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What Is a Psychological Stressor? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Real-Life Stress
  • 1:00 What is Stress?
  • 1:55 What is Psychological Stress?
  • 2:45 Causes
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Psychological stressors are events and stimuli that cause us to experience psychological stress. Learn about psychological stress, the different types of psychological stressors, and more, in this lesson.

Real-Life Stress

Imagine that you are a psychology major studying to take your midterm exam in your abnormal psychology course. Once the time comes to take the exam, you feel more than prepared. As you take the exam, you notice that many of the questions cover topics that are unfamiliar to you. You are appalled when your professor gives you a 'D' on the midterm exam. As a result, your confidence falters.

Although this is your first 'D', you feel like a complete failure and wonder if you have what it takes to be a psychologist. You start to spend more time studying and stop hanging out with your friends. You become anxious whenever it is time to turn in an assignment. You wonder if all the other students have noticed that you are a failure, too.

Even though you receive an 'A' on your next assignment, you cannot help but feel anxious and fearful about your ability to succeed as a student and psychologist. Your friends try to convince you that it's all in your head, but you cannot get rid of these feelings. What you are experiencing is known as stress.

What is Stress?

Have you ever had an experience that you found difficult to cope with? For instance, maybe you had trouble dealing with the loss of a loved one or handling the pressures of being a student.

Stress occurs when we have difficulty coping. Any event or stimulus that requires you to change in some way has the potential to cause stress. Causes of stress include something as routine as driving to work, or something as rare as losing all of your belongings in a house fire.

Stress depends upon a situation and how you perceive it. Stress can be temporary or it can last over a period of time. A situation that you find stressful may not illicit the same stress response in another person. For example, some students may complete their college exams without feeling stressed, while others get test anxiety every time they take an exam and find it hard to cope.

What is Psychological Stress?

Psychological stress occurs when you are under pressure or having difficulty coping with a situation or stimulus. Think of it as your emotional response to stressful events. The anxiety and incompetence that you felt as a result of receiving a 'D' on your midterm exam is an example of psychological stress.

Any situation that produces an emotional response, whether an actual experience or one that you perceive to be real, can become a source of psychological stress. For example, imagine that your boss tells you that she needs to meet with you tomorrow. You fear that you are going to be fired and experience psychological stress. However, when you enter her office, you learn that you have been promoted. Here, your perception of the situation caused you to experience psychological stress, even though your perception was incorrect.

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