Stress Disorders: Definition and Perspectives

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  • 0:05 Stress
  • 1:42 Approaches to Stress
  • 3:43 Managing Stress
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Everyone has to deal with stress, but some people do not manage their stress in a healthy way. In this lesson, we will look more closely at psychological disorders related to stress, including ways that people react to and manage stress.


Dee has a lot of pressure on her. She's a busy single mom, works as an executive assistant for a very demanding boss, and she's going to school at night. To say she's stressed is an understatement! But lately, things have gotten worse. She has really bad headaches and though she's always had asthma, lately her breathing is worse than normal. Not only that, but she's so tense that sometimes she struggles to even leave her house.

Everything going on in Dee's life is causing her stress, or strain or tension caused by an event or circumstances. There are two types of stress. Mental stress can be caused by emotional pressures, like a fight with a friend. Physical stress, on the other hand, occurs when your physical body is healing, like when you're sick or have just had surgery. Both mental and physical stress can have both mental and physical effects. For example, Dee's mental stress from her life has caused her physical symptoms, like headaches and making her asthma worse.

Psychologists and other mental health practitioners study the psychological causes and effects of stress, including stress disorders like acute stress disorder and psychophysiological stress disorders. Stress disorders are psychological disorders that involve reactions to stress in a person's life. Let's look a little closer at the different ways that people react to stress and some ways that the impact of stress can be reduced.

Approaches to Stress

You know those cartoons of a stressed-out character? They often show frizzy hair, bloodshot eyes and a hyped up demeanor. But, is that really what people are like when they're under stress? Well, yes and no. People respond to stress in different ways. To help understand the three most common ways that people respond to stress, some psychologists use the analogy of someone driving. When faced with pressure in their lives, people either:

  • Put their foot on the gas by becoming agitated and hyper
  • Put their foot on the brake by becoming withdrawn and depressed, or
  • Put their foot on both by becoming frozen and tense

Remember Dee? She's having trouble leaving her house because she's so stressed out. All she wants to do is stay in bed and ignore the world. She has her foot on the brake. She is withdrawing from the world and feeling depressed.

But what if, instead of withdrawing, she became keyed up? For example, maybe she has trouble sitting still and reacts to other people with anger or frustration. This would be an example of Dee having her foot on the gas.

Finally, imagine that Dee faces stress with a stillness that looks like she's withdrawing, but she's really feeling very anxious and agitated underneath the surface. Imagine a deer in headlights, its body still with shock but its heart pounding. If this is the type of reaction that Dee has to stress, then her foot is on both the gas and the brake.

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