Crisis Intervention: Theory and Methodology

By Donna C. Aguilera | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Life Cycle
Stressors

9 Dimidium facti que caepit. He who has begun has the work half done.

An overview of the literature relating to life-cycle stressors and coping requires a brief restatement of some definitions of the more pertinent concepts. Life cycles refer to the various phases of human life from the perinatal period through approaching death. Stress stimuli (stressors) are threat or loss conditions— circumstances or situations that produce various degrees of bodily reactions that indicate that an individual is experiencing stress or a state of stress. Stress, then, is a set of nonspecific physiological and psychological responses of the body to any demands made on it, whether these responses are pleasant or unpleasant experiences. As people proceed through Selye's general adaptation syndrome, they experience (1) an alarm reaction that involves marshaling the body resources, (2) a stage of resistance during which the bodily resistance to the stress response rises above normal, and (3) a stage of exhaustion during which the adaptation response energy is used up or dissipated. Persons have adapted positively to the stressor situation when their bodily alterations have ensured their safety or survival and have increased their functioning and enjoyment within their environment. They have maladapted when the bodily responses or alterations have resulted in internal disharmony (illness) or disharmony between them and their environment.

All people are exposed to a variety of stressors virtually all the time throughout the course of their life spans. Both pleasant and unpleasant stimuli may produce stress responses, and individual perceptions of and psychophysiological reactions to these stimuli may vary quite widely. The problem seems to lie not so much in the fact that people are exposed continually to life stressors; more accurately, the problem is in the degree and duration of these stressor situations and in the variable range of personal responses and capacities to withstand and cope with such stimuli. Although most people have the capacity to sustain relatively high degrees of stress for short periods of time, a prolonged stress response or an overly strong stimulus can be

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