What is Stress? Definition of Stress.

If you are like most people, you are familiar with stress, you've experienced it, but you might have a hard time coming up with a definition of stress.

You might say that it is:

  • too much to do
  • pressure
  • being overwhelmed
  • out of control
  • wanting to run away from it all

Yes, that's how too much stress makes us feel. But what is stress? And is there a definition of stress?

Stress is hard to define; even experts disagree on a definition of stress. Several definitions exist.

The 3 most commonly used definitions of stress are:

  • The body's nonspecific response to a demand placed on it. Hans Selye, the father of stress research.

  • The arousal of mind and body in response to demands made on them. Stress expert Dr. Walt Schafe.

  • A particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well being. Stress expert Dr. Richard Lazarus.

What do all these definitions mean? Essentially, they mean that stress is ever present and it affects our body and mind. It means that we feel stress when too many demands are placed on us and we believe that we do not have adequate coping skills and resources to get through. It also means that what is stressful for one person may be a welcomed challenge for someone else.

For more on definition of stress, watch the following video:

 

Types of Stress

The two main types of stress are: acute and chronic.

Acute (in-the-moment) stress is rapid and brief. Imagine that you are walking in the woods. Suddenly, there is a bear walking right towards you. In a matter of seconds your body goes through a series of physiological changes and gets ready for action.

You have a surge of energy to fight or flight. All of a sudden, the bear changes his direction and walks away from you. You run fast into safety. You discharged the excess energy and completed the cycle of stress response. In a short while your body returns to homeostasis.

Chronic stress is slow and constant. This type of stress is very common in our civilized society. Chronic stress is when your nervous system is constantly on alert, as if danger were ever present.

Your body never gets a chance to return to homeostasis and recuperate. Chronic stress can come from a variety of sources. For example, your environment, or your thoughts, or lifestyle habits.

Eustress - Good Stress?

Not all stress is bad and harmful to us. Experts say that there are 3 types of stress:

  • Neustress - this is neutral stress, when the arousal is neither harmful nor helpful.

  • Eustress - the good stress, just the right amount of stress to stimulate us, to make us feel alive, interested and engaged in life. Eustress fuels success and achievement. Some examples of eustress are: meeting a challenge, falling in love, and winning a competition.

  • Distress - this is the stress that is harmful to our bodies and minds. It is too much or too little stress (boredom, lack of meaning in life).

Summary

  1. Stress is what we feel when we think we don't have enough resources to cope with events in our lives.
  2. Stress can be acute or chronic, neutral, positive, or harmful.
  3. Certain amount of stress - eustress - in our lives is necessary.

To understand the definition of stress better, it is useful to learn about causes of stress. Knowing what causes stress in your life will give you more control in your life. Learn more about causes of stress.

Related articles:

Effects of Stress on the Brain
Long Term Effects of Stress
Symptoms of Stress

 

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