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Stress Definition

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Stress Definition

Deadlines, family issues, school, work, and health issues: One guarantee about life is that it is stressful! But what exactly is stress in psychological terms? Are there different types of stress? Are some types of stress actually good for you?

  • We will look at the psychological definition of stress.
  • What is acute stress?
  • What is chronic stress?
  • What is post-traumatic stress?
  • We'll look at how best to manage stress.

Psychological Definition of Stress

You probably hear people mention it all the time, but what exactly is stress?

Stress is how we experience, perceive, and respond to challenging events. Stressors are any events, people, or things that stress us.

Something is stressful based on the way that we think about it. This is called cognitive appraisal, or our cognitive perception of the stressor.

You have a major test in history class. While history is not your best subject, your best friend excels in it! The test is stressing you, but your best friend is not concerned. The way that the test is perceived makes all the difference in whether it is stressful or not.

There are so many examples of stressors because stress is highly subjective. There are some universal stressors that cause stress to pretty much everyone at any time.

  • Catastrophes: Dangerous events on a large scale like earthquakes, wars, and pandemics.

  • Significant life events: The birth of a child, graduation, or the death of a loved one. Significant life events can be happy or sad events, but they tend to be inherently stressful either way.

  • Daily life: Work, school, and being alive. Life is stressful!

Definition of Acute Stress

Shortly after a traumatic event or experience, a person may face symptoms and signs of acute stress. So how do we know if it's regular stress, or if it's acute stress disorder?

Acute stress disorder takes place directly after a traumatic event and involves intense or dysfunctional reactions that last only a few weeks.

While the symptoms of acute stress disorder are much like the other types that we will discuss (anxiety, difficulty focusing, etc.), the unique part of acute stress is the symptom of dissociation. Feeling numb or separated from yourself is a common symptom of acute stress disorder. Dissociation is also present in other disorders, but the dissociation of acute stress goes away pretty quickly.

You are walking home late from work. You are usually aware of your surroundings, but today you are very tired from a stressful day. Without warning, someone runs towards you! They push you to the ground and snatch your bag from your shoulder. They run away, taking all your important items with them. Over the next few weeks, you struggle to return to work, get through your daily routine, and manage your extreme anxiety. You keep replaying the incident in your mind and dream about it. You are generally unable to focus at any point in the day.

Definition of Chronic Stress

When stress becomes a constant in our lives, it can turn into chronic stress. Unfortunately, we can become so accustomed to feeling chronically stressed that we don't even realize it's a problem.

Chronic stress is experienced persistently for long periods of time, often lasting for months or years.

Even though there are mental aspects to stress, many stress symptoms also affect our physical health. Symptoms of chronic stress include trouble focusing, sleep problems, body aches, and reduced desire to socialize. When chronic stress goes on for a long time, it can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. Chronic stress can be caused by a very stressful job, relationship, or home environment.

Jobs with low work-life balance can be a source of chronic stress. Are you always thinking about your job? Do you bring work home with you? Difficulties in relationships and marriage can also cause chronic stress. This is especially true for divorced couples. How will you co-parent your children? How will you split your assets? What will other family members think? Health issues can certainly cause chronic stress, especially if they're chronic health issues. Living with cancer, Crohn's disease, or heart disease makes getting through the day and keeping up with responsibilities much harder and more stressful.

Definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Chronic stress is a real concern, but it is not a disorder. When chronic stress follows extremely traumatic events, an individual may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This stress disorder requires experiencing or witnessing a very serious event such as war, abuse, or assault.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a stress disorder brought on by witnessing or experiencing a serious event (natural disaster, abuse, war, etc.) and involves reliving the event mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Those who are diagnosed with PTSD often have severe symptoms of anxiety, upsetting dreams, and other emotional problems. Of course, these symptoms can create even more stress in the person's life. PTSD can intensify over time if it is not treated with the help of a professional.

Definition of Stress Management

Stress creates a physical and emotional strain on the body and the mind, and the impacts can be very negative. There are physical conditions like digestive issues, headaches, and sleep problems that can be caused by stress. Stress can also impact your mental state and contribute to depression, anxiety, or mental confusion. How can you manage stress, since it is an unfortunate part of life? What does stress management mean, and what are some possible ways to do that?

Stress management is about using techniques and strategies to deal with stressful situations, or to help you cope with and reduce stress.

For serious forms of stress such as PTSD and acute stress, professional psychological help is encouraged and most often a necessity. For everyday stress, there are many types of stress management techniques available, and some of them can become fun and meaningful hobbies!

Stress management techniques include:

  • Counseling

  • Meditation

  • Journaling

  • Exercise

  • Creative hobbies such as painting

  • Meaningful social connections

  • Maintaining work-life balance

Stress Definition - Key takeaways

  • Stress is how we experience, perceive, and respond to challenging events.
  • Stressors are the events, people, or things that stress us!
    • Common stressors include catastrophes, significant life events, and daily life.
  • Acute stressdisorder takes place directly after a traumatic event and involves an intense or dysfunctional reaction that lasts only a few weeks.
  • Chronic stress is experienced for longer periods of time, often lasting for months or years.
    • Jobs with low work-life balance, difficulties in relationships, and chronic or serious health issues can be sources of chronic stress.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is brought on by witnessing or experiencing a serious event (natural disaster, abuse, war, etc.) and involves reliving the event mentally, emotionally, and physically.
    • Those who are diagnosed with PTSD often have severe symptoms of anxiety, upsetting dreams, and other emotional problems.
  • Stress management is about using techniques and strategies to deal with stressful situations, or to help you cope with and reduce stress.

Frequently Asked Questions about Stress Definition

The definition of stress is how we experience and perceive challenging events. 

The definition of chronic stress is the constant experience of stress in our lives over time.

The definition of emotional stress is persistently feeling overwhelmed, more emotional than normal, or unable to make decisions. 

The definition of acute stress is stress experienced after a recent traumatic event involving an intense or dysfunctional reaction that lasts a few weeks.

The psychological definition of what happens when you get stressed is a combination of physical conditions, social problems, and psychological concerns like depression, anxiety, or mental confusion.

Final Stress Definition Quiz

Question

What are some of the stress management techniques listed?

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Answer

Counseling

Meditation

Journaling

Exercise

Creative hobbies such as painting

Show question

Question

_____ is how we experience and perceive challenging events.

Show answer

Answer

Stress

Show question

Question

There are different kinds of stress; What are they?


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Answer

acute, PTSD, emotional, and chronic.

Show question

Question

While the symptoms of ___ stress disorder are much like the other types that we will discuss (anxiety, unable to focus, etc.), the distinction to make is that there is a feeling of dissociation.

Show answer

Answer

acute

Show question

Question

When stress becomes a constant in our lives, it now becomes _____. 


Show answer

Answer

chronic stress.

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Question

________ manifests due to experiencing or witnessing a very serious event such as war, abuse, or assault.

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Answer

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD

Show question

Question

Most often the symptoms that occur with emotional stress are feeling overwhelmed or

"on the edge", being more emotional than normal, and trouble making decisions. When these feelings become more persistent, they can be diagnosed as _____.

Show answer

Answer

emotional stress.

Show question

Question

What is stress management?


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Answer

Stress management is using techniques and strategies to deal with stressful situations or to help with being stressed.

Show question

Question

What are some listed health concerns that could cause chronic stress?

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Answer

Cancer, Chron's disease, and heart disease.

Show question

Question

A soldier comes home after his tour in Iraq. He is showing symptoms of anxiety, emotional disturbances, and violent dreams. What might a therapist say he is suffering from?

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Answer

PTSD

Show question

Question

You were recently a victim of a robbery. You are always anxious, unable to focus on your daily routines and job, and also dissociating during the day and thinking about the incident. A therapist may say that you are showing symptoms of what?


Show answer

Answer

Acute stress

Show question

Question

An example of chronic stress is:


Show answer

Answer

Going through a divorce 

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Question

Fill in the blank: _________ are any events, people, or things that stress us.  

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Answer

Stressors 

Show question

Question

True or False: Feeling numb or separated from yourself is a common symptom of acute stress disorder.  

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Answer

True 

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Question

True or False: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a stress disorder brought on by witnessing or experiencing a serious event (natural disaster, abuse, war, etc.) and involves reliving the event mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

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