Coping with Stress Causes and Effects

Stress is a common experience. We may feel stress when we are very busy, have important deadlines to meet, or have too little time to finish all of our tasks. Often people experience stress because of problems at work or in social relationships, such as a poor evaluation by a supervisor or an argument with a friend. Some people may be particularly vulnerable to stress in situations involving the threat of failure or personal humiliation. Others have extreme fears of objects or things associated with physical threats-such as snakes, illness, storms, or flying in an airplane-and become stressed when they encounter or think about these perceived threats. Major life events, such as the death of a loved one, can cause severe stress.
Stress can have both positive and negative effects. Stress is a normal, adaptive reaction to a threat. It signals danger and prepares us to take defensive action. Fear of things that pose real threats motivates us to deal with them or avoid them. Stress also motivates us to achieve and fuels creativity. Although stress may hinder performance on difficult tasks, moderate stress seems to improve motivation and performance on less complex tasks. In personal relationships, stress often leads to less cooperation and more aggression.
The circumstances that cause stress are called stressors. Stressors vary in severity and duration. For example, the responsibility of caring for a sick parent may be an ongoing source of major stress, whereas getting stuck in a traffic jam may cause mild, short-term stress. Some events, such as the death of a loved one, are stressful for everyone. But in other situations, individuals may respond differently to the same event-what is a stressor for one person may not be stressful for another. For example, a student who is unprepared for a chemistry test and anticipates a bad grade may feel stress, whereas a classmate who studies in advance may feel confident of a good grade. For an event or situation to be a stressor for a particular individual, the person must appraise the situation as threatening and lack the coping resources to deal with it effectively.
Stressors can be classified into three general categories: catastrophic events, major life changes, and daily hassles. In addition, simply thinking about unpleasant past events or anticipating unpleasant future events can cause stress for many people.