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The Psychology Of Stress During Time Of Crisis

Stress refer to a bodily response to an external threat or demand. It feels like an emotional and physical tension. There are two types of stress. Eustress is good or positive stress and distress is the bad or negative stress. Eustress is an optimal amount of stress that is required for the daily functioning of human beings. For example, s student feels eustress before giving a presentation in front of the class. Eustress helps the student in getting prepared for the presentation and the student ends up performing really well. On the other hand, distress is an unhealthy amount of stress that deteriorates the normal functioning of human beings. For example, if a person feels an overwhelming amount of stress before taking a test, he forgets everything during the test and ends up getting failed.

There can be many causes of bad stress. These can include a stressful job, high workload, over-time work, poor management, poor decision making, insecurity, discrimination, loss of loved one, divorce, chronic illness, injury, psychopathology or a natural disaster. Currently, the world is going through the worst pandemic. A new virus that started from Wuhan, a city of China, has started affecting people across the globe.  People all over the world are worried that the virus (Covid-19, a member of Coronavirus family) will reach their country sooner or later. The current pandemic is becoming a serious cause of stress these days. The things are getting worse due to the quarantine being recommended and practiced in different regions of the world. Covid-19 should be taken seriously but rumors are creating a very dangerous image of the current situation of the world. Social media is becoming the major cause of spreading these rumors. People are busy in making money on the cost of mishandling this major issue.

Stress can have negative effects on our body which can deteriorate our mental and physical well-being in general. A perception of stress initiates and automatic physiological response called fight or flight response. This response is considered necessary for the survival of living beings as it saves them from external threats. For example, if a person encounters a lion in a forest, his fight or flight response will help him in running away and saving himself from the threat. However, any abnormality in its activation can cause people to feel fear or stress despite the extremely normal circumstances. It can take a form of continuous anxiety as well. This is what happens with many people in the current situation. The rumors and artificially magnified stress has started inducing anxiety in people. Despite thinking with a rational and mind and taking precautions, people are becoming more and more anxious.

A stressful event like the current pandemic can result in the activation of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in the body. These hormones are basically responsible for the fight or flight response because these hormones increase heartbeat, blood circulation, and fat/sugar mobilization. These hormones also work on focusing attention to track danger and on preparing muscles for the movement. These physiological responses are intended to facilitate individuals in dealing with short-term threats and short term threatening situations. These situations include traffic jams, marital discord, etc. It takes time for a body to get back to its normal body functioning after a stress response. This is the reason that prolonged or repeated exposure to stress can be life-threatening. It can have serious psychological and physiological consequences. A current pandemic is also a form of prolonged exposure to stress. The rumors and misinformation are making the situation even worse. This is putting people at a greater risk of developing serious psychological disorders like anxiety disorder (Coyne, & Downey, 1991) and serious physiological diseases like cardiovascular disorder, hypertension, diabetes and cancer (Karasek, Russell & Theorell, 1982).

General adaption Syndrome is a theory that explains how individuals respond to stress. According to this theory, the body goes through three different and sequential stages in stress. These stages are named as alarm stage, resistance stage and exhaustion stage. During the alarm stage, the body goes through a fight or flight response as mentioned previously. It includes the release of stress hormones and bodily responses preparing the body for fight or flight. The resistance stage is the body’s attempt to repair itself. If a threatening situation vanishes, then the body becomes successful in repairing itself. On the other hand, extended periods of stress can lead the body to continue remaining in high alert leading it to adapt to live with the stress which can be dangerous. Poor concentration, irritation, and frustration are some signs of resistance stage. The prolonged exposure to stress can lead individuals to exhaustion stage where people are left with no strength to fight with the stress. The symptoms include fatigue, psychological health problems, etc. (Selye, 1950). This is what can happen to human beings if stress in the current pandemic does not get managed.

It is very important to manage stress. The strategies to manage stress can take a psychological form or a physical form. Some psychological strategies include meditation practices. A physical form includes exercise. Yoga is a strategy that involves both psychological and physiological practices. It has also been found that leaning on a loved one can also alleviate stress to a greater level. However, if the stress takes a serious for, it becomes important to seek professional help as soon as possible. As described earlier, the perception of threat basically induces a stress response. According to research, changing perception can result in a significant decrease in stress (Schafer, 1996). If a stimulus previously perceived as extremely threatening becomes insignificant then the situation will become no longer stressful in the first place resulting in no stress response. Currently, the misinformation and rumors are forcing people to perceive Covid-19 many times more threating as compared to its actual intensity. People can reduce their stress by obtaining correct information from authentic sources. The actual statistics will help people to think realistically. The improved perception will result in significant alleviation of stress.


According to psychological research, there are many coping skills that individuals can utilize to counteract the harmful consequences of stress. Seeking support from a loved one is a very good coping strategy. It simply requires to share concerns with a sensible loved one who can provide a piece of sensible advice to manage stress. Humor is another coping strategy that can help in building bonds with people. Avoiding the stressful stimulus is another coping strategy but it is a negative one because have serious consequences. The two major categories of coping strategies are problem-focused coping strategies and emotion-focused coping strategies. Problem-focused coping strategies work on addressing the cause of the stress while emotion-focused coping strategies work on feelings of stress. Both types have strengths and limitations. An optimal combination of both types of coping strategies can work best. The current pandemic requires the optimal use of both strategies.





Coyne, J. C., & Downey, G. (1991). Social factors and psychopathology: Stress, social support, and coping processes. Annual review of psychology42(1), 401-425.

Karasek, R. A., Russell, R. S., & Theorell, T. (1982). Physiology of stress and regeneration in job related cardiovascular illness. Journal of Human Stress8(1), 29-42.

Schafer, W. (1996). Stress management for wellness. Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Selye, H. (1950). Stress and the general adaptation syndrome. British medical journal1(4667), 1383.

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