What Is Psychological Stress?

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  • Written By: Synthia L. Rose
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2019
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Psychological stress is strain affecting the intangible self, caused by problems in adaptation, perception, and emotions. While this form of stress may be triggered by external events, the source of the stress is internal, located within the psyche and related to an individual’s internal responses to physical or atmospheric stimuli. Bouts of psychological stress can be long-term or short-term, depending on how far apart trigger events are spaced or if stressful events are accumulating without resolution. Levels of stress are also affected by the sensitivity and coping abilities of the individual, as well as subjective perception of how traumatic an event may be.

Events that can cause psychological stress are those that seem beyond the realm of personal control, involve inherent threat to well-being, create social vulnerability or that chronically disturb routines of daily life. Death of family members or friends, job loss, surviving a natural disaster and the end of a relationship are life events that may induce stress on the psyche for adults. For children or adolescents, events like moving, failure at school and bullying can engender psychological stress. The general sense of isolation, lack of support and constant conflict or friction are typical contexts for stress among all age groups, research shows. Sexual issues, financial trouble, and abuse, whether emotional or physical, are other typical sources of psychological stress.


There are many negative physical, behavioral and emotional side effects of psychological stress, including insomnia, disease, high blood pressure and social or emotional disorders. Physical health outcomes often linked to extended periods of psychological stress include a suppressed immune system along with regular colds, cardiovascular problems, asthma and an imbalanced endocrine system. Any latent infections, such as herpes, become exacerbated during psychological stress. Emotional health effects include depression, hostility and low self-esteem.

Destructive behavioral habits that might develop during psychological stress periods are overeating, smoking and alcohol or drug dependency. Duration of the psychological stress determines the extent of these side effects. Temporary stress caused by events with impacts felt less than a month are not as likely to produce extreme side effects; acute and chronic stress lasting for several months or years poses the greatest risk for physical, emotional and behavior side effects.

Counseling by psychologists or psychiatrists and medication are among the treatment options. A psychologist generally assesses stress on the psyche through a series of tests and interviews, rating the level of stress according to a checklist or a professional scale, such as the Stress Appraisal Measure (SAM) or the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Therapists also teach coping strategies and connect patients to community support groups.


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Post 3

@pleonasm - People should be allowed to feel whatever they happen to feel, but if someone is experiencing stress for what seems like no reason, they should probably still try to figure out why. I think depression and anxiety can sometimes be a disease that comes out of nowhere, for what seems like no reason, but stress is generally the result of something that you might be able to change.

Stress isn't completely bad. It can be used as great motivation and a little bit of stress now and then is very good for you. It's just when it goes on and on that it can have severe implications for your health and emotional well being.

If you are finding yourself stressed all the time and there is no obvious reason you need to do some hard thinking or maybe see a counselor to try and figure it out.

Post 2

@umbra21 - I guess that's what happens sometimes when someone is in an abusive situation as well. It might escalate so slowly that they don't realize there is a problem.

I think people also need to realize that psychological stress doesn't need to come from physical circumstances. Sometimes people just feel stressed and there isn't a real reason for it, or at least not one that is immediately obvious.

Post 1

I think one of the most dangerous aspects of psychological stress is how much of a habit it can turn into. My family has had some very tough times in the last few years and it has taken a huge toll on my mother. She has been under enormous stress, to the point where it has affected her health severely.

But when I was talking to her about it recently she kind of brushed it off as something that everyone has to handle and that there was no way around it. She seemed to truly believe that the problem was that she wasn't handling the stress, not that she needed to eliminate the causes of it.

I think when you've been under huge amounts of stress for a long time it just seems normal to you and you don't realize that life can be so much better.

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