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01 Mar, 2009

What Is Stress?

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Executive Coaching Articles

Stress Coaching Blog

Stress means so many different things to different people that it has been described as the most imprecisely defined word in the dictionary. There are literally hundreds of definitions of stress to be found within research and professional literature.

Professor Terry Looker and Dr. Olga Gregson of Streetwise wrote one definition, which clearly shows the individual nature of stress: ‘Stress is a state that we experience when there is a mismatch between perceived demands and perceived ability to cope. It is the balance between how we view demands and how we think we can cope with those demands that determines whether we should feel no stress, distressed, or eustressed’.

The Two Sides of Stress

1. Distress
For many, stress is described as an unpleasant experience and is viewed in a negative light e.g. being in situations that they feel unable to handle or control. When people are asked to define what they mean by the term ‘stress’, the most common replies include:

  • Too much work and too little time to do it
  • A feeling of anxiety
  • Being unable to cope
  • Too much pressure
  • Feeling tired and irritable
  • Emotional pressure
  • What they are describing is distress – the negative side of stress.

2. Eustress
Eustress (from the Greek eu, meaning ‘good’, as in euphoria) is a term coined by Selye (1956) and refers to stress that is good or produces a positive outcome.

Some people describe stress as an exciting and stimulating experience, being in situations where they feel capable of coping with the demands they face, however challenging and difficult they may appear to others.

Completing a challenging work assignment involves stress; it requires adaptive responses that make demands on an individual, but this kind of stress is actually eustress. The person experiences positive stimulation and intrinsic satisfaction. Eustress is the positive side to stress.

In their book, Controlling Work Stress: Effective Human Resource and Management Strategies (Jossey Bass Publishers, 1987), Michael Matterson and John Ivancevich wrote: ‘Stress has a positive role to play in human happiness and organisational effectiveness. That fact has a number of important implications for organisational effectiveness: to paraphrase a well-known prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, the objective of an organisation should be to minimise the opportunities for distress that can be minimised, maximise the opportunities for eustress that be maximised, and develop sufficient understanding and awareness of both stress and the people who make up the organisation to know the difference.’

(NOTE: The UK Health and Safety Executive define work-related stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them.’ In fact, employers now have duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities and under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to take measures to control that risk.)

2 Responses to "What Is Stress?"

1 | Jacqueline Pigdon

December 1st, 2009 at 12:16 pm


Fabulous article on stress!

Particularly I quote “‘Stress is a state that we experience when there is a mismatch between perceived demands and perceived ability to cope.”

As a coach I help people take control of the demands on them understanding how so often they are in total control of bringing them onto themselves due to fears, expectations and their perception. I also help people see that they can not only cope but are often more than capable of being a high achiever but with more balance by taking away the things in life that are only getting in their way of the life they actually want to be living.

If you need help with this then I would love to help you! Simply complete our complimentary coaching session request form while positions are still available here:

Jacqueline Pigdon
Existentialist Spiritual Coach


December 1st, 2009 at 10:11 pm


‘Happy stress’…has anyone suffered from happy stress? I have: some years ago I signed up for a special driving course, involving tutored high speed laps of a race track in a modified saloon car. My tutor, a professional racing driver assessed my driving. My ‘happy stress’ began when I was given the all clear to drive a race prepared single seater car for about 8 laps. What an experience, after a couple of laps I began to calm down, but the stress remained. Noticeable by the very dry mouth & fast heart rate. But, was I happy…you bet. Good stress, can’t beat it. By the way, since qualifying in EFT, I use the techniques I’ve learned from coaching together with EFT & find the synergic effect works really well.
You should try it!

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