What is stress?

Many people have different ideas about what “stress” actually means. For most college students, stress is something that is negative and unpleasant. What most people think of when they hear the word “stress” is actually distress. Distress is a negative emotion that most people generally try to avoid, but there is also a good kind of stress called eustress.

Think of eustress as a helpful agent in your body that calls your attention to a given task and gets you ready for optimal functioning. Eustress is the body’s way of marshalling its forces to prepare for battle, and making sure that all of the soldiers are sober, well-rested, and well-fed.

To continue the battle analogy, when we become distressed it means that our body’s resources are becoming over-burdened; our soldiers are tired and hungry from fighting so much, and they haven’t had enough time to rest and replenish themselves.

Thinking of it another way, have you ever been tired and over-reacted to someone? Maybe you didn't mean to snap at them in anger, but you just couldn't keep it in any longer? That is one "flavor" of distress. If you weren't tired, you probably would have been able to respond with more composure.

Eustress is the kind of stress people are usually talking about when they say that they put things off until the last minute because they think it helps them focus. If their stress isn’t too intense, then it may actually be helpful for them. A lot of times, however, their stress does become distress and their effectiveness is impaired.

Some of the symptoms of stress are:

Feelings Thoughts Physical Symptoms Behaviors
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fear
  • Moodiness
  • Embarrassment
  • Jumpy
  • Depressed
  • Hostile/Angry
  • Frustrated
  • Self-criticism
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Forgetfulness
  • Mental disorganization
  • Preoccupation with the future ("what if...")
  • Repetitive Thoughts
  • Fear of Failure
  • Tight muscles
  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Headaches
  • Back of neck tension
  • Tense shoulders
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Stomach distress
  • More colds and infections
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pounding heart
  • Trembling
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore or tired eyes
  • Heart or chest pain
  • Oily skin; acne
  • Butterflies in stomach
  • Stuttering
  • Other speaking difficulties
  • Crying
  • Acting impulsively
  • Nervous laughter
  • "Snapping" at others
  • Teeth grinding
  • Jaw clenching
  • Increased smoking
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Being prone to more accidents
  • Increased appetite
  • Decreased appetite
  • Frequent urination


FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

1) How will knowing what "stress" means help me reduce my stress?

2) I need my stress to help me focus. Why would I want to change it?

3) What's the difference between stress, anxiety, and worry?

How will knowing what "stress" means help me with my stress?

Raising one's awareness of their stress is the first step in beginning the change process. Knowing that there are helpful kinds of stress can actually help you reduce your stress because you don't have to worry about all kinds of stress - just distress.

I need my stress to help me focus. Why would I want to change it?

Maybe you don't need to change it. If you're looking at this page, it might mean there's a part of you that thinks your stress/anxiety/worry may be higher than you'd like. Try to visualize your life if you didn't have as much stress/anxiety/worry. Is it possible you could be more happy, successful, or at least content?

What's the difference between stress, anxiety, and worry?

Those three words are used interchangeably on Stress Recess because for lots of different reasons people use them in different ways. One person's "worry" is another's "stress."

Remember to Think Small

think smallWhat's one small thing you can start doing right now to make a change? Remember, don't overdo it. Make sure it is something you can pretty easily do, but will push you a little outside your comfort zone. Now, go do it!




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