A Primer on Stress Management

Defining Stress

by Jennifer Gray-Stanley

Though we all encounter many types of stress in our daily life, we must remember that ultimately, we have control over how it affects us. Through awareness and education, negative stressors can be managed, and positive stressors can be utilized as an impetus for change and added creativity in your life. As managing stress in your life requires proactive and consistent behavioral change, this article addresses how to adopt such changes on a gradual basis.

Defining Stress

A 'stressor' consists of anything that causes stress, including physical, emotional, and environmental problems and barriers. These include, but are not limited to factors such as disability, illness, fear, worry, pollution, and noise (Powell & George-Warren, 1994; Seaward, 2006). Hans Seyle, stress researcher, defined stress as 'the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made on it(1973).' This refers to how I react to any demand that affects my system from a physical, mental, and/or emotional perspective. Stress can be defined in both positive (good stress) eustress) and negative (bad stress) distress) forms. Eustress or positive stress is the optimal amount of stress which can provide us with the energy to perform a task well, such as public speaking, engaging in competition, or completing a job interview. Exercise and physical activity can also be considered a positive stressor, although overtraining can lead to injury. Additional variations of defining stress include hyperstress, an excess of stress, or hypostress, insufficient stress. Balance should be sought among all types of stress (Manning et al., 1999). Thus, particularly for managing negative stressors, successful stress management helps us to develop an awareness of stress in our lives, and how we respond to and manage these stressors.

Richard Lazarus further developed these definitions by stating that stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that 'demands exceed the personal and social resources that the individual is able to mobilize' (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Certainly, what is stressful one day may not be stressful the next. And each person perceives stress differently than does the next.

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