The 5 phases of stress (and how to fight them)

The lifestyle of Western societies has made stress a common occurrence today. This condition can occur acutely, in times when we have, for example, overwork.

However, when stress persists over time, chronic stress (burnout or burnout syndrome) appears in the work environment, which is even more harmful and leads to negative consequences both physically and psychologically.

Stress can be classified as positive stress (eustress) or negative stress (distress). In this article we will talk about the phases of usual stress, Which is considered negative.

    What is causing this problem?

    Stress doesn’t have a single cause, but it is a multicausal and complex phenomenon in which the internal factors and the expectations of the person or the way in which they interpret and deal with the negative situations which occur around them come into play; and external factors (for example, not having a job, living in a situation of economic uncertainty or being bullied at school).

    The phenomena that cause stress are called stressors.

    Stress at work: a problem that affects many people

    Over the past decades, much research has been carried out to try to understand a form of stress that affects a large part of the population: stress at work.

    Data obtained through several studies show that the causes of this type of stress it’s not just the factors of the workplaceBut they are also influenced by various people who are not aware of it, such as the economic crisis, cultural expectations, the bad relationship of the worker with his partner, etc.

    In addition, recent research indicates that stress this happens at several levels, not only individual but also collective. People share emotional experiences, and these emotional experiences and stressful experiences can be contagious.

    • You can read more about this interesting topic in this article: “8 essential tips to reduce stress at work”

    its consequences

    The negative consequences of distress are numerous; however, it is important highlight the differences between acute stress and chronic stress.

    The first occurs at specific times and temporarily, in response to one or more very stressful events. For example, because of an exam, you have to prepare in a week when the person has had all year to do it. As a result, the individual may suffer from anxiety, muscle pain, headache, exhaustion, stomach problems, tachycardia, etc. This type of stress is less severe and over time the body returns to normal.

    But when the stress is chronic the consequences are even more damaging, Causing physical, emotional or mental exhaustion and causing general damage to the health of the affected person, in particular through the weakening of the immune system.

    In addition, chronic stress produces changes in self-esteem. Imagine a person who has been unemployed for several years and has financial problems; when the stressor presents itself repeatedly, the person can reach a serious situation of demoralization.

    Some consequences of long-term negative stress are:

    • Emotional fatigue.
    • Diseases of the digestive system, skin diseases and heart problems.
    • Feelings of insecurity and a feeling of helplessness learned.
    • Depersonalization, irritability and loss of motivation.
    • Insomnia.
    • Anxiety.
    • Depression.
    • Alcohol or substance abuse.

    Stress phases: what are they?

    One of the pioneers of stress research was Hans Selye, Who carried out his studies in the 50s. Today, his theory continues to be of great importance in the analysis of the evolution of this psychological and physiological phenomenon.

    According to this author, the stress response consists of three different phases:

    1. Reaction alarm

    Any physical, emotional or mental disorder following the detection of a threat or the encounter of a stressor causes an instant reaction aimed at combating this situation. This response is called a “fight or flight” response, and consists of the release of adrenaline in different parts of the body: blood vessels, heart, stomach, lungs, eyes, eyes. Muscles …

    When faced with a stressful stimulus, this hormone provides a quick boost to our energy to increase so that we can escape danger. We notice the effects because the breathing, pulse and heart rate are accelerated so that the muscles respond more quickly. Pupils dilate, blood circulates faster and it moves away from the digestive tract to prevent vomiting.

    In addition to these physiological functions, adrenaline also affects the brain, which is put on alert: attention shrinks and we are more sensitive to any stimulus. Adrenaline, in addition to being a hormone, is also a neurotransmitter that works in our brain.

    At this point, the level of cortisol also increases and as a result, the amount of sugar in the blood increases and it weakens the immune system to save energy and helps in the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. The release of these hormones can be beneficial to the body in some cases, but in the long run the consequences are extremely harmful.

      2. Resistance

      In the resistance phase, the body tries to adapt through a process called homeostasis, which leads to a recovery and repair phase. Cortisol and adrenaline return to their normal levels, but resources are depleted and the defenses and energy needed for the previous stress phase are diminished. The body has overworked and now needs to rest.

      The problem arises when the stressful situation or stimulus does not stop or reappears continuously, as fatigue, sleep problems, and general malaise can occur. As a result, the person becomes very irritable and has great difficulty concentrating or being productive in their daily life.

      3. Exhaustion

      When stress lasts for a long time, the body eventually depletes resources and gradually loses the ability to adapt from previous phases. The body weakens, and after some time in this bad situation, the body may succumb to the diseaseEither a viral or bacterial infection because your defenses are exhausted. All the negative effects of chronic stress mentioned above are manifested at this stage.

      If you want to dig deeper into chronic stress, you might be interested in the articles:

      • “Chronic stress: causes, symptoms and treatment”
      • “Burnout: how to detect it and act”

      The five phases of negative stress

      Research has continued over the years, and more recently the Canadian Stress Institute, after studying thousands of people with negative stress, states that there are five phases of distress:

      Phase 1: Physical and / or mental fatigue

      In this phase, the person experiences the first consequences of stress: loss of vitality and the onset of fatigue, Fatigue, drowsiness, demotivation … For example, when someone comes home from work at this point, all they want is to relax and lie down on the couch.

      Phase 2: Interpersonal problems and emotional detachment

      At this point, the person he is irritable and in a bad mood, And experiences problems in personal relationships, whether with family, friends or colleagues. This creates a vicious cycle, as the stressed person makes the situation worse. The individual prefers to be alone and to get closer to himself.

      Phase 3: emotional turbulence

      At this point, the person he undergoes a pronounced emotional imbalance. The previous phase destabilized the close interpersonal relationships, creating a more tense close environment. as a result, the individual begins to doubt himself and is emotionally affected.

      Phase 4: Chronic physical illnesses

      Stress becomes chronic and affects not only the mind (brain), but the body as a whole. Continuous tension can cause muscle pain in the cervical, shoulder and lumbar regions, in addition to headaches. At this point, measures such as sports or massage can be taken, but if the real stress issue is not addressed, neither the stress nor the disease will go away.

      Phase 5: Stress-related illnesses

      After a state of chronic exhaustion and depersonalization, the person begins to show severe physical damage. Colds, flu, ulcers, colitis, are some examples which, although they were not produced directly by this phenomenon, they are the cause of the weakening of the immune system.

      The longer the stressful situation lasts, the worse the consequences will be, as hypertension, cardiovascular problems and even a heart attack can occur.

      How to fight stress

      Dealing with stress is not an easy task because sometimes we cannot control external stressors. For example, if the stressful situation is the lack of employment and the economic crisis or if our partner leaves us or makes our life impossible.

      Without a doubt, psychological therapy becomes a good alternative to alleviate this situation, Because it helps to develop a number of strategies and skills in order to be able to control the experiences and consequences that stress produces and thus significantly reduce the discomfort. In addition, psychotherapy is also useful in helping us correct the way we interpret stressful events.

      Stress theorists claim that stress it occurs when the person does not have sufficient resources to deal with the situation. In other words, the source of the stress lies in the mismatch between the existing demands and the control available to the person to cope with those demands. When it is not possible to eliminate the stimulus or the stressful situation, providing the person with sufficient resources is a good alternative to deal with stress.

      Scientific studies also claim that the social environment can not only trigger the stressful situationBut it can act as a shock absorber, reducing negative effects, and even as a way to prevent and reduce stress. At work, for example, they can use different strategies to make the relationship with colleagues positive and in this way the negative impact of stress is reduced or even disappeared.

      In less severe cases, a number of steps can be taken to reduce stress: properly managing time, practicing mindfulness, or exercising are alternatives. If you would like to know some tips for reducing stress, you can read this article: “10 Essential Tips for Reducing Stress”.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Brugnera, A; Zarbo, C; Adorni, R; Tasca, Giorgio A .; Rabboni, M and Bondi, E et al. (2017): Cortical and cardiovascular responses to acute stressors and their relationship to psychological distress. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 114, pages 38-46.

      • Peiró, JM (1993). Triggers of stress at work. Madrid: Eudema.

      • Persson, PB and Zakrisson, A. (2016): Stress. Acta Physiologica, 216 (2), p. pages 149 to 152.

      • Selye, H. (1975). Stress and anxiety. Global therapy, 1, pages 9-13.

      • Soria, B., Caballer, A. and Peiró, JM (2011). Consequences of job insecurity. The modulating role of organizational support from a multi-level perspective. Psicothema, 23 (3), p. 394-400.

      • Zach, S. and Raviv, S. (2007). The benefits of a graduate training program for security guards on physical performance in stressful situations. International Journal of Stress Management, 14, pages 350-369.

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