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

To this day, there is still no consensus to propose a concrete and universal definition of the concept of stress. However, there seems to be some agreement when it comes to defining it as the set of psychophysiological changes that occur in the body in response to a situation of on-demand, which mobilizes the activation of the body.

If this situation continues over time, the body eventually becomes damaged because it is unable to maintain this level of activation permanently due to overwork.

Thus, it is possible to differentiate between a one-off or positive stress response (which is adaptive and makes it possible to cope with the possible adversities of daily life) and a chronic stress response (which is the cause of certain alterations. of the body, both physical and physical, as well as psychological). Let’s see what are the foundations of this phenomenon.

Explain stress

Attempts to give a theoretical explanation of the concept of stress have been very diverse. Here is the most accepted and the one that offers a more complete explanation today: the Procedural model of stress.

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 emitted by the body. As reflected in the following lines, Up to seven types of factors can be differentiated that affect the way people give this type of response..

Determinants of the stress response

It is the situations and variables (contextual and psychological) that can provoke a stressful reaction.

1. Psychosocial demands

This factor refers to external environmental stressors, Both natural (eg temperature) and artificial (pollution) and also psychosocial (interpersonal relationships). On the latter phenomenon, it has been observed that its association with low socioeconomic status can lead to the experience of lower social support.

2. Cognitive assessment

A person’s cognitive assessment of the situation also influences the stress response. Specifically, there are generally five situational aspects that are assessed when a person is faced with a stressful event:

  • the type of threat which implies a demand: loss, danger or challenge.
  • the Valence which gives the person the threat: the assessment as something positive or negative.
  • the dependence-independence the person’s actions to meet the demand.
  • the predictability: Whether the request is expected or not.
  • the controllability: Whether or not the person perceives that they can control the demand.

3. Physiological response to stress

When a stress response is given in the body a series of physiological changes occur that allow the person to increase their alertness in response to the stressor. Let’s look at some examples in Olivares and Méndez’s proposal.

physiological changes


Increased heart rate and blood pressure. It pumps more blood to the brain, lungs, arms, and legs, providing more fuel to the brain. Increased breathing. Breathing becomes deeper and faster to deliver more oxygen to the muscles. Muscle tension. Muscles tighten, prepare for action. Secretion of carbohydrates and lipids into the bloodstream. It provides fuel for quick energy availability. Increased sweating. Cools excess muscle heat. Release of coagulation factors. Faster clotting of wounds, resulting in blood loss. Delayed digestion. Increased blood supply to the brain and muscles.

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

The emotional expression associated with the stress response depends on the person’s assessment of the situation. Thus, the specific circumstances of the situation mark both the thoughts held in the face of the request and the feelings aroused thereafter.

4. Confrontation

Practically speaking, this is one of the most important parts of the system, as it will depend on the coping style put in place as the cognitive and emotional discomfort produced by the external stressor can be reduced.

Coping style refers to the person’s general way of thinking and acting in a more or less stable manner. in the face of different stressful situations in their daily life. Confrontation depends on the person’s conviction whether or not they can do something to change the situation.

According to the proposal of Lazarus and Folkman, the multiple forms of confrontation can include in the following typologies:


The description

Confrontation Direct actions directed at the situation, eg expressing anger towards the person causing the problem. Away Try to forget about the problem, refuse to take it seriously. Self-control Record the problems for yourself. Seek social support Ask a friend for advice or help, talk to someone who can do something specific. Acceptance of responsibility Apologize, criticize yourself. Escape or avoidance Wait for a miracle to happen, avoid contact with people. Outage Planning Make a plan of action and follow it. Positive reassessment Give 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 (Planning for Confrontation and Problem Solving) i emotion driven style (The remaining six types). Several studies have shown that people with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and emotional distress tend to practice emotionally focused styles.

Thus, it is concluded that, on an emotional level, these do not become adaptive and satisfying forms of stress management. On the contrary, it seems to be shown that the establishment of a well-founded action plan and the subsequent realization of all the stages that compose it is a more effective methodology of personal psychological adaptation.

5. Personal characteristics

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


Kobasa described the concept of Resistance (“Resistance” or “hardness”) as a protective factor against stress. Rusticity consists of three elements: commitment (believing and recognizing one’s own values), challenge (valuing situations as a challenge rather than, for example, as a threat) and control (feeling in control of the situation ).

Sense of coherence

Antonovsky, like Kobasa, defined this phenomenon as a stable disposition of the personality which serves as a resource to cope with stress, as a factor of protection of the person. It includes understandability (cognitive control over the environment), management (the degree to which the person feels they have the resources to deal with the situation), and importance (assessing the situation as a challenge and whether it is worth it. worth tackling). .

Additionally, the relationship between other personality traits and the type of stress response has been noted, such as the following:

  • People with a neurotic tendency (anxious and emotionally unstable) tend to rate the situation more threatening than other groups whose emotional functioning is less variable.
  • People with a high level of hostility they tend to experience a much higher frequency than the rest of the angry population and high cardiovascular responsiveness.
  • Repressive people they may exhibit inhibition of their immune response.
  • Optimistic people, with high self-esteem, place of internal control (the person’s high perception of the person’s ability to control the environment), and hardiness are associated with an appropriate or “people-oriented” coping style. problems”.

6. Types of stress response

This concept was proposed by a group of researchers (Eysenck, Grossarth and Maticek) who they intended to explain the causes of coronary heart disease and cancer.

This is a classification that differentiates six types of personal characteristics that tend to be associated with the development of certain physical illnesses. More precisely, in the following classification, the six types and the disease with which they are related are observed:


Disorder or illness

1 Cancer propensity: conformist dependence, inhibition to establish interpersonal intimacy. 2 Subjects to coronary heart disease: anger reactions, chronic irritation attacks. Hyperexcitation. 3 Hysterical: Protection against 1 and 2. Expression of responses alternating between 1 and 2. 4 Healthy: Protective against diseases in general. Autonomous behavior. Appropriate and realistic adaptation. 5 Rational / Antiemotional: Prone to depression and cancer. Suppression of emotional expression. 6 Antisocial: psychopathic profile. Propensity to drug addiction.

7. Social characteristics

One of the main elements that link social characteristics and stress response is social support. Specifically, the evidence for the influence of variables of this phenomenon was investigated, such as the direction (whether given or received), the disposition (quantity and quality), the person’s description / rating of the support. perceived, content (emotional, instrumental, informative or evaluative) and social media as a source of social support.

Much research emphasizes the importance of social support in maintaining good physical and mental health. Studies show how social support promotes health by inhibiting the onset of illness (reducing the impact of the stressor) or facilitating recovery from it (strengthening a person’s ability to cope with disease). it should be noted that the absence of social support can have very negative consequencesAs its absence becomes a very important risk factor for the further development of depression.

For example, married people who enjoy a healthy marriage are at much lower risk than people who are single, divorced, or married in a conflictual marriage.

8. State of health

Most of the factors that have been highlighted so far (cognitive assessment of the situation, coping style, personal characteristics, etc.) they relate to the state of physical health of the person.

It has been observed, for example, that a very negative evaluation of the event or the application of the wrong coping style results in a decrease in the body’s immune response (a decrease in the body’s defenses). organism) to cope with external pathogens), thus increasing the vulnerability to suffering from certain diseases associated with the immune system (cancer, infections, etc.).

To conclude

From the start of the research which attempted to shed light on the concept of stress and the factors which explain it, science has succeeded in highlighting the enormous complexity associated with this phenomenon. The idea that there is only one element that determines the appearance of this type of symptomatology so present in today’s society is therefore dismissed.

Therefore, it is essential to banish the idea that pathological stress (point stress, as stated in the article has no adverse psychological consequences) is derived exclusively from the external environment or from situations external to the person.

In short, the individual himself also plays a very important role in the type of experience and how it works to overcome perceived daily stress.

Bibliographical references:

  • Friend, I, Fernández, C. and Pérez, M. (2009). Manual of Health Psychology. Madrid: Pyramid.
  • Belloch, A., Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2008). Manual of psychopathology. Revised edition (Vol I and II). Madrid. McGraw Hill.
  • Pages, FJ (2008). Behavior modification techniques. Madrid: Pyramid.
  • Olivares, J. and Méndez, FX (2008). Behavior modification techniques. Madrid: New library.

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