Describe stressors

Stress can be defined as a negative emotional experience accompanied by various physiological, cognitive, and behavioral reactions. Stress is thought to be one of the principal causes of psychological distress and physical illness.


Stressors are described as acute (i.e. sudden) or chronic (i.e. persisting over a longer period of time). Stressors may or may not cause stress in an individual depending on the person's capacity to cope with the stressors.


A stressor is any adverse experience (physiological, psychological or social) that causes a stress response. The stressor must be perceived as stressful by an individual to activate the stress response. There are individual variations as to what is perceived as stressful and research shows that humans can imagine stressors and experience the same physiological arousal as from external environmental stressors (Sapolsky, 1998).


Acute stressors


Examples are:

         being diagnosed as seriously ill, being involved in an accident or being injured

         life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, being fired, or not getting admitted to a university.


Chronic stressors


Examples are:

         social stressors such as poverty, illness, or being responsible for many young children

         unemployment, being bullied at work, or work place stressors

         violent relationships.


Life events as stressors


Holmes and Rahe (1967) observed that major life changes often preceded illness. These events could be both positive and negative but they were perceived as stressful because the change required that the person should adapt to a new situation. The list of life events presented by Holmes and Rahe may not apply to all or in that order. If an individual perceives one of these life events (or another which is not on the list) as serious and threatening to their well-being, it is a stressor.


Workplace stressors (UK National Work Stress Network)


Examples are:

         monotonous, unpleasant or meaningless tasks

         working under time pressure or working long hours

         lack of clear job description

         no recognition or reward for good job performance

         heavy responsibility but lack of control or influence over the demands of the job

         harassment or bullying

         new management techniques or new technology

         poor leadership and poor communication.


Social stressors


         Social stressors (e.g. chronic poverty, discrimination, trying to manage both family and job commitments, unemployment, living in a violent environment or\ relationship) could lead to a number of physical and mental health problems.

         Exposure to stressful conditions has been associated with smoking, alcohol, or other substance abuse and dependence. There is also increasing evidence that stress could be linked to overeating and obesity.