Psychology of Social Stress. Stress and Health

The phenomenon of stress and the processes of adaptation for more than a century have been the focus of attention of a number of humanitarian and natural sciences. The problem field of stress covers many areas of human life, occupying one of the central places in medicine, biology, and psychology. The doctrine of stress is in direct relationship with the study of the inner world and the spiritual essence of a person. The relevance of the problem is due to the increase in dramatic events and phenomena in people’s lives, which is prevalent among gender minorities (Reisner, Greytak, Parsons, & Ybarra, 2015). The latter occurs because of the effects of numerous extreme environmental, technological, and social factors that lead to the development of mental maladaptation processes. Stress plays a key role in the formation of psychological and psychosomatic disorders. It was also established that a decrease in stress tolerance is associated with the spread of social pathologies such as deviations and social disturbances.

Social stress in psychological science plays a central role in explaining the causes and triggers of population-wide distress and dissatisfaction. The concept also addresses individual instances of health issues, where social stress can hurt a person due to the fact that the society is a major part of his or her surrounding environment. In addition, there is a need for in-depth analysis of potential causes of social stress. The concept should be understood as both functional aspect of a society and a potential cause of health issues. Functional aspect can be categorized depending on their purpose, which allows both individuals and communities to either be healthy or distressed. In the latter case, it can take a form of harassment and bullying (Reisner et al., 2015). Therefore, a thorough literature review and in-depth overview can be useful in increasing the overall understanding of the subject.

Literature Review

The concept of social stress is increasingly used in psychological science. This is due to an elevation in the mental tension of the life of a modern person: an escalation in the volume and variety of processed information, the speed of decision-making, the combination of various types of social activity, the emergence of global socio-economic, political, environmental problems that affect almost every inhabitant of the planet. In psychological science, studies of social stress began in the last century. However, there is practically no single understanding of the essence of this phenomenon and its functions. In addition, the spectrum of stressors causing its occurrence is not defined. Although social stress is mostly recognized as a negative occurrence, a study suggests that it can be positive (Van Deursen, Bolle, Hegner, & Kommers, 2015). Another research indicates that social stress is directly linked to bullying and substance use (Reisner et al., 2015). Until now, various, similar in meaning terms are used, denoting this phenomenon, such as psychosocial stress, socio-psychological stress, and stress in society. It is important to provide an overview of empirical research and theoretical understanding of the essence of social stress in psychological science and on this basis to formulate one’s vision of the nature and functions of this type of stress, the specifics of the stressors that cause it.

An independent type of stress is associated with belonging to a particular social group and stratum of society. This is especially true of the lower classes of society, where members feel pronounced psychological stress. Stress can be either response based or stimulus-based, which facilitates the functional aspect (Spielman, 2017). In addition, one needs to understand that there is organizational stress, the source of which is the specific stress that exists in the organization. A high level of exposure to social stress may be associated with an increase in morbidity (Lovallo, 2015). As for the definitions of social stress, it can be described as a socio-psychological phenomenon, mental stress arising as a result of the interaction between a person and a social organization, depending on both the characteristics of the person and on the features of the organization.

Social stressors are objective events that destroy or threaten the normal activities of the person. Such events may include situations that increase or decrease the status of an individual. In both cases, social stress arises and is associated with a change in the socio-economic status of a person in society. Psychosocial stress has a social origin and conditionality, and it manifests itself in situations of social interaction. Among the causes of psychosocial stress can be role stress, negative social events, critical life situations, awareness or prediction of one’s own or collective failure. Socio-psychological stress is a type of distress generated by social conditions, and it occurs during periods of social transformation, which manifests itself in the disintegration of the dispositional system and the regulation of the processes of a person’s social functioning, and may contribute to its victimization (Zambrana, 2018). In addition, it is important to understand stress in society and consider the disorders associated with this phenomenon. Among the causes of stress in society are intensive economic and social changes, leading to the loss of social status and violation of social identity in a significant part of the population, as well as war and related migration.

Incomplete and frightening information can also cause widespread stress reactions. However, the categories can be divided into two major groups, such as eustress and distress (Spielman, 2017). The emotional concern is a feeling of stress, anxiety, and the reflexive processes associated with a particular trigger. Information needs are an interest in information regarding a frightening factor, as well as behavior oriented towards the search for such information. Efforts to protect are all aspects of avoiding harmful elements, protecting oneself and one’s loved ones. Political requirements are all aspects of political judgments and intentions related to the struggle against frightening factors. The reactive psychotic tendency is a manifestation of perceptual aberrations, illogical thinking, and unusual bodily sensations. In addition, another important source of social stress is possible, and these are the difficulties of self-realization, of revealing one’s abilities and opportunities in society. The stress of self-realization is the stress of the new era and, unlike a person in a traditional society, who was prepared to perform certain functions in his social niche, a modern person seeks creativity, achievement, and realization of his potential.

Social stress may also be associated with socio-economic problems and high mortality in the country. This type of stress has its own characteristics, where it is most noticeable in people who are in a mature, most working age, and under its influence, a wide range of diseases occur (Lovallo, 2015). The latter feature can be considered key because the lack of motivation can begin a cascading cycle. During the intense socio-economic crisis, wages sharply fall, and it ceases to fulfill its stimulating role in the development of production. In addition, social stress is supplemented by the concept of psycho-emotional tension, and this manifests in a change in the psychological state of the country’s population. Multiple decreases in incomes of the population are significantly lower than the cost of living. The given events can trigger the fight-and-flight response, which is a centerpiece of the social stress response (Spielman, 2017). This can lead to the fact that in the psycho-emotional state of most of the country’s population, anxiety begins to dominate, and then long-term emotional stress, which becomes a state of deep depression.

Social stress and psychosocial stress are important factors, and they are the type of psychological distress, which arise from the effects of social stressors. It affects the socio-psychological adaptation of the personality, its mental state, and social behavior. However, for all its apparent simplicity and logic, this definition of social stress gives more questions than answers. First of all, the issue revolves around the stressors that can be considered social. It is also necessary to notice the presence of physical stress associated with exposure to stressors of a physical nature (Lovallo, 2015). Psychological stress is caused by various psychological stressors, such as stimuli and situations perceived as threatening, as well as processes based on traces of emotional experiences. However, psychological stressors are almost all associated with social conditions in which the individual is involved. A person continuously lives in society, engages in activities organized by society, constantly enters into social relations with people, groups of people. The very personality of a person is deeply social, and it develops in continuous interaction with society from the very first days of his life. Human consciousness is social in nature, so almost all psychological stressors can be considered social.


In conclusion, it is important to note that any stress performs an adaptive function as a whole. This applies to both psychophysiological shifts and psychological reactions. Thus, in the transactional model, stress is considered as a process of interaction between a situation and a person, during which an assessment is made of both the stressor and the stressful situation, as well as the individual’s ability to resolve it and achieve better adaptation to environmental conditions. Thus, stressful reactions mobilize a person and participate in the organization of adaptive behavior. Stress perspectives can be useful in designing interventions for preventing its negative health aspects (Reisner et al., 2015). Social stress also plays an adaptive role in the interaction of the individual and the social environment, and therefore, three main functions can be distinguished. Social stress allows a person to properly interact with the surrounding influences in such a way that enables an emotional assessment. Social stress promotes the development of a specific behavior within the social environment. Social stress can mobilize a person to form social and political activity aimed at changing group interaction and improving the social situation.


Lovallo, W. R. (2015). Stress and health: Biological and psychological interactions. New York, NY: SAGE Publications.

Reisner, S. L., Greytak, E. A., Parsons, J. T., & Ybarra, M. L. (2015). Gender minority social stress in adolescence: Disparities in adolescent bullying and substance use by gender identity. The Journal of Sex Research, 52(3), 243-256.

Spielman, R. M. (2017). Psychology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax.

Van Deursen, A. J. A. M., Bolle, C. L., Hegner, S. M., & Kommers, P. A. M. (2015). Modeling habitual and addictive smartphone behavior: The role of smartphone usage types, emotional intelligence, social stress, self-regulation, age, and gender. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 411-420.

Zambrana, R. E. (2018). Toxic ivory towers: The consequences of work stress on underrepresented minority faculty. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

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PsychologyWriting. "Psychology of Social Stress. Stress and Health." January 5, 2023.