Stress is born
Considered the father of stress (Rosch, 1998) for coining the term in the 1940s, Hans Selye (1956) provided the foundation for most current definitions of stress by proposing that stress is the emotional and physical response to external stimuli, called stressors. Physiologically, stress is an automatic response to perceived threats that pumps adrenaline and cortisol into muscles, primes memory functions of the brain, and tunes the senses so the system can face or flee danger (Norden, 2007; Hunt & Ellis, 2004).
In short, stress mechanism prepares the body and mind for extraordinary action (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2008). This fight-or-flight response is hard-wired into the primitive structures of the brain stem (Hunt & Ellis, 2004; Norden, 2007) and is vital for ensuring survival, increasing performance (Yerkes & Dodson, 2007), and catalyzing development (Bertalanffy, 1972).
Selye (1956) proposed a three-stage general adaptation syndrome through which people cope: initial alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. In the initial alarm stage, the body mobilizes all physiological resources to face a threat. In the resistance stage, the body recognizes that not all resources may be necessary, so mobilizes only the resources necessary for dealing with the threat. In the exhaustion stage, the body recognizes that allocated resources are depleted, so attempts another mobilization. If the second effort to mobilize fails, the organism might suffer a disease of adaptation; the inability to adapt can cause damage.