"Stress occurs when there is an imbalance between a person's perception of the constraints imposed by their environment and their own resources to cope with them. (Definition of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work). It is linked to 2 factors :
- the stressor: external factor linked to the environment.
- Stressability: an internal factor linked to individual receptivity to stressors.
Stress = Stressors X Stressability
The symptom is an indicator of dysfunction in the body.
Stress is an indicator of brain dysfunction, an error in reasoning, in behaviour, and there are other ways to deal with the situation considered hostile.
Stress is :
- an individual, instinctive, pre-programmed defence system (a specific and stereotyped response for each person)
- intended to protect us from an environment considered hostile (General Adaptation Syndrome)
- activated by a situation and deactivated by the disappearance of this situation or a reaction of the individual to get out of it
- internal, unconscious, and which has to do with our thoughts, our mind
Ex: public speaking, unexpected situation, change of position.
3. Mechanism of stress, adaptation over time and effect on health
1st time and 1st level of stress:
In response to acute aggression, an almost immediate defence response arises in the most archaic part of our brain: the reptilian brain.
This defence response leads to the activation and mobilisation of various stress adaptation systems, as well as the organs that are responsible for the manifestations of stress:
- acceleration of the heart and respiratory rate
- vasodilatation with the impression of an increase in body temperature
- muscle and bladder contraction
- increased oxygen supply to the brain and organs: increased alertness and physical reactivity.
This is acute stress (physiological stress) These manifestations disappear when the situation considered hostile disappears.
2nd time and 2nd level of stress:
A period of resistance emerges if the hostile circumstance continues. The adaptive mechanisms are overextended.
3rd time and 3rd level of stress:
There is no longer any control over the systems that are activated and in constant overdrive once the scenario considered hostile becomes established in the long term (decompensation). Moreover, this situation is recorded as stressful, at the level of memory, in the limbic brain which is the brain of emotions. This is why previous stressful situations have been encoded in connection with negative emotions that will be reactivated. This is where the stressability of each individual comes in.
This is chronic stress, with psycho-affective (psycho-affective stress) and somatic (somatic stress) manifestations:
- loss of intellectual capacity, time, energy, efficiency
- impulsiveness. Closure to others
- depression, anxiety, suicidal risk
- increased blood sugar and lipids/cholesterol: diabetes, hypercholesterolemia
- increased heart rate with high blood pressure: cardiovascular disease
- decrease in inflammatory manifestations and immune response: musculoskeletal disorders, immuno-allergic disorders...
The extreme stage is Burn out or burnout syndrome (see dedicated sheet). This is a particular case of chronic stress.
4. Some figures:
Professionals in the field of PSR (Psychosocial Risks) have established that stress costs France between 2 and 3 billion euros each year (INRS and Arts et Métiers Paris Tech data - 2007). At the European level, the cost of work-related stress is estimated to be about 20 billion euros per year.
Stress is also estimated to be the cause of 50 to 60% of all lost working days (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 1999).