Psychological stress is strain affecting the intangible self, caused by problems in adaptation, perception, and emotions. While this form of stress may be triggered by external events, the source of the stress is internal, located within the psyche and related to an individual’s internal responses to physical or atmospheric stimuli. Bouts of psychological stress can be long-term or short-term, depending on how far apart trigger events are spaced or if stressful events are accumulating without resolution. Levels of stress are also affected by the sensitivity and coping abilities of the individual, as well as subjective perception of how traumatic an event may be.
Events that can cause psychological stress are those that seem beyond the realm of personal control, involve inherent threat to well-being, create social vulnerability or that chronically disturb routines of daily life. Death of family members or friends, job loss, surviving a natural disaster and the end of a relationship are life events that may induce stress on the psyche for adults. For children or adolescents, events like moving, failure at school and bullying can engender psychological stress. The general sense of isolation, lack of support and constant conflict or friction are typical contexts for stress among all age groups, research shows. Sexual issues, financial trouble, and abuse, whether emotional or physical, are other typical sources of psychological stress.
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There are many negative physical, behavioral and emotional side effects of psychological stress, including insomnia, disease, high blood pressure and social or emotional disorders. Physical health outcomes often linked to extended periods of psychological stress include a suppressed immune system along with regular colds, cardiovascular problems, asthma and an imbalanced endocrine system. Any latent infections, such as herpes, become exacerbated during psychological stress. Emotional health effects include depression, hostility and low self-esteem.
Destructive behavioral habits that might develop during psychological stress periods are overeating, smoking and alcohol or drug dependency. Duration of the psychological stress determines the extent of these side effects. Temporary stress caused by events with impacts felt less than a month are not as likely to produce extreme side effects; acute and chronic stress lasting for several months or years poses the greatest risk for physical, emotional and behavior side effects.
Counseling by psychologists or psychiatrists and medication are among the treatment options. A psychologist generally assesses stress on the psyche through a series of tests and interviews, rating the level of stress according to a checklist or a professional scale, such as the Stress Appraisal Measure (SAM) or the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Therapists also teach coping strategies and connect patients to community support groups.

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