What is stress?

What is stress? To answer that question, let’s first define what stress isn’t. Being relaxed is the opposite of being stressed. Relaxation occurs when we don’t feel a dread to do something. Note that I used the word “dread” instead of “need” because the former has a stronger emotion tied to it. For example, if you have to a bill but’s due tomorrow but lack the means to pay it, that causes stress. If you have an unwritten report that’s due tomorrow, that also causes stress. Depending on the situation, certain stressors may be more severe than others.

So what is the cause of stress? Stress is caused by an expectation of a future event. For instance, stress can be caused by an upcoming test or work that’s coming your way. The severity of stress depends on the amount of work and the importance of the event.

So is high workload the source of stress? Not necessarily. If you have high workload but it’s manageable, then it’s more like pressure than stress. But if you have work that’s piling up and no control over it, then it can cause burnout. Ultimately, stress stems from your belief of whether the task can be handled or not.

So is stress bad? Not always. Having some stress—or what I like to call “manageable pressure“—is good for you because you’re actively working towards a goal. Sometimes having a little stress can lead you to a flow state. But having too much stress is bad for you physically and mentally. You should either decrease your burdens, ask for help, or take a break.

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