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Stress Management for Health Course

What is Stress

"Stress is a reaction people have when excessive pressure or demands are placed upon them, and arises when an individual believes they are unable to cope."

(The Health and Safety Executive) 

There are many definitions of the word stress, but it is often used loosely to mean distress.  In order to help us understand the concept of stress and to remove any ambiguity and misunderstandings, it is important to clarify what we actually mean by the term stress.  The Health and Safety Executive quote as outlined above is one good definition.

Stress is a somewhat difficult concept to define largely because it is such a unique, individual and subjective experience.  What one person may regard as stressful another person may not.  The word stress has become an umbrella term, overused and misunderstood, meaning different things to different people.  It is used at one extreme to describe minor events like being caught up in a traffic jam or having an argument, right up to the other extreme where some people use it, incorrectly, to describe clinical depression (which is not stress).  This is partly the cause of some of the confusion that surrounds the subject of stress.  To complicate the matter further some people use the term stress to describe the causes of their stress and others use the term to describe their physiological, psychological and behavioural reactions in response to the external event.

Stress versus Pressure

"Research has shown that there is a physiological difference between stress and pressure.  A person experiencing stress has higher levels of the various hormones in their blood stream than a person who is merely challenged." (Professor Cary Cooper, PhD)

It used to be thought that there were two types of stress Eustress (good stress) and Distress (bad stress) and that a certain amount of good stress was required to stimulate and challenge us.  However recent research has indicated that this view of good/bad stress is incorrect and that all stress is bad.  It is correct however to say that we do need a certain amount of stimulus to make life interesting and to be at our most efficient, but this stimulation should be called Pressure which is different from stress.  However if pressure is excessive for too long it can develop into stress.  The point at which pressure develops into stress can be different in different people.  Research by Yerkes and Dodson, who developed the Human Performance Curve, indicates that a small amount of pressure improves our performance, but excess pressure reduces our performance and efficiency.

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