Handling Stress and Anxiety: The Stages of Stress

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


Rachel’s friends agreed that she was strong~minded and successful. Unfortunately, her success was at the expense of her physical health because she did not pay attention to various signs that she was overtaxing herself.


The first person to apply the term stress to physiological processes was the endocrinologist Dr. Hans Selye, who spent years studying the effects of stress on animals. Based on his work, Selye developed a three~stage model of stress called the “General Adaptation Syndrome” that is believed to describe the phases an organism goes through when faced with chronic or inescapable stress.

According to Selye, the first stage of the stress response is an “alarm reaction” that mobilizes the animal to take immediate and vigorous action to either escape from the stressor or do battle with it. This is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” reaction and involves a very rapid and complex cascade of biochemical events that results in several stress hormones being pumped into the blood stream.

The next phase is called the “resistance stage.” This occurs when the initial alarm reaction proves insufficient in dealing with the stress. During this stage, the body tries mightily to resist the onslaught of the stress by maintaining activity at a specific metabolic pathway that helps the organism cope by keeping the levels of certain circulating hormones high.

If the stress continues, the animal enters the final phase of the stress response, the “exhaustion stage.” This occurs when the organism figuratively and somewhat literally runs out of gas. At this stage, it has depleted its physical, emotional, intellectual, and chemical reservoirs of energy and is just overwhelmed by the avalanche of unrelenting stress. During this exhaustion stage, the animal is most likely to suffer a variety of serious health consequences associated with chronic stress.

The upshot of this rather academic overview is simple:

• Learn to manage stress before it damages your health and happiness.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on friendlysuggestions.com.

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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