Stress: Definition and basic characteristics


Stress: Definition and basic characteristics

Stress: Definition and basic characteristics 1792 1024 Paterakis Michalis
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Stress requires a comprehensive understanding to deal with it and to help people suffering from it.

This article provides information on the nature of stress, its causes and its impact on mental health. It highlights the importance of identifying stressors and adopting cognitive-behavioural strategies to manage them effectively.



What is stress

It is a psychological and physiological reaction to any demand that requires the person to adapt or respond. It is an unavoidable part of life and understanding its mechanisms is vital for successful coping.

Effective management depends on individualized solutions to stress, tailored to each person’s unique experiences and challenges. Such individualized strategies allow individuals to cope with it in constructive ways, helping them to cope with it. Through training, individuals learn to identify the factors that cause it and apply appropriate management techniques.

The role of the professional psychologist is crucial in guiding individuals. They provide evidence-based interventions and ongoing support.

Physiology of stress

Delving into the physiological aspects, it is important to recognize that the human body responds to stress through a complex interaction of hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, that prepare individuals for the “fight or flight” response. This primitive response, while historically vital for survival, can become maladaptive in our modern environment where stressors are often not life-threatening. The release of these hormones triggers a cascade of physiological changes, including increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and increased glucose in the bloodstream to provide immediate energy.

The hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of the brain, plays a key role in initiating this stress response by signaling the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol. These biochemical responses are part of the activation of the body’s sympathetic nervous system and are designed to help the individual cope with or escape from perceived threats.

However, when it becomes chronic, the body’s response can lead to detrimental health effects such as reduced cognitive function, impaired immune response and increased risk of chronic disease.

Common misconceptions

While the physiological response to stress is often instinctive, common misconceptions about its nature and management can prevent individuals from coping with it effectively. Many believe that stress is exclusively harmful and should be eliminated altogether. However, stress, in moderation, can enhance motivation and improve performance. It is chronic, unmanageable stress that poses significant health risks.

There is still a perception that stress is the same for everyone. This misconception undermines the importance of individualized strategies to manage it. Each person experiences stress differently and what may be stressful for one person may not affect another in the same way.

The idea that only major life changes cause stress is also misleading. Everyday difficulties and the cumulative effect of minor stressors can be just as damaging as major life events. Therefore, dealing with these smaller, frequent stressors is just as important as dealing with major life changes.

Finally, there is the myth that one must make significant lifestyle changes to effectively manage stress. In reality, small, consistent adjustments and the development of healthy coping mechanisms can make a profound difference.

Psychological effects of stress

Although stress is often considered a normal part of life, its psychological effects can be profound and range from mild to severe mental health disorders. These effects can manifest in a variety of ways, affecting emotions, thought processes and behaviour.

In the short term, it can increase alertness and motivation, helping to solve problems and complete tasks. However, when stressors persist or accumulate, the psychological toll can become apparent.

Individuals may experience symptoms of stress, such as anxiety or feelings of fear, and depressive symptoms, such as despair or loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

In chronic cases, it may contribute to the development of conditions such as generalised anxiety disorder, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Cognitive functions, including memory, concentration and decision-making, may also be affected, impacting personal and professional life.

Physical health and stress

While acknowledging its psychological impact, it is equally important to consider its deep connections with physical health, where chronic stress can lead to various physical complications.

Prolonged exposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, increasing your risk of numerous health problems. These include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Adequate rest, proper nutrition, regular exercise, mindfulness practices and seeking professional support are vital steps in maintaining one’s psychological and physical health.

Chronic versus acute stress

Distinguishing between chronic and acute stress is essential to understanding their different effects on a person’s psychological health. Acute is the body’s immediate response to a perceived threat or challenge, often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. Such episodes are generally short-lived and can even be beneficial in certain situations, as they sharpen focus and provide the adrenaline to deal with challenges.

On the other hand, chronic anxiety is a constant feeling of feeling pressured and overwhelmed for a prolonged period of time. Unlike acute stress, which resolves quickly, chronic stress persists and can lead to a host of health problems, including mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, obesity and immune system dysfunction.

Acute stress may require immediate, situation-specific help, while chronic stress requires a more sustained, holistic approach to management, including lifestyle changes, professional support and possibly medical intervention.

Coping mechanisms

While effective management is vital to maintaining mental and physical health, appropriate coping mechanisms are the cornerstone of this process, allowing individuals to mitigate its negative effects. Coping mechanisms are the strategies and activities that people use to cope with and manage the challenges presented by stress. These mechanisms can be adaptive or maladaptive and their effectiveness often varies from person to person.

Adaptive coping strategies, such as problem solving, time management and relaxation techniques, promote resilience and well-being. They enable individuals to deal with stress directly or to moderate their emotional response to stressors. For example, mindfulness and deep breathing can help calm the nervous system, while prioritising tasks can prevent overwhelm from competing demands.

Conversely, maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse or avoidance, may provide temporary relief but ultimately exacerbate stress. Identifying these harmful patterns is essential for promoting healthier responses to stress.



The importance of psychotherapy in stress management

Psychotherapy offers valuable tools and strategies for managing and relieving stress. Therapists work with individuals to identify its sources and explore the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to its effects.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is particularly effective in helping individuals identify and change the negative thought patterns that fuel it. In addition, therapists can teach relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and stress reduction strategies to enhance coping mechanisms.

Psychotherapy provides a supportive space for expressing and processing stress-related emotions, enhancing self-awareness and resilience. Through the therapeutic process, individuals can gain knowledge about its underlying causes, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and build a more balanced and resilient approach to life’s challenges. The adaptive and collaborative nature of psychotherapy makes it a valuable aid for those seeking to mitigate the effects of stress in their lives.

Personalised solutions to stress

Recognizing that each person’s experience with stress is different, creating individualized stress management plans is important. These plans take into account factors such as personal responsibilities, work demands and emotional triggers.

Psychologists work with sufferers to develop a coherent understanding of stress patterns. This collaboration allows for the identification of specific stressors and the development of targeted techniques to address them.

Whether through mindfulness practices, enhancing organizational skills, or promoting healthier communication in relationships, solutions are designed to align with the client’s unique circumstances.

Achieving long-term balance

Achieving long-term balance requires a commitment to incorporating these practices into one’s daily routine. This process involves cultivating a lifestyle that not only reduces but also promotes resilience and well-being.

The cornerstone of this approach is consistency. By consistently applying stress management techniques, individuals can regulate their response and build a foundation of stability.

In addition, the creation of a support network – both personal and professional – can provide a safety net in times of high stress. Encouraging open communication about it and its effects can foster a culture of understanding and collective well-being.

Contacting a Psychologist Psychotherapist

In today’s society, where stress can disrupt every aspect of our daily lives, the psychotherapist emerges as an essential ally in regaining our mental well-being and balance.

Chronic stress can reduce our resilience, affect our relationships and compromise our overall quality of life. A psychotherapist provides a dedicated space to navigate its complexities, offering personalized strategies to manage and alleviate its effects. By delving into the root causes and contributing thought patterns, a psychologist empowers individuals to cultivate resilience and regain control of their lives.

Taking action to work with a psychotherapist is not just an investment, but a commitment to prioritize your mental health.

*Republication of the article is prohibited without the written permission of the author.

The process of psychotherapy requires commitment, dedication and is addressed only to those who seriously see that they need to change their lives. If you are thinking of starting this journey, call me at 211 71 51 801 to make an appointment and see together how I can help you.

Mixalis Paterakis

Psychologist Psychotherapist

Karneadou 37, Kolonaki

I accept By appointment

Tel: 211 7151 801

    Πατεράκης Μιχάλης
    Ψυχολόγος Αθήνα


      Psychologist Athens