The Notion of Stress as Both a Biological Process

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The notion of stress is familiar to probably all people of the modern world. People experience stress on a daily basis. They face various situations that provoke stressful feelings and rise of emotions. The word “stress” is usually associated with something negative. However, stress is not always about something bad. Stress can serve as a biological impetus for the proper action. Still, a prolonged stress may lead to negative outcomes concerning the psychological, physical, and mental well-being of the individual. In the following paper, the notion of stress as both biological process and psychological condition will be evaluated. Then, types of stress, symptoms and possible treatment will be investigated too.

Defining Stress

Stress is generally defined as a response of human organism towards various challenges or situations from life. Schneiderman, Ironson, and Siegel (2008) write that the human survival is based on “homeostasis”. The primary function of homeostasis is to keep the mental and psychological condition of the person stable in front of numerous changes. “Stressor” is the term used to describe factors, conditions, and stimuli that make human organism respond to stress. Responses to stress vary depending on different aspects. The first group of factors refers to the characteristics of the stressor. It may be sudden, unexpected, or long lasting, for instance. One’s biological factors such as gender, age, health condition, also influence the reaction to stress. Finally, people’s past experiences also affect the way stress is perceived. For example, those who have faced the same stressor for many times may develop a good resistance. It should be noted that reactions to stress are purely individual. What is extremely stressful for one person may be a usual thing for somebody else. Thus, one’s response to stressors is largely predetermined by the combination of the cultural and social background and biological peculiarities of the organism.

Types of Stress

As it has been already mentioned, stress is not only about something negative and anxious. Stress can be positive as well. The broadest division presupposes that two large groups of stress should be distinguished: eustress and distress. Eustress is caused by positive events that make life happier. Thus, getting married, having a baby, winning a lottery, receiving a promotion at work — all these examples are positive stresses. The organism has to adapt to these changes as well. However, this adaptation is enthusiastic and motivational. Eustress improves the overall condition of health. Distress is usually caused by adverse events such as financial strains, quarrel with somebody, or breakup of relationships.

American Psychological Association differentiates three primary types of stress. The first type is called acute stress. It is the most widespread type of stress. It occurs every day will all people without exceptions. Acute stressors are short experiences that can be both positive and negative. For example, a parachute jumping is usually associated with a high level of excitement. However, too much parachute jumping may lead to exhaustion. One may have a headache from too many “exciting experiences”. Symptoms of acute stress are easy to recognize. The feeling of anxiety, irritation, and depression are emotional symptoms of stress (American Psychological Association, n.d.). Problems with muscles can be the other group of symptoms of stress. Thus, tension headaches, pain in the back, painful feelings in tendons are also symptoms of acute stress. Some people have problems with stomach and bowel when they have stress. Constipation, diarrhea, acid stomach, heartburn are typical symptoms of distress as well. The last group of symptoms of acute stress includes rapid heartbeat, palpitations, blood pressure, sweaty palms, cold feet or hands, dizziness, or breath shortage. As far as acute stressors are short-termed, they do not do severe harm to the organism and can be managed without problems.

The second type of stress is episodic acute stress. According to the American Psychological Association (n.d.), episodic acute stress is typical for people who have disordered and chaotic lives. The life of such people is made of episodic stressors. Usually, such people are short-tempered, irritable, impatient, and anxious. They are always in a hurry and do not have time for everything. Migraine headaches, exhaustion, heart disease, and hypertension are common signs of stress. The treatment of this type of stress can be rather a challenging task due to the fact that stress is a part of the life of patients. Professional intervention is the must in such cases.

Chronic stress is the last type. It is the most disadvantageous condition for the organism. Chronic stress is oppressive and never-ending. It influences people day after day. It can last even for months or years. Chronic stress ruins health and life. It may be caused by a variety of reasons. For instance, an unhappy marriage, poverty, or hateful job may lead to chronic stress and dissatisfaction. Not only individuals but also whole nations or ethnic groups may experience this kind of stress. Thus, people from the Middle East live in the constant stress due to the instability in the region. The most threatening thing about chronic stress is that people get accustomed to it and do not understand that it should be treated. Constant stress may result in fatal outcomes such as suicide, heart attack, violence, or cancer (American Psychological Association, n.d.).

Understanding the Nature of Stress

The overcoming of stress is impossible without understanding its biological nature. The human organism is designed in such a way it can react to various responses quickly. During the initial phases of the human life on Earth, the life of people depended on organism’s ability to respond to threats rapidly. Two possible reactions to stress are fighting or fleeing. Depending on the situation, one may choose the particular action to avoid danger. In pre-historic times, the ability to fight or flee could save somebody from dangerous animal or enemy. Nowadays, settings are rather different. However, responses remain the same. People become involved in variety unpleasant situations. The call from the angry boss requires the same reaction as the danger of being eaten by the predator. When the organism knows the inflammation takes place, it starts to raise the level of chemicals that aim at reducing the negative effect. These chemicals are known as glucocorticoids. Besides, nervous, immune, and endocrine systems are involved in the process of homeostasis maintenance (Koob, 2015). This process of adaptation is defined as “general adaptation syndrome”. The general adaptation syndrome comprises of three phases that occur every time one faces a stressful situation. It should be added that regardless of the type of stress (eustress or distress), the same stages of adaptation occur. The first stage is alarm stage. During this stage, the person may be shocked by a sudden change. It is the time when stressor appears. The next stage is resistance — body tries to maintain homeostasis and utilize adaptation resources. The last stage is exhaustion — body has no more adaptation resources and resistance is below average (Donatelle, 2012).

Current Data and Ways of Intervention

According to the stress report of the American Psychological Association (2014), half of Americans state that they experience stress in everyday activities. Financial problems and work dissatisfaction are primary sources of stress. The survey has also evaluated the ways people employ to reduce their stress. The most popular method is to listen to music. Physical exercising and walking belong to the second most popular way of reducing stress. Watching movies is also a widespread technique.

Sometimes stress, especially chronic, cannot be reduced with the help of music or other related activities. A professional assistance may be required. Cotton (2013) writes about four possible ways of intervention including individual therapy, group psychotherapy, workshops, and bibliotherary. Besides, specialists can use other techniques. Thus, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches the patient to understand reasons and cope with stress. Biofeedback is useful for being aware of how to take control over organism.


Stress is a natural response of the organism to the stressor from the outside world. Stress can be positive and negative. There are three types of stress including acute, episodic acute and chronic stress. The last type is the most dangerous because the individual forgets about the problem and lives under the pressure for a long time. The organism adapts to stress via three stages. Listening to music, walking, and exercising are effective methods to reduce acute stress. The chronic stress may require the professional assistance as far as it may aggravate the health condition drastically.


American Psychological Association. (2014). Stress in America. Web.

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress: the different kinds of stress. Web.

Cotton, D. (2013). Stress management. London, UK: Routledge.

Donatelle, R. (2012). My health: an outcomes approach. San Francisco, CA: Benjamin Cummings.

Koob, G. (2015). The darkness within: individual differences in stress. Web.

Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel. S. (2008). Stress and health: psychological, behavioral, and biological determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1(1), 607-628.

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PsychologyWriting. "The Notion of Stress as Both a Biological Process." January 5, 2023.