Stress: Nature, Types, Sources, Symptoms, Effects

Effects of Stress-Definition, Nature, Types, Sources, Effects, Consequences

Stress is a psychological condition and body discomfort. It is a common phenomenon associated with a  feeling of emotional or physical tension. When the person experiences a constraint inhibiting the accomplishment of desire and demand for accomplishment, it leads to potential stress. Every individual experiences stress at some or other time.


The word stress has its origin in the Latin words ‘strictus’, meaning tight or narrow and ‘stringere’, the verb meaning to tighten.

NCERT Definition: Stress is the pattern of responses an organism makes to stimulus event that disturbs the equilibrium and exceeds a person’s ability to cope. Fred Luthans defined stress as an adaptive response to an external situation that results in physical, psychological, and/or behavioural deviations for organisational participant.

Hans Selye, the father of modern stress research, defined stress as “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand” that is, regardless of the cause of the threat, the individual will respond with the same physiological pattern of reactions.

Nature of Stress

Stress is not a factor that resides in the individual or the environment, instead it is embedded in an ongoing process that involves individuals transacting with their social and cultural environments.


There are all kind of factors that can cause stress. They range from physical illness to financial problems, to change of work, to strain relations, to loss of dear one, to social situations. All these stressors can be listed under:

  • 1) Emotional stressors
  • 2) Family stressors
  • 3) Social stressors
  • 4) Change stressors
  • 5) Chemical stressors
  • 6) Work stressors
  • 7) Decision stressors
  • 8) Commuting stressors
  • 9) Phobia stressors
  • 10) Physical stressors
  • 11) Disease stressors
  • 12) Pain stressors
  • 13) Environmental stressors

Dimensions of Stressors:

The stresses which people experience also vary in terms of

  • Intensity –  low intensity vs. high intensity,
  • Duration – short-term vs. longterm,
  • Complexity  – less complex vs. more complex
  • Predictability – unexpected vs. predictable


The stress experience will be determined by the resources of the person, such as money, social skills, coping style, support networks, etc

Personality Characteristics:

  • Physiological 
    • An individual’s experiences of stress depend on the physiological strength of that person. Thus, individuals with poor physical health and weak constitution would be more vulnerable than would be those who enjoy good health and strong constitution
  • Psychological
    • Psychological characteristics like mental health, temperament, and selfconcept are relevant to the experience of stress.
  • Cultural
    • The cultural context in which we live determines the meaning of any event and defines the nature of response that is expected under various conditions.

Appraisal of Stress

The perception of stress is dependent upon the individual’s cognitive appraisal of events and the resources available to deal with them. An individual’s response to a stressful situation largely depends upon the perceived events and how they are interpreted or appraised. Lazarus has distinguished between two types of appraisal, i.e. primary and secondary.

  • Primary Appraisal
    • Primary appraisal refers to the perception of a new or changing environment as positive, neutral or negative in its consequences.
  • Secondary Appraisal
    • When one perceives an event as stressful, they are likely to make a secondary appraisal, which is the assessment of one’s coping abilities and resources and whether they will be sufficient to meet the harm, threat or challenge of the event. These resources may be mental, physical, personal or social. If one thinks one has a positive attitude, health, skills and social support to deal with the crises s/he will feel less stressed.

These appraisals are very subjective and will depend on many factors. One factor is the past experience of dealing with such a stressful condition. If one has handled similar situations very successfully in the past, they would be less threatening for her/him. Another factor is whether the stressful event is perceived as controllable, i.e. whether one has mastery or control over a situation. A person who believes that s/he can control the onset of a negative situation, or its adverse consequences, will experience less amount of stress than those who have no such sense of personal control.

Types of Stress

The three major types of stress, viz. physical and environmental, psychological, and social. It is important to understand that all these types of stress are interrelated.

Physical and Environmental

Physical stresses are demands that change the state of our body. We feel strained when we overexert ourselves physically, lack a nutritious diet, suffer an injury, or fail to get enough sleep. Environmental stresses are aspects of our surroundings that are often unavoidable such as air pollution, crowding, noise, heat of the summer, winter cold, etc. Another group of environmental stresses are catastrophic events or disasters such as fire, earthquake, floods, etc.


These are stresses that we generate ourselves in our minds  and are unique to the person experiencing them. These are internal sources of stress. Some of the important sources of psychological stress are frustration, conflicts, internal and social pressures, etc. We worry about problems, feel anxiety, or become depressed.

  • Frustration results from the blocking of needs and motives by something or someone that hinders us from achieving a desired goal. There could be a number of causes of frustration such as social discrimination, interpersonal hurt, low grades in school, etc.
  • Conflicts may occur between two or more incompatible needs or motives, e.g. whether to study dance or psychology. You may want to continue studies or take up a job. There may be a conflict of values when you are pressurised to take any action that may be against the values held by you.
  • Internal pressures stem from beliefs based upon expectations from inside us to ourselves such as, ‘I must do everything perfectly’. Such expectations can only lead to disappointment. Many of us drive ourselves ruthlessly towards achieving unrealistically high standards in achieving our goals.
  • Social pressures may be brought about from people who make excessive demands on us. This can cause even greater pressure when we have to work with them. Also, there are people with whom we face interpersonal difficulties, ‘a personality clash’ of sorts.


These are induced externally and result from our interaction with other people. Social events like death or illness in the family, strained relationships, trouble with neighbours are some examples of social stresses. These social stresses vary widely from person to person. Attending parties may be stressful for a person who likes to spend quiet evenings at home while an outgoing person may find staying at home in the evenings stressful.

Sources of Stress

Stress can be generated because of a wide range of events and conditions. Few of these are:

Type of Personality

  • Each individual have their own personality traits. Some people are sensitive, emotional, competitive in nature others may be relaxed, carefree, patient and less serious. Individuals belonging to first type of personality are more susceptible to stress while that of second type feel less (no) stress. Thus, Individual basic dispositions can also be the reason for potential stres s.

Demographic differences:

Demographic differences such as age, health, education and occupation are some of the reasons causing stress in individuals.

  • Health: Sound health enables a person to cope up stress better than unsound health. Physical condition of individual like illness, disability leads to potential stres s.
  • Age: Age is positively related to stress. When a person grows older, his/her expectations & responsibilities also increase and if he/she is unable to find avenues for realising expectations, one feels stressed.
  • Education: Better education provides an opportunity to understand things in a better manner.  So better educated persons are less prone to stressed condition.
  • Occupation: The nature of the occupation and stress are related. Certain occupations are inherently stressful than the other occupations. For instance, doctors, lawyers, politicians etc.

Life Styles:

  • Life Styles of individuals can also cause stress.
  • Sedentary life styles, individuals experiencing certain unique situations,  faster career changes lead to stress.

Physical Environment

The origin of stress can be any variation in physical surrounding conditions like high temperature, absence of comfortable sitting arrangement in office, noise etc.


  • These are the personal stresses we endure as individuals, due to the happenings in our daily life, such as noisy surroundings, commuting, quarrelsome neighbours, electricity and water shortage, traffic jams etc.
  • When a individual is subjected to hassles for significant period of time, it produces stress.

Life Events

  • Major life events that disturb our routine and cause upheaval can be stressful.
  • If several of these major life events that are planned (e.g. moving into a new house) or unpredicted (e.g. break-up of a long-term relationship) occur within a short period of time, then it may produce stress.

Traumatic Events

  • These include being involved in a variety of extreme events such as a fire, train or road accident, robbery, earthquake, tsunami, etc.
  • The effects of these events may occur after some lapse of time and sometimes persist as symptoms of anxiety, flashbacks, dreams and intrusive thoughts, etc.

Symptoms of Stress

The way one responds to stress varies depending upon his/her personality, early upbringing and life experiences. Everyone has their own pattern of stress response. Hence, both the symptoms and their intensity varies from individual to individual. The symptoms of stress can be physical, emotional and behavioural.

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Low self-esteem, lonely, worthless, and depressed
  • Avoiding others

Physical symptoms include:

  • Insomnia – lack of sleep
  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Forgetfulness and disorganisation
  • Poor judgment
  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Inability to focus
  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

Behavioural symptoms of stress include:

  • Changes in appetite — either not eating or eating too much
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
  • Exhibiting more nervous behaviours, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing

Effects of Stress:

An individual experiences stress through psychological emotions and is disseminated through physiological breakdown or biological changes. However stress is not negative always. Stress has also positive consequences. The positive form of stress is known as eustress.

Eustress – is the term used to describe the level of stress that is good for you and is one of a person’s best assets for achieving peak performance and managing minor crisis. Eustress, however, has the potential of turning into ‘distress’.  Distress is the manifestation of stress that causes our body’s wear and tear. Few of the Eustress effects include:

  • Motivation: Mild stress elevates body metabolic and biological rates. The increase in the metabolism leads to increase in drive for achievements.
  • Performance: It enhances job performance, leads to excellence and provides impetus to work hard and perform better.
  • Speed: Mild stress stimulates body and increases reactivity. It helps individuals perform tasks in a rapid way.
  • Decision-Making: Eustress helps in development of proper perception in the decision making.
  • Creativity: Individuals involved in the discharge of professional oriented jobs, jobs involving creativity, challenge, interpersonal communications and certain managerial jobs, will be benefited by stress, which leads to positive performances.

However, in the modern organisations the negative consequences of stress are creating more problems.  There are four major effects of stress:

  • Emotional,
  • Physiological,
  • Cognitive
  • Behavioural

Emotional Effects

  • Those who suffer from stress are far more likely to experience mood swings, and show erratic behaviour that may alienate them from family and friends.
  • Emotional effects are expressed in terms of certain psychological symptoms such as anger, anxiety, depression, nervousness, irritation, tension, boredom, aggressiveness, moodiness, hostility and poor concentration.

Physiological Effects

  • Stress influences the biological system of the human being.
  • When the human body is placed under physical or psychological stress, it increases the production of certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones produce marked changes in heart rate, blood pressure levels, metabolism and physical activity. Although, this physical reaction will help us to function more effectively when we are under pressure for short periods of time, it can be extremely damaging to the body in the long-term effects.
  • Stress leads to increasing heart rate, constriction of blood vessels, increase in blood pressure and increase in breathing rate. In long term, this may result into malfunctioning of internal gland and consequently the body disorder (biological illness).

Cognitive Effects

  • If pressures due to stress continue, one may suffer from mental overload. This suffering from high level of stress can rapidly cause individuals to lose their ability to make sound decisions.
  • Cognitive effects of stress are poor concentration, and reduced short-term memory capacity

Behavioural Effects

  • Stress affects our behaviour in the form of eating less nutritional food, increasing intake of stimulants such as caffeine, excessive consumption of cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs such as tranquillisers etc.
  • Sometimes stress produces anxiety, apathy, depression and emotional disorder. This leads to impulsive and aggressive behaviour.
  • Some of the typical behavioural effects of stress seen are disrupted sleep patterns, increased absenteeism, and reduced work performance.

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