An outline of stress stating signs and symptoms

Stress is a broad subject area covered in many scientific fields and there is still some debate about its strict definition, which can alter depending on perspective. In this essay there will be an outline of stress stating signs and symptoms as well as causes. There will be an exploration of physical and psychological consequences of stress as well as debating the positive and negative aspects. There are many ways to cope with stress and these will be explored and evaluated, stress management will be included in the essay.

Everyone suffers from stress to a greater or lesser degree throughout their lives and people cope with it in different ways, some positive some negative. A dictionary definition of stress would state “bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium” this would lead to the organism to cope, adapt or adjust. According to Psychology Resources (2000) stress is “…our emotional and physiological reactions to situations in which we feel in conflict or threatened beyond our capacity to cope or endure”. Whether we look at stress from a biological perspective or from a humanistic approach it seems clear that our reaction to stressful situations allow us to cope, one way or another, with adverse conditions.

Hans Seyle (1907-1982) produced a lot of work on stress. In 1936 he produced a theory which used the term General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) which described the non-specific response made to any stressors. In his theory he stated there were three stages to GAS; firstly alarm when the body reacts with increases in adrenalin, heart beat, blood pressure, dilation of pupils etc. this allows a person to be equipped with the ability to ‘fight or flight’ (from research by Walter Cannon 1932). The second stage of GAS is where the physiological changes begin to stabilise and repairs to any damage within the body are carried out.

The body is vulnerable at this stage as another stressful situation would severely tax the body’s ability to cope. Failure to restore bodily equilibrium would result in the third stage which is exhaustion and people are likely to suffer physical and psychological problems. Although important there is a weakness in Seyle’s theory in that it looks only at the physiological response to stress in rats and does not take into account human psychological factors.

It is obvious that people need the fight or flight reflex under certain circumstances just to survive or to help others survive but it is when stress is experienced on a day to day basis that there can be some negative results. There are many reasons a person would experience stress, Holmes and Rahe (1967) devised a scale ranging from the death of a spouse (100 points) to minor law violations (11 points). The idea being that your score, taken from the list of life changing events, indicates the likelihood of you suffering illness due to these stressors. A major flaw with the Holmes-Rahe scale is that it does take into account an individual’s ability to cope with these events in a positive or indeed negative way.

There are many physiological symptoms of stress including headaches, muscle spasm, stomach upset, heart palpitations, skin problems etc. These symptoms may occur in individuals at irregular intervals for most people, but it is when they occur regularly and in conjunction with behavioural changes such as crying, impotence, sleep problems, decreased or increased appetite that a person may be in danger from suffering an illness brought on by stress.

Arthur Rowshan in Stress: An Owner’s manual (1997) highlighted seventy five symptoms of stress within five categories; physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social. In this publication he suggested that the symptoms are often interlinked e.g. an argument can bring on a headache which may affect sleep thus making you irritable and as such making a person susceptible to an argument. This theory would show that the effects of stress can be compounded by themselves leaving a person open to a spiral of negative symptoms, however Rowshan has been accused of elaboration in his work and has little investigatory evidence to back his claims up.

There are many different ways in which people try to cope with stress when it occurs over a prolonged period. One obvious solution is to remove the reason for the stressor or to get away from it. It is not always easy to avoid stress as this may lead to avoidance of responsibility which in turn could be problematic and create a more stressful outcome in the long term. Stress can be created from an overload of factors e.g. more and more tasks being given to a person at work while they also have a family live to cope with; or stress can derive from underload where frustration sets in when there is not enough to do. According to Cooper and Smith (1985) people at the bottom of hierarchies suffered more stress than those at the top.

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