Definition of Stress

Here we provide a definition of stress.

Everybody knows what it feels like to be under stress:

  • a rapidly beating heart
  • butterflies in the stomach
  • excess muscle tension
  • negative or rushed thoughts
  • rapid breathing.

These are typical signs of stress.

But if you ask "What is an adequate stress definition?" to the average guy in the street...their response will be less certain.


Well....it's the same with the researchers in the area.

Some researchers see stress as a series of life events while others view it as the physiological stress response.

But we all know of people who seem to spiral out of control following a stressful event while, for others, that same stressful event is like water off a duck's back.

This means that an adequate definition of stress needs to involve perception and how we may view the stressor.

A contemporary definition of stress

If I borrow the definition of stress that is used in science, then stress is the result of external pressure that is placed on an object.

If too much force is applied then the object eventually bends and/or breaks.

A contemporary definition of stress expands upon this idea of stress.

The most common stress definition is that proposed by Richard Lazarus.

He states that stress is experienced when a person perceives that the “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize."

Stress is in the eye of the beholder

For example, suppose Jack and Mary are fired from their jobs.

Jack views this as a disaster and wonders how he will be able to feed his family and pay the rent.

At the same time, Mary sees this as an opportunity to get a better job, spend some quality time with friends and family, and learn a new skill.

Being sacked from work was perceived as more stressful and was more likely to elicit a fight or flight response for Jack compared to Mary.

If the stressor is viewed in a way that exceeds the perceived personal resources of the individual then stress is experienced.

Irrespective of the causes of stress what is important is the way that the stressor is viewed!

definition of stress

A contemporary approach to the reduction of the effects of stress on your mind and body highlights the importance of:

  • positive thinking
  • relaxation
  • other stress management techniques.


Positive Thinking and Stress Relief

Based on this definition of stress, how you view the stressor influences your stress reaction. Jump directly to:

Positive Mental Attitude: How a positive mental attitude can help you to cope with stress.

Positive Thinking: Positive thinking strategies to build stress resilience.

Cognitive Therapy: Cognitive therapy is used as a stress management tool.

Laughter Therapy: Laughter helps you to reframe your problems and release endorphins.


Stress definition and the stress response

stress response

Based on the definition of stress, if perceived demands of the situation exceed the perceived resources of the individual then stress will occur.

The first phase of stress is the fight or flight response.

Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream to enable the body to fight or flee from the stressor.

The effects of cortisol and stress can have a profound effect on the body.

The release of stress hormones in the body increases muscle tension, heart rate and result in a number of other symptoms of stress.

This stress response has served an adaptive function throughout evolution and may be a suitable response to acute stress.

But it is hard to see how this stress response is beneficial for much of today's causes of stress such as prolonged work stress, relationship stress, or persistent financial stress.

In these cases, a calm, problem-solving approach is more likely preferable to 'fight' or 'flee.'

This chronic stress can result in your body being in a constant state of alert.

While you may feel that you are adapting to higher and higher stress levels you may actually be living with an unhealthy amount of stress.

Too much stress for too long can lead to burnout, poorer stress health, and eventual death.

There are a number of physical and emotional effects of stress. Some of these include:


Physical effects of stress

Emotional effects of stress

  • Increased worry or anxiety
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Increased incidence of depression
  • Increased irritability or moodiness
  • Increased frustration or anger

Search here for tips for reducing stress

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Meditation techniques to promote relaxation and reduce stress


More stress management articles

General Adaptation Sydrome: GAS Explains the Link Between Stress and Health

Types of Stress: Not All Stress is Bad for You




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