What Is Stress?

While we have all suffered from stress to varying degrees, defining what constitutes ‘stress’ is not easy task. Here is a guide to help you understand the nightmare that is ‘stress’.

 
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Psychologists, medical practitioners and others all seem to have differing views of what stress is. This largely comes from the fact that stress includes many different physical and psychological effects, and can be a result of pressure from different sources — such as the workplace or family life.

A condition or feeling experienced when a person believes they don’t have the capacity to cope with the demands being placed upon them in a certain situation.

One of the most commonly accepted definitions of ‘stress’ is that it is a condition or feeling experienced when a person believes they don’t have the capacity to cope with the demands being placed upon them in a certain situation. But stress can be defined in other ways — and the causes and consequences of stress can be complex.

Stress and perception

If a person feels that they have the time, experience and resources to manage a situation, then it’s unlikely that they will become overly stressed. People generally only feel great stress when they think they can’t handle the demands being put upon them. Stress is therefore usually viewed as a negative experience.

But stress is not always an inevitable consequence of an event, as it depends a lot on a person’s perceptions of a situation and their ability to cope with it. Some people are natural worriers and are prone to being badly affected by problems,  therefore likely to become stressed.

The effects of stress

Although stress is usually viewed as a negative experience, it can actually create both positive and negative feelings. When stress has a negative impact it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger and depression — which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, an upset stomach, sleeping problems, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

However, as a positive influence, stress can help stir us into action. Some people revel in stress and need it to get through a situation, while others just enjoy the entire ‘rush’ it provides. Think of the term ‘adrenalin junkie’ and you’ll realise that some people positively welcome the adrenalin ‘rush’ provided by a dangerous or challenging situation.

Fight-or-flight

One of the obvious indications of stress is the adrenaline rush that your body receives when exposed to a threat or perceived threat. This adrenaline rush is often referred to as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

One of the obvious indications of stress is the adrenaline rush that your body receives when exposed to a threat or perceived threat.

Adrenaline released into the body increases your heart rate and blood pressure, thereby enabling more oxygen and blood sugar to be sent to important muscles that you will need to use in order to get out of a dangerous situation. Adrenaline helps to focus our attention on a threat to the exclusion of everything else.

Adrenaline in your everyday life

Adrenalien is not only triggered by life-threatening danger; it can also occur at other times. It can be a response to any situation that is quite challenging — so it can be a normal part of everyday life. Stress created in these situations will be less intense than the stress which is created when you’re confronted by an obviously dangerous situation.

In our everyday life, many of our stressors are subtle and are not an obvious threat to our survival. Most of our everyday stress comes from things such as work overload, handling difficult tasks, family conflict and so on. These stressors reduce our performance by taking up mental effort, which if we have to sustain it for a long time, might result in exhaustion and burnout.

So how much stress is good?

We have already pointed out that stress need not always be viewed as negative. A certain amount of stress can add a degree of excitement to life and most of us thrive under small amounts of it.

Insufficient stress can actually act as a depressant and may leave us feeling bored or dejected – for example, a job without deadlines and challenges would bore us very quickly, whilst excessive stress can put the mind and body under considerable strain to the detriment of our health.

Since the levels of stress that individuals are able to cope with varies, there is no measurable level of what is ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ stress. What is a stressful situation to one person may be one which another person actually thrives on.

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