While most people think of stress being something weshould avoid, psychologists frequently talk about stress being beneficial.
Stress can be good or bad for us. It is often a matterhow we view ourselves in terms both of our mental and physical health. Still confused? Let's take an example:
Imagine two people, one a young runner who will becompeting in his first Olympic final. The other is a senior at college andabout to take the final engineering exam. While the runner has spent his entire life training for theOlympics, the college student has barely studied.
Both will experience the same physiological effects,namely rapid breathing, heartbeat, increased metabolism, active sweat glands,and similar effects in purely physiological terms. Psychologically, there aresimilarities as well - heightened awareness of feelings and vivid images,increased concentration on the moment and thoughts about the future fewminutes.
There are some key differences in psychological terms. The runner is excited,ready for the challenge, and eager to prove his abilities and win the race. The college student, on the other hand, has doubts and feelsmore than a little fear.
Both young men feel stressed and under stress. The differences betweenthe two are striking. The runner sees hissituation as a challenge that he is up to and is willing to accept. On the other hand, the college student knows that he isn'tprepared for the exam and sees it as a challenge. He will likely fail his finalyear with a low grade.
Both young men are uncertain of the outcome but theyevaluate success differently. They will likely perceive failure differently.
For example, a silver medal might be awarded to therunner rather than a golden one. Although this would be disappointing, it could still lead tosome lucrative endorsements and a bright future. This will likely mean that the college student will see hischances of getting into a top graduate school drop and think only about havingto take another year.
Although this is a simplified illustration of how stresscan affect us in different ways, the pattern you see here is quite common. It is often dependent onhow you view the world around you and what you believe about yourself.
This shows that stress can be a combination of increasedawareness and a variety of physiological symptoms. It can also refer the samecondition but with an added element of worry. This is the type of stress we normally refer to when wespeak of being stressed or looking for stress relief.