Conceptualizations and Types of Stress

The study of stress has a long and rich history, which is characterized by diverse perspectives on how to examine stress and its impact on people's lives. In one early definition from 1974, Hans Seyle conceptualized stress in terms of external events that elicited certain distress responses, called the general adaptation syndrome. This approach proved valuable in elucidating the effects of the environment on physiological functioning, but it created the difficulty of disentangling the stressor itself from individuals' responses to stress. Two other perspectives have received more attention in the investigation of stress in children. The first ''stimulus-based'' approach, pioneered in 1967 by Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, viewed stress in terms of exposure to disruptive or demanding environmental circumstances. This definition emphasized that stress can be defined based on objective characteristics of one's environment. The second ''transactional'' approach, advocated in 1984 by Richard S. Lazarus and Susan Folkman, incorporated not only environmental events and conditions but also individuals' subjective appraisals of

As children move through adolescence, they begin to experience stress more intensely. Studies have shown that adolescent boys are particularly vulnerable to noninterpersonal stress, such as school-related difficulties. (Robert J. Huffman/Field Mark Publications)

these circumstances. According to this perspective, individual perceptions of events may determine their stressfulness.

Regardless of whether the definition focuses on objective events or on the transaction between external events and internal appraisals, several types of stress may emerge in the lives of children. Daily hassles and minor life events involve everyday occurrences—such as interpersonal conflicts, pressures at school, or minor physical illnesses—that may accumulate over time to pose a threat to well-being. Chronic strains involve ongoing stressful conditions, such as family adversity (e.g., marital conflict, mental illness in a parent), relationship problems (e.g., social isolation), or economic hardship. Acute, severe stressors involve traumatic events such as the death of a close family member, victimization, or exposure to a natural disaster. Finally, normative stressors involve events or situations that occur as a part of typical development, such as starting school or moving away from home for the first time.

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