‘It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it’.
– Hans Selye
Stress. A common word used by almost everyone especially in today’s fast-paced, urban lifestyle. Many people experience stress without actually knowing what it means or how and when it might occur. So then, what exactly is Stress?
Simply put, stress is our reaction to a particular situation or event (Selye). For example: the pressure to finish three large projects by the end of the day.
Stress is often categorized into two parts –
- Eustress (the good or positive stress, for example- starting a new business or completing a challenging task)
- Distress (the bad or negative stress, for example- divorce or death of a loved one)
Although stress is almost always used in a negative light by people, not all stress can be considered bad or harmful for us. In fact, Hans Selye (1956) the father of stress emphasizes that it is a necessary part of our lives and that not all the consequences of stress can be considered negative. In other words, stress is sometimes perceived to be a motivating factor to achieve high levels of performance.
Research has shown that moderate levels of stress have beneficial effects for people. Research has also stated that different tasks require different arousal levels for optimum performance. Performance increases with physiological or mental arousal (stress) but only up to a point. After that point, performance tends to decrease as stress levels increase due to high levels of anxiety. This can be understood with the help of the diagram below which is known as ‘The Stress Curve.’
Moderate levels of stress enhance arousal levels in a person, motivating them and making them alert to finish the task at hand.
For instance, it might help a student to finish their assignments before a deadline. It might even help an athlete to plan his strategy to score a goal before the 90-minute mark due to the arousal and adrenaline rush.
On the other hand, due to the same reason, low levels of stress lead to lower performance levels. Extreme high levels of stress are also not good as it may lead to burnout which is a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion (Ruotsalainen et al., 2015).
In conclusion, stress is an essential part of our everyday life in moderation, though it is up to people to decide how they may use it in the right way, as some may perceive it as a motivating factor or some may perceive it otherwise.
- Selye H. The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company; 1956.
- Selye H. Stress of My Life:A Scientist’s Memoirs. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company; 1979
- Good Stress, Bad Stress and Oxidative Stress: Insights from Anticipatory Cortisol Reactivity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4028159/.
- Ruotsalainen, J. H., Verbeek, J. H., Mariné, A., and Serra, C. (2015). Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers. Cochr Library 4:CD002892. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002892.pub5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6718215/