The origin of the concept of stress predates antiquity. Derived
from the Latin word ‘STRINGERE’, stress was popularly used
in the 17th century to mean hardship, strain, adversity, or
affliction. It was used in the 18th and 19th century to denote
force, pressure, strain, or strong efforts with reference to an
object or person.
In the modern times, stress has become a buzzword and
legitimate concerns for people of all walks of life. In fact, no
one is immune to stress. Right from the time of birth till death,
an individual is in variably exposed to various stressful
situations. Hence stress is a subject which is hard to avoid.
Stress has been a much and widely talked about
phenomenon in corporate (western) world because it is a
costly business expense that affects both employee held and
Definition & Meaning:
According to S. P. Robbins – “Stress is a dynamic condition in which
an individual is confronted with an opportunity, constraint or demand
related to what he or she desires and for which the outcome is perceived to
be both uncertain and important”.
According to J. C. Quick and J. D. Quick – “Stress or the stress
response is the unconscious preparation to fight or flee a person
experiences when faced with any demand”.
According to Mikhail A. – “Stress refers to psychological and
physiological states that result when certain features of an individual’s
environment challenge that person, creating an actual or perceived
imbalance between demand and capability to adjust that result in a non-
General Adaption Syndrome:
Dr. Hans Selye (1974), a pioneer in stress research, concluded that –
“Physiological response to stressful situations is fairly consistent among
people. This response is called General Adaption Syndrome, and it provides
an automatic defense system to help cope with the demands of the
environment”. There are three stages as per the general adaption syndrome:
This figure shows the individual‟s energy and
ability to cope with the stressful situation:
Alarm Reaction: Also called „initial/shock phase‟. This stage is characterized
by increased respiration rate, heartbeat, blood pressure, muscle tension,
adrenalin discharge, and gastro intestinal ulceration. At first, the individual‟s
energy level/resistance capacity and coping effectiveness decrease in response
to the initial shock. The extreme shock may result in incapacity of individual to
cope with stress. In most situations, the alarm reaction alerts the person to the
environmental condition and prepares the body for the resistance stage.
Resistance: The bodily signs characteristics of the alarm reaction disappear
and the body has activated various biochemical, psychological, and behavioral
mechanisms. As a result, the person‟s resistance increases above the normal
level during this stage.
Exhaustion: People have a limited resistance capacity. When the resistance
adaptation capacity is exhausted, the signs of alarm reaction reappear.
Resistance level begins to decline abruptly. Finally, the organism gets
Nature of Stress
Fight-or-Flight Response: As a result of the reaction to stress, breathing
and the heart rate changes and brain activity goes up to allow the brain to
function maximally. Hearing and sight become more acute and muscles
ready themselves for action. These biochemical and bodily changes
represent a natural reaction to environmental stressors.
Physiological Response: Most early concern with stress was directed at
physiological symptoms because most researchers were specialists in the
health and medical sciences. Their work led to the conclusion that stress
could create changes in metabolism, increase heart and breathing rates and
blood pressure, bring on headaches, and induce heart attacks.
Psychological Response: Job dissatisfaction is “the simplest and
most obvious psychological effect” of stress. But stress shows itself in
other psychological states – for instance, tension, anxiety, irritability,
boredom, and procrastination.
Behavioral Response: Behavior-related stress symptoms include
changes in productivity, absence, and turnover, as well as changes in
eating habits, increased smoking or consumption of alcohol, rapid
speech, fidgeting, and sleep disorders.
The stress – performance
The logic underlying the inverted U is that low to moderate levels of stress
stimulate the body and increase its ability to react. Individuals then often
perform their tasks better, more intensely, or more rapidly. But too much stress
places unattainable demands on a person, which result in lower performance.
Factors Experiencing Stress:
How an individual is going to experience stress is determined by a
number of factors. There are four major factors:
Factors that determine stress experienced
Experiencing Stress: Contd.
Perception of Stressors: One of the major factors that determine the
extent to which stress will be experienced depends upon one‟s perception of
Past Experience: Depending on the familiarity with the situation and his
prior experiences with the stressors, an individual may perceive a situation
to be more or less stressful. As a result of past experience or training, an
individual may be able to deal with the new situation more calmly and
competently as compared to a less-experienced or inadequately trained
Experiencing Stress: Contd.
Social Support: The presence and absence of other people influences how
individuals in the workplace experience stress and respond to stressors
(Zahn - Waxler 1998)
Individual Differences: Since individuals are different from each other,
their propensity to experience stress also differs significantly from each
other. Individual differences in motivation, attitude, personality, and
abilities influence whether employees experience stress and if they do, how
they response to it. Personality characteristics, in particular, may explain
some of the differences in the way those employees experience and respond