Stress and stressors

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Overall, in psychology, stress refers to the physical or psychological reaction to a demand (or stressor) or the event that constitute this demand (Hazanov-Boskovitz, 2003). Stress and stressors are widely studied for their impact on individual health and well-being. Three main types of stressor are generally identified in literature (Spini et al., 2013):

  • Life events: Life transition or life change constitute events that require adaptation from individual and can be source of stress
  • Chronic strains: More enduring or recurring problems experienced during daily life are possible source of stress
  • Daily hassles: Small and punctual problems of daily life can also be source of stress.

In the transactional perspective, stress is more particularly defined as a particular relation between the individual and its environment, where the individual see the situation as exceeding their own resources or reserves and threatening their well-being (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). The appraisal of stress is critical in this approach: the relation between source of stress and stress is not simple and cannot be defined in an absolute way. However, this approach constitutes a crucial model to understand the differential impact of stress on individual, notably by emphasizing the resources that individual have and use to face/assess possible sources of stress, then cope with stress (Hobfoll, 2002; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

The sociological approach of stress emphasizes the impact of social structures on the stress process (Turner & Schieman, 2008). In this perspective, the exposure to and meaning of stressors are seen as dependent on the social and institutional affiliations and status of individuals: the individual location in stratification systems, the institutional arrangement of status and roles and the configurations of relationships in which the individual are embedded are considered important factors of stress (Pearlin, 1989). This approach also emphasizes that one stressor occurs rarely by itself: stressors tend to proliferate and diffuse within and across life domains. Moreover, the diffusion of stressors can also occur between individuals: stressors experienced by one individual becoming stressors for others, notably when they share the same role sets.

Stress constitues one major mechanism by which vulnerability unfolds.

Author: Marie Baeriswyl


Hazanov-Boskovitz, O. (2003). Etude du coping des adolescents dans un contexte expérimental (Doctoral dissertation, University of Geneva).
Hobfoll, S. E. (2002). Social and psychological resources and adaptation. Review of General Psychology, 6(4), 307–324.
Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Springer publishing company.
Pearlin, L. I. (1989). The sociological study of stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 30(3), 241–256.
Spini, D., Hanappi, D., Bernardi, L., Oris, M., & Bickel, J.-F. (2013). Vulnerability across the life course: A theoretical framework and research directions. LIVES Working Papers, 27.
Turner, H. A., & Schieman, S. (2008). Stress processes across the life course: Introduction and overview. Advances in Life Course Research, 13, 1–15.

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