State Health Improvement Process (SHIP)
What Is Stress?
We’re all familiar with the feeling of being overwhelmed or struggling to maintain balance and perform adequately in the face of too many demands, responsibilities or uncertainties. When we feel like this, we say we are “stressed”—understanding intuitively that the accompanying worry, disturbed sleep and inability to relax can threaten our health and well-being. For some of us, the stress we experience is temporary—for example, when we feel concerned about a deadline at work. For others, stress may be related to a longer-term hardship, such as caring for a seriously ill family member. These types of stress affect us differently, however, than the stress people experience when they face multiple, everyday challenges that exceed their capacities to cope.
Stress refers primarily to the experiences people have when they face challenging events or conditions that they feel exceed their resources for coping.
Stressor or hardship refers to the challenging events or conditions, including not only dramatic short-term threats or challenges, but also the kinds of ongoing, everyday hassles that strain a person’s ability to cope.
The term stress response refers to the set of behavioral and physiologic processes provoked by a stressor.
“Good” and “bad” stress: Meeting and overcoming a challenge may actually have positive health effects by leading to growth, adaptation and learning that promote a person’s resilience and capacity for coping with future hardships. In contrast, the health-damaging effects of stress are more likely to occur when a person experiences repeated or ongoing exposure to stressors in aspects of everyday life over which he or she has limited control.