats. Eustress is a positive stress response that involves optimal levels of stimulation: a type of stress that results from challenging but attainable and enjoyable or worthwhile tasks. It is associated with positive feelings and a healthy physical state. It is a Stress that may not necessarily be avoided - It is after all a healthy, positive, constructive result of stressful events and stress response. It is also known as a positive cognitive response to a stressor.

Here’s a few examples of Eustress that we might be experiencing in our daily lives:

  • Going on a date for the first time, and feeling a bit anxious about it.

  • Awaiting your exam results, for which you prepared really well.

  • Promotion day at work

  • Nervousness before a job interview.

  • Socializing at a business event where you find the opportunity to build contacts and grow your network.

  • Participating in a competitive sport event.

  • Preparing for your wedding day

  • Having a child.

  • Learning a new language or sport.

Eustress helps us to deal with various aspects of our life and live efficiently. On the other hand, Distress can lead to various other challenges like sleep disturbances, weakened immunity and even depression, if help is not sought out in time. Therefore, it is important to recognize the signs of stress. Seeking therapy can help analyse the problem and guide you to find solutions for the same, it also helps you find a purpose and holds you accountable for your own decisions. Some types of therapies that help you cope better with stress are:

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

  • Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

  • Mindfulness – Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

In today’s fast paced and often uncertain times, it can be said that experiencing stress is universal and follows us everywhere. It may be practically impossible to find any individual who has not experienced stress at some point or the other.

Therapists may recommend various strategies like breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, etc to increase self-awareness levels, instill healthy coping mechanisms and encourage lifestyle patterns. Indulging in daily self-care activities can be very beneficial too!


  1. Kupriyanov, R., & Zhdanov, R. (2014). World Journal of Medical Sciences. The Eustress Concept: Problems and Outlooks, 11(2), 179-185.

  2. Hammen, C. (2005). Stress and Depression. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1(1), 293-319.

  3. Selye, H. (1976). Stress without Distress. Psychopathology of Human Adaptation, 137–146.

  4. DeLongis, A., Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S. (1998). The impact of daily stress on health and mood: Psychological and social resources as mediators. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(3), 486 – 495.

About the author

My name is Shikha Shah and am an intern at AscendPsychology CogniPsytech Pvt ltd.

My role at the organization is writing content related to the basic concepts of psychology and aiding psychologists with supportive tasks related to psychology applications.

I’m a part majors’ student with B.A in Psychology and Sociology. I am currently pursuing MSc in Clinical Psychology. I chose Psychology as my subject because it fascinates me. It has helped me improve my interpersonal communication skills and my understanding of the mind and why we behave the way we behave. I look forward to learning more.

I am a soft-spoken person, and my hobbies include swimming and playing badminton. I also enjoy listening to music in my spare time. It would be a joy for me to be able to perform my best in various fields of Mental Health Services.


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