Definition of stress: what is stress?

Coming up with a definition of stress means understanding the difference between pressure and stress.

Definition of stress: pressure vs. stress

Pressure is the stimulation and challenge you need to achieve job satisfaction and self-esteem.

Stress is a reaction to continued excessive pressure or responsibility when you feel inadequate or unable to cope.

The Fight or flight response

Ever since prehistoric times, the “stress response” has been a mechanism that your body has used to help it cope with danger. As soon as you’re aware that something is threatening you, your brain sends messages to your nervous system to either get ready to stand and fight, or run away:

  • Your heart rate and breathing go into overdrive, and you may start to sweat.
  • Hormones including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol – a hormone that helps your body adapt to stress – are pumped into your bloodstream.
  • Glucose and fatty acid levels are also increased to provide energy for your muscles to deal with the perceived threat.

All these reactions take place automatically and very quickly at the first signs of danger.

This response, also known as “fight or flight”, has been vital to our survival. Unfortunately, whereas in Stone Age times we would usually have time to recover from the life or death encounters that triggered the response, in the modern world we’re confronted with a continuous stream of “stressors” that our bodies perceive as threats, and react to accordingly.

A definition of stress in the 21st century

Today, these threats could include financial pressures, fear of redundancy, overwork, email stress, deadline pressures or an important business presentation.

The constant, ongoing pressure resulting from these stressors is different to the more immediate dangers that our stress response was designed to cope with. And it’s at the point at which our bodies cannot recover from these pressures that we can begin to experience stress.

The effect of stress

For some of us, this stress response is a minor annoyance and simply a part of everyday life. For many of us, however, stress is far more serious. Stress has been linked to a wide variety of illnesses and can become debilitating if left untreated.

The last 20 years have seen an upsurge of interest in stress and how best to treat it. We at Stressbusting have compiled information on 32 of the most popular treatments for stress. Which treatment is most appropriate for you will depend on your specific symptomsyour personality and your  stress level.


About Carole Spiers

Carole Spiers is an international broadcaster and workplace stress guru. She is the founder of the Carole Spiers Group, an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy. Carole has appeared as an expert witness before the UK courts, and was chair of the International Stress Management Association. She is the author of the industry's bible, 'Managing Stress in the Workplace'.

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