Selye’s Stress Theory: What It Is And What It Explains

Selye's stress theory

Stress is a state of dysfunctional activation present in many clinical conditions but which also appears in healthy people. Although it has been studied from many orientations and theories, in this article We will learn about Selye’s Stress Theory.

Hans Selye was a professor and researcher who stated when talking about stress that “what matters is not what happens to us but how it is received.” From here he elaborates his theory, which we will learn about below.

What is stress?

Stress appears when the body experiences a greater activation than he is able to support or reduce through his coping strategies, whether psychological and/or behavioral. In this sense, the body is unable to maintain optimal or adequate levels to perform behaviorally and psychologically.

In evolutionary terms, when a person suffers from stress it means that their adaptation to the environment or the stressor source has “failed”, and the emotional and physical consequences are usually important.

Selye’s stress theory: characteristics

Hans Selye was a professor and researcher, considered the “father of stress,” who defined it as “the non-specific response of the organism to any demand made on it.” On the other hand, In the 40s he also defined the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)understanding stress as a non-specific and global response of the organism.

Selye establishes his theory of stress, according to which this response is a biological response, the same in all organisms and stereotyped. In addition, it can be measured and involves a series of hormonal secretions, responsible for the reactions we show in a stressful situation. These reactions are somatic, functional and organic. Although it should be noted that Most of the time the body responds in harmony to environmental stimuli and without negative consequences.: This is what is known as good stress.

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Other times, however, and following Selye’s Stress Theory, the organism is unable to adapt to the environment (when stress appears), since the responses required are too intense or prolonged and the demands exceed its resistance and/or adaptation. . We then talk about “distress” or “bad stress” (stress, in general).

Stress as a physiological process

The stress would be a normal physiological process of stimulation, activation and response of the organism. But when this is prolonged or too intense, that is when it is harmful and Selye’s GAS appears.

In this way, in Selye’s Stress Theory, stress is conceived as something essential for the functioning of the body and that allows progress, unless it is excessive and becomes dysfunctional or maladaptive, as we have already seen.

For Selye, most of the physical or mental efforts that a person makes to adapt to the demands of life, infections and other stress-causing agents cause changes in the body.

These modifications have occurred in the first two phases of the General Adaptation Syndrome (alarm phase and resistance phase). The third phase would be exhaustion.and appears only when the body tries to adapt to too many changes or sources of stress, or when these last over time.

How does it seem?

In Selye’s Theory of Stress, he states that “negative” stress appears when a person is subjected to accumulated doses of stress that exceed their optimal adaptation threshold; Thus, the organism begins to show signs of exhaustion. Whether or not this state of exhaustion and fatigue appears depends on the psychological profile of the person, as well as their frequency (and types) of adaptations experienced.

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Influential factors

On the other hand, there are also factors that modify the person’s receptivity to environmental stimuli or situations, and that “contaminate” our ability to adapt. In this way, they prevent us from recognizing which are the current agents that cause said stress.

Such factors influence our response (physical, psychological and biological); They condition and determine it. The same agent or situation can provoke a different response in different subjects. These factors predispose our vulnerability to getting sick and worsen our quality of life.

Likewise, quality of life is also linked to conditions such as diet, psycho-affective education, the environment, the way of living, the work context and possible intoxications such as alcohol or tobacco.

Types of stress

On the other hand, H. Selye distinguishes two types of stress: local stress (when there is a direct action of a stress agent on a limited part of the body) and local adaptation syndrome or SLA (when a defensive adaptation reaction appears).

Body response according to Selye

In response to stress, the basic mechanism of physiological action for Selye follows a certain sequence, which is:

Tension – Hypothalamus – Pituitary gland – Adrenal cortex (testosterone) – + HACT (adrenocorticotropic) + corticosteroids – thymus constriction, lymph node atrophy, sugar inhibition.

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