Definition of stress
I think most people would have a fair idea
of what stress is. Things like :
- meeting that overly ambitious deadline that your boss
has set you at work.
- finding the next repayment for your mortgage after the
interest rates went up again.
- meeting a blind date.
- breaking down in rush hour traffic.
Simply put, it's something that you can't control that
forces you to act in a certain way. For a more accurate and
slightly formal way, it is any state that causes people to lose
their equilibrium be it mentally, physically or
From this definition it is easy to see that many things will
cause an individual stress and that most of us will be under
stress most of our waking hours. However there is a distinction
between good stress and bad stress.
The examples above are all about bad stress. Prolonged bad
stress can have a significant impact on a persons physical and
mental health and relationships with other people.
A definition of bad stress centers around the fact that this
stress is out of our control. Bad stress is stress that you do
not want, or would not choose, and cannot walk away from. Hence
meeting the bosses deadline is stressful in a bad way because
you didn't set the deadline and can't walk away from it unless
you want to look for another job (which is another stressful
Conversely, good stress is about controlled stimulation. The
person has chosen to take on this form of stress and has a plan
of action to reduce the stress. If there is too much stress the
individual can choose to stop experiencing the stress.
A perfect example of this might be playing a squash game.
The desired outcome of the individual is to get fitter and
perhaps enjoy socializing with their opponent. During the game
the individual's body will be put under enormous physical
stress. The heart will have to work harder, the individual
muscles within the legs and arms will be tested and the brain
will be forced to co-ordinate all these activities. If all
these factors become too much for the individual, he/she can
Another example might be the desire a baby has to start
walking and talking. The baby will soon become aware that
walking and talking can greatly improve his/her experience of
the world, be it chasing the cat or asking for food. However
these abilities are hard to master and take considerable effort
and time before the baby can become proficient. During this
time the baby has been experiencing stress on a physical and
emotional level. This stress is good for the baby because
he/she has chosen to undertake this stress and he/she has a
plan of action to reduce the stress.
The key to understanding stress is to work out good and bad
stress. The major differences between good and bad stress are
- Your ability to choose – stimulation is good stress,
you have chosen the stress and will take action. Bad stress
has chosen you.
- Degree of control - understanding why you are
under stress. Good stress is about having a goal or setting
a challenge. Bad stress has no point to you or your
- Ability to anticipate consequences -
adapting and adjusting to new stress is easier when you
know the aims and outcomes that are desired of the
Managing stress is about working out what is good and bad
stress. It is about developing strategies for turning bad
stress into good stress. As not all bad stress can be turned
into good stress it ia also about developing techniques for
alleviating bad stress. For more information on dealing with
stress see the managing stress.