What is stress?
Stress is a term that is all too often used incorrectly, which is also understood differently by many people regarding its precise meaning and extent. The term mainly refers to symptoms that occur in stressful situations, and that are part of an adaption process to changing environmental conditions. That’s the theory – but what is the true definition of stress?
In principle, the term “stress” comes from the English language realm, and can be translated as “pressure” or “tension”. There are also analogies to the Latin word “stringere”, which means “tensing”. Stress leads to psychological and physical reactions of the body, which are caused by various external stimuli. These external stimuli are also called “stressors”. People who are “under stress” behave differently as they would under normal situations, in order to adapt to changing requirements – stress is also a physical and mental burden for people, which means that stress can become pathological, i.e. it can lead to different health disorders.
People suffering from stress feel uncomfortable or insecure. A distinction must be made between stress and excessive workload. In the field of occupational sciences there is a stress and workload concept, in which correlations are described which distinguish between work-related activities and their effects on the employee.
But how do we define stress now? Stress is always perceived subjectively and intensively. Stress can occur both in private life and at work. And even “too much” positive input can lead to an emotional overload, which means that it doesn’t necessarily always have to be “something unpleasant” that leads to stress. However, a survey by the Techniker Krankenkasse shows that work is most often perceived as a stress factor. This is followed by the circumstance of making certain demands on oneself, which means demonstrating expectations that lead to a personal stress situation if certain goals are not achieved.
Step-by-step: The attempt to accurately define stress
Initially, it should be determined: Stress is not inherently negative. Many studies have indicated that stress has been of great importance throughout the course of evolution in order to provide humans with the mental abilities to deal with the most diverse situations and hazard constellations. However, stress becomes a problem if it is permanent and constant, and is perceived as too much exertion, which in extreme cases can lead to a mental or physical illness.
Various stressors, i.e. stress factors, contribute to the development of stress. These are internal and external stimuli that cause a reaction or adaptation. Whether these stress factors are now received negatively or positively depends strongly on the stress tolerance of the individual, and also on the ability to cope with it. Everyone probably knows people who can only function properly under stress, because they are only challenged and can actively participate in that state. On the other hand, there are many people who need more structure in their everyday life and who find it difficult to function and perform their work under tension, stress or other burdens.