The WOTS-Foundation I How Stress Arises ..


Before I start with explain how stress arise lets first answer the question:  “What is stress?” Even though the first definition I’m going to use dates back to the 90ties. I still find it the most completed one. 

"Stress is the state that arises when the person-environment transactions cause an individual to perceive a discrepancy (realistic or not) between the demands of the environment and their own biological, psychological and social resources to meet them."

(definition based on Lazarus & Folkman, 1984)


I also love this next more detailed explanation. I really believe it is an addition to the one I stated above. 


According to Sarafino and Smith stress is when a situation is perceived as stressor after rapidly (un) consciously assessing the points below.


  1. the resources and capacities one has to deal with difficulties, such as physical condition, emotional and cognitive stability and expected support from other persons, previous experience

  2. the demands that the environment places on that person

  3. the perceived discrepancy between the demands placed on the person by the environment and the own possibilities for meeting them

  4. the transactions with the environment, i.e. what we actually do / think in our interaction with the environment (depending on, among other things, our previous experiences in similar situations)


Now let’s go into more detail how stress arises? 

There are 2 ways that stress arise.I find that combining the theory of James & Schachter the best way to explain this statement. 


  1. James theory stated that the bodily reaction to an emotion-provoking stimulus is automatic, occurring without conscious thought or feeling and that the assessment of one’s emotional state follows, based on the perception of the bodily state. 

(For example, In situations when we have to act fast)


  1. Schachter theory is an addition to James’s theory and he concluded that a emotion not only depends on sensory feedback pertaining to the body’s response. But also on the person's perception and thoughts ( cognition) about the environmental event that presumably evoked that response. More specifically , he proposed that perception and thought about the environment influence the type of emotion felt, and that sensory feedback about the degree of bodily arousal influences the intensity of the emotion felt.

( For example, In situation that we the time to analyze the stimuli )


These theories have both been proven right after studying brain structures that involved stress and other emotions. Research has shown that the amygdala, the brain’s early warning system receives stimulus input from all of the body’s sensory systems. But it also sends rapid assessments of that input to the rest of the brain structures. To be re-evaluate or to alert if a whole body or behavioral reaction may be called for.


The amygdala receives sensory input by two ways. The first way is through a very rapid subcortical route. Where the amygdala analyzes incoming information even before the has be processed by sensory areas of the cerebral cortex and sends its output to brain structures that will stimulate a reaction from the body. ( the unconscious route)


The second way is through a slower cortical route. Where the amygdala analyzes in more detail information that has been processed by the cerebral cortex, including the prefrontal cortex. and then sends its output to many other brain structures to stimulate a reaction from the body. ( the full conscious route )


Let’s bring some more details about how stress arises.


It is night, your walking home. Suddenly you see a shadowy figure. Your amygdala will receive the sensory input. If the figure is closeby and perceived as dangerous, it will choose for the rapid subcortical route and alert other brainstructeres to react immediately. If the figure is far it will use the slower cortical route and wait on the input from the structures of the cerebral cortex before coming in action. 

Let’s say in both scenarios the stimuli is perceived as a threat. The association cortex will then send a neural message to your hypothalamus. This causes it to secrete corticotropin-releasing factor. The specialized capillary system will on it’s turn transport  this releasing factor to the anterior pituitary. Where it stimulates the release of another hormone called corticotropin, into the bloodstream. From the bloodstream, corticotropin enters the adrenal cortex, where it causes the release of adrenal cortical hormones, including cortisol. These adrenal hormones are carried throughout the body to help prepare it for a possible emergency.  At the same time , many other brain-controlled effects are also occurring  to deal with the possible emergency suggested by the sight of the shadowy figure. They range from the activation of the sympathetic portion of the autonomic nervous system; raised heartbeat, heavy breathing etc. to the development of a plan to escape if you are able filter information to the prefrontal cortex otherwise the amygdala will stay stuck in the response mode : flight , fight or freeze. And afterwards experience the bodies reaction.


Stress is something everyone experiences at some point. A normal dose of stress can have a positive contribution to motivation and creativity, but on the other hand, a large amount of stress, can have a negative effect on learning performance, social development, memory, attention capacity, organization and integration. It is therefore important to learn how to deal with stress and stressors. But before you are able to learn how to deal with it,  it was important to tell you what stress is and how it arises. I hope it was informative.



Melisa D.Halley