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The explanatory model of stress (factors, causes and effects)

The explanatory model of stress (factors, causes and effects)

May 9, 2021

To this day, there is still no consensus to offer a concrete and universal definition of the concept of stress. Even so, there seems to be some agreement when defining it as the set of psychophysiological changes that occur in the organism in response to a situation of over demand, which mobilizes the activation of the organism.

If this situation is perpetuated in excess of time, the organism ends up being damaged, since it is unable to maintain this level of activation permanently due to the extra effort it entails.

Thus, you can differentiate between a stress response or positive (which is adaptive and allows you to face the possible adversities of everyday life) and a chronic stress response (which is the cause of certain alterations in the body, both physical and psychological ). Let's see what are the fundamentals of this phenomenon.

Explaining stress

There have been many attempts to give a theoretical explanation of the concept of stress. Below is the most accepted and the one that offers a more complete explanation at present: the Procedural Stress Model .

This integrative model highlights the enormous complexity of the concept of stress, arguing that there are multiple variables that are related to each other in the response that the body emits. As reflected in the following lines, you can differentiate up to seven types of factors that affect the way people issue this type of response .

Determinants in the stress response

These are the situations and variables (contextual and psychological) that can cause a stressful response.

1. Psychosocial demands

This factor refers to external environmental stressors , both natural (for example, temperature) and artificial (pollution) and also psychosocial (interpersonal relationships). Regarding this last phenomenon, it has been observed that their association with a low socioeconomic status may involve the experience of less social support.

2. Cognitive evaluation

The cognitive assessment of the situation that the person does also influences the stress reaction. In particular, there are usually five situational aspects that are evaluated when a person is faced with a stressful event:

  • The type of threat what is the demand: loss, danger or challenge.
  • The Valencia that the person grants to the threat: the evaluation as something positive or negative.
  • The dependency-independence of the actions of the person to meet the demand.
  • The predictability : if the demand is expected or not.
  • The controllability : if the person perceives or can not control the demand.

3. Physiological stress response

When there is a stress response in the body a series of physiological changes occur that allow the person to increase their alertness in reaction to the stressor . Let's see some examples in the proposal of Olivares and Méndez.

Physiological changes Benefits
Increase in heart rate and blood pressure.More blood is pumped to the brain, lungs, arms and legs, providing more fuel to the brain.
Increase of breathingThe breathing becomes deeper and faster to supply more oxygen to the muscles.
Muscle tension.The muscles tense, preparing for action.
Secretion of carbohydrates and lipids into the bloodstream.It provides fuel to quickly provide energy.
Increase of perspiration.Refrigerates excess muscle heat.
Release of coagulation factors.Faster clotting of the wounds, which results in the loss of blood.
Delay of digestion.Increased blood supply to the brain and muscles.

On the other hand, at the same time, certain changes in the person at an emotional level also occur. First, there is a feeling of emotional distress called distress , which basically consists of a set of negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, fear, etc.

The emotional expression linked to the stress response depends on the person's assessment of the situation. Thus, the specific circumstances of the situation mark both the thoughts that are faced with the demand and the feelings aroused subsequently.

4. Coping

On a practical level, it is one of the most important elements of the scheme, since it will depend on the coping style that is set in motion that the mental and emotional discomfort produced by the external stressor can be reduced.

The coping style refers to the general way of thinking and acting of the person more or less stable before the different stressful situations of your daily life. Coping depends on the person's belief that he can do something or not to change the situation.

According to the proposal of Lazarus and Folkman, the multiple forms of coping can be included within the following typologies:

Dimension Description
ConfrontationDirect actions directed towards the situation, for example, expressing anger towards the person causing the problem.
RemotenessTry to forget about the problem, refuse to take it seriously.
Self controlSave problems for oneself.
Search for social supportAsk for advice or help from a friend, talk to someone who can do something in particular.
Acceptance of responsibilityApologize, criticize yourself.
Escape or avoidanceWait for the occurrence of a miracle, avoid contact with people.
Problem solving planningEstablish an action plan and follow it.
Positive reevaluationAssign a more positive meaning to the situation, for example: "Experience teaches, there are good people", etc.

These authors have classified these coping styles into two categories: Problem-oriented style (Confrontation and Problem Solving Planning) and Emotion-oriented style (the six remaining types). In several studies it has been observed that people with higher rates of depression, anxiety and emotional distress often put into practice the styles oriented to emotion.

Thus, it is concluded that, on an emotional level, the latter do not become adaptive and satisfactory ways in coping with stress . On the other hand, it seems to be demonstrated that the establishment of an informed action plan and the subsequent realization of all the steps that compose it is a more effective methodology of personal psychological coping.

5. Personal characteristics

Experts have observed that certain personality traits can influence the type of reaction that expresses a person facing stress.


Kobasa has described the concept of Hardiness ("Resistance" or "hardness") as a protective factor against stress. The Hardiness is composed of three elements: commitment (believing and recognizing one's own values), challenge (assessing situations as a challenge instead, for example, as a threat) and control (sense of control of the situation) .

Sense of coherence

Antonovsky, similar to Kobasa, has defined this phenomenon as a stable personality disposition that serves as a resource for coping with stress, as a protective factor for the person . It consists of comprehensibility (cognitive control over the environment), management (to what extent the person considers that he has the resources to face the situation) and significance (evaluating the situation as a challenge and if it is worth facing).

In addition, it has been possible to verify the relationship of other personality traits with the type of reaction to stress, such as the following:

  • People with a neurotic tendency (anxious and emotionally unstable) tend to assess the situation in a more threatening way than other groups with less variable emotional functioning.
  • People with a high level of hostility tend to experiment with a frequency much higher than the rest of the population, anger and high cardiovascular reactivity.
  • People with repressive style they may have inhibition of their immune response.
  • Optimistic people, with high self-esteem, locus of internal control (high perception that the person has about the ability of the person to control the environment) and Hardiness are associated with a style of confrontament adequate or "problem-oriented".

6. Type of reaction to stress

This concept has been proposed by a group of researchers (Eysenck, Grossarth and Maticek) who They wanted to explain the causes of coronary heart disease and cancer .

It consists of a classification that differentiates six types of personal characteristics that tend to be associated with the development of certain physical diseases. More specifically, in the following classification, the six types and the disease with which they are related are observed:

KIND Disorder or illness
1Propensity to cancer: Dependent conformity, inhibition to establish interpersonal intimacy.
2Propensity to coronary heart disease: Reactions of anger, aggression of chronic irritation. Hyperexcitation.
3Hysterical: Protection against 1 and 2. Expression of alternate answers between 1 and 2.
4Healthy: Protector against diseases in general. Autonomous behavior Appropriate and realistic confrontation.
5Rational / Anti-emotional: Propensity to depression and cancer. Suppression of emotional expression.
6Antisocial: Psychopathic profile. Propensity to drug addiction.

7. Social characteristics

One of the main elements that relates the social characteristics and the stress response is social support . More concretely, we have studied the evidence of the influence of variables of this phenomenon, such as the address (if it is provided or received), the disposition (quantity and quality), the description / evaluation that the person makes of the support perceived, the content (emotional, instrumental, informative or evaluative) and social networks as a source of social support.

Numerous investigations highlight the importance of social support in the maintenance of good physical and mental health. Studies show how social support favors health by inhibiting the onset of the disease (reducing the impact of the stressor) or facilitating the recovery of it (strengthening the person's ability to cope with the disease). On the other hand, it should be noted that the absence of social support can have very negative consequences , since its lack becomes a very important risk factor for the subsequent development of depression.

For example, married people who enjoy a healthy marriage have a much lower risk than single, divorced or married people in a conflictive marriage.

8. Health status

Most factors that have been shown so far (cognitive assessment of the situation, coping style, personal characteristics, etc.) also are related to the physical health status of the person .

It has been observed, for example, that the fact of assessing the event very negatively or applying a wrong coping style produces a decrease in the body's immune response (a reduction in the defenses available to the body to deal with external pathogens). ), thus increasing the vulnerability of suffering certain diseases associated with the immune system (cancer, infections, etc.).

In conclusion

From the beginning of the investigations that have tried to shed some light on the concept of stress and the factors that explain it, science has managed to highlight the enormous complexity associated with this phenomenon . We discard, therefore, the idea that there is a single element that determines the appearance of this type of symptomatology so present in today's society.

Therefore, it is essential to banish the idea that pathological stress (punctual stress, as it is exposed in the article does not present adverse psychological consequences) is derived exclusively from the external environment or situations beyond the person.

Definitely, the individual himself also has a very relevant role in the type of experience and how it acts to overcome the perceived daily stress.

Bibliographic references:

  • Amigo, I, Fernández, C. and Pérez, M. (2009). Psychological manual of health. Madrid: Pyramid.
  • Belloch, A., Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2008). Manual of psychopathology. Revised edition (Vol I and II). Madrid. McGraw Hill.
  • Labrador, F. J. (2008). Behavior modification techniques. Madrid: Pyramid.
  • Olivares, J. and Méndez, F. X. (2008). Behavior modification techniques. Madrid: New library.

Addiction (May 2021).

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