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I know a theory behind stress. I also know general attitude which links stress with all negative things. However I would like to ask "Do you think is stress good or bad?"

The question come after today's workshop I attended. The workshop was about self sabotage and there was a lot about stress and what to do to reduce stress.

From my perspective I really need stress to work on high level standard. Without stress I am not so effective. When I have reduced stress, no deadline, everything going smooth; I loose my focus and I drift away from my work. On another hand I don't like to be under pressure. I feel more happy/relaxed when I don't have pressure.

It is difficult for me to maintain a level of stress which would be the best, because I simply don't know it. At one point I feel motivated and concentrated on my task but a while after, in very constant situation, I start to feel too much pressure.

What is your point of view. I don't necessary want to read theories, I know quite a lot of them. I would like to hear your experience, how you deal with stress?. Are you more effective with or without stress? Do you need it or not? if so, do you create your own stress (like I do)? Do you know any good practical way to deal with stress?

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8 Answers 8

Stress by itself is neither good nor bad. Eustress is good stress; distress is bad stress.

If you know what you want to work toward, and are given the freedom to do so, then creating deadlines for yourself should be a help. If the only pressure is from yourself, then you can learn from the times you don't meet your deadlines. It would be bad for you to punish yourself, though. See what worked or didn't work, and move on with the intent of doing better the next time.

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Thanks for your reply @John. I am not sure what you want to say. Correct me if I am wrong but Eustress is just idiomatic name meaning 'good stress' Distress is not 'bad stress' but inability to adapt. In my case I have external pressure and external stress. Everyone around say we need to reduce stress, but I need stress to be effective. The problem is I don't like stress. How it work for you? –  tomasz74 Nov 13 '12 at 21:32
    
One thing I heard on the radio today. Everything is stressful. Whenever you try to accomplish anything it's stressful. Learning is stressful. Being proactive is stressful. If you enjoy it, it's eustress. It propels you forward, the kind of self-driving stress that allows for mastery. E.g. wedding planning, sports, challenging games. If you don't enjoy it, it's distress, it drives you away from the activity and holds you back. –  Muz Nov 26 '12 at 5:47
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Are you more effective with or without stress?

it depends

if stress is manageable (I am a software developer, I have a big and interesting task to do, I have everything I need (all infrastructure libraries are working fine, I have lots of great working examples etc) - but the time is very limited and, lets say, I have to deliver my first working prototype by Monday

is it stress? it is indeed, but it feels great and gives me more energy to do the job

on the other hand - if situation is hopeless (nothing is working, deadline is absolutely unrealistic, management is just whining about low performance of the team without offering real help) - this kind of stress actually drains energy and makes me less effective

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Yes, I think everyone needs a little stress or they'll spend their excess mental power procrastinating (like what I'm doing now). Nature takes the path of least resistance; stress gives high resistance to doing everything you're not supposed to be doing.

I remember hearing a radio interview with one of the leading advertising agencies in my country, who said that people can only be creative under pressure.

The key is in making sure you take enough breaks to relieve that stress and not go insane. Nobody can work under constant stress without burning out.

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Stress must first be defined, which is not easy. Lets take a mechanical approach to start with.

Stress is a measure of the internal forces acting within a deformable body. Similarly, strain is defined to be a measure of how the object deforms (reacts) to stress. For example, an external force on a spring causes stress in the spring material and the spring strains (stretches) as a result.

Some people view stress to be a measure of the external demands, such as deadlines, placed on a person. If we are to humour the 'spring definition' of stress, this 'demand view' of stress is not quite accurate. Instead, deadlines, relationships, physical activity etc. are more accurately described as external forces/stimuli. I make this distinction intentionally: while it might be good to have many external stimuli, this does not necessarily mean it is good to have a lot of stress.

From a physiological perspective, stress (or strain) can be viewed as the body's reaction to external stimuli which displace the body from its 'desired' equilibrium (homeostasis).

Unfortunately, for many people, meeting the demands placed on them often requires their body to be under stress (ie, their body is strained or displaced from its equilibrium). And for the ambitious people, if their body is not under stress, why not give it more to do, right?

With the distinction between external stimuli and bodily stress out of the way, the effects of stress can be considered. Before listing some examples, a sweeping (yet quite accurate) statement can be made: nearly all effects of stress are bad.

To understand why stress might be a good thing, the effects of stress can be very loosely linked to the effects of cortisol. Cortisol is excreted by the adrenal gland when the body believes it is not in homeostasis. Cortisol causes glucose to be redirected to vital organs such as the brain and heart in order to overcome the difficulty at hand and regain homeostasis (notably, energy is redirected AWAY from the body's immune system). These effects can be considered to be the initial benefit/purpose of stress.

Unfortunately, stress has many many short and long term negative effects on the body. Increased risk of heart disease, insomnia, hair loss and depression are a few.

So in summary, while many external stimuli may be desirable in order to increase productivity, if these stimuli cause stress on the body, a large number of negative side effects will result. A person should strive to achieve all demands placed on them without being stressed.

Final note:this discussion does not necessarily disagrees with other answers; simply, a different definition of stress may have been used.

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Thanks @Mowgli for your answer. Personally I disagree with the definition you quote. (Having said so I am glad you wrote it, I see this is the most popular way of thinking) There are many definitions and they define stress different way. Some of them define it as a positive aspect necessary for grow. I would like to hear your personal perspectives and how you deal with stress. BTW It is sad that people down-vote the answer without any explanations –  tomasz74 Nov 16 '12 at 9:30
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My point of view is that some stress is essential to health. I believe the ability of organisms to adapt to stress, by growth, is a fundamental characteristic that differentiates living from non-living materials. Physiological adaptation (strength-training) to physical stress (i.e. exercise) is more easily measured in a laboratory, but my opinion is that we are capable of adapting to psychological stress as well. A learning from experience and experiment is that there is a quantitative threshold of stress (different depending upon the condition of the individual) where an individual begins to fail to adapt, and can actually be damaged by the stress and become weaker. The problem of stress (for most of us) is therefore one of understanding the stress load of our environment, our condition, our threshold level where we begin fail to adapt, and what makes an appropriate training regime.

You asked for experience, rather than theory, and the last paragraph reads a lot like a theoretical model. However, personally, I have found it a valuable model because it can be both effective and motivating. I think I am the type of person that is more likely to hold to some regimen of action that is (possibly) supported by a scientific principle - but your mileage may vary.

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Great answer, very close to my opinion. Now, you claim that the threshold depends upon an individual, is it really the case? Is the same individual capable bare the same stress in different environment. What if he is in society where stress is negative only? what if is in society where stress is expected and he's resistance to stress is somehow seen as a strength of the individual. Now following this way of thinking, can we manage stress only by modelling our way of thinking, by accepting it as a progressive good thing? –  tomasz74 Nov 16 '12 at 20:04
    
Yes, I think of both the threshold and the individual as being dynamic, and so changing over time. External circumstances beyond the individual's control can affect how much stress can be tolerated. Disease, age, status, relationships, war - all these might lower one's ability to handle stress. On the other hand, under good condititons its also possible to manage higher levels of stress. But we need to be realistic, not all stress is beneficial to everyone all the time. –  Mark Rovetta Nov 17 '12 at 17:35
    
Oh yeah, definitely not all stress is beneficial. I never wanted to say that. Only what strikes me is that our society always takes stress as a negative factor. I think, that in many cases, more often than it is thought, stress can be seen as a positive factor. It is not comfortable for an individual, but for a long development it is necessary. You write that circumstances lower the ability to handle stress. Is it so? What if we are taken to hash environment and have to used to it. Do we get tough? –  tomasz74 Nov 17 '12 at 17:48
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I think each one has his own motivations. Stress can be one of them, but I don't like it. I think it's not healthy or good in the long run. And I think stress tends to make people react fast, but does not help creativity. You need to be relaxed to be creative and innovate, finding more efficient ways to deal with your problems.

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Lets take a purely biological approach here. (putting the psychological on the back burner)

What is stress?

Stress is a very vague thing that can mean different things to different people. We can all agree being robbed at gun point is a very stressful situation, however; some people find talking to others stressful while others actually find it relaxing... Since we're talking biologically stress can be defined as any situation where your body releases chemicals that are what result in the physical feels of stress (epinephrine being the big daddy of them) any situation be it physically, mentally, or emotionally stressful will trigger various degrees of stress chemicals to be released.

Examples of where stress turns bad

Stress in itself isn't bad, nor are the chemicals released in stress, however; prolonged or excessive release of these chemicals (extreme or chronic stressors) can have VERY serious heath implications.

Epinephrine for example causes blood platelets to secrete ATP which causes constriction of the veins. short term this increases the rate of blood flow (arguably a good thing) but in excess it can directly cause stroke and heart attack. (When someone is "scared to death" this is typically the cause)

Other stress chemicals have been proven to cause cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, severe damage to the immune system, reduction in endorphin release (IE your "pain tolerance" is reduced), increased ACTH which leads to increased violent behavior. (This is why when you are stressed you just want to hit things)

Some of these afflictions such as arthritis and damage to your pituitary gland are permanent generally speaking which is why excessive stress is literally killing you.

Where stress is good

Now I will note stress biologically is a good things. We feel stress for reasons typically that have been engrained into us from thousands of years of evolution and will serve us well to stay alive and healthy under normal circumstances. Epinephrine's fight or flight response has probably saved more lives than one could comprehend. ACTH has probably saved people in life threating situations by giving them extra drive to fight back against a threat they'd otherwise cower in fear from.

Now where does stress fit in well for the modern man outside of potentially dangerous situations? Can it still be a good thing?

Absolutely! Stress in moderation is very healthy, and can lead to a feeling of accomplishment when the cause of the stress is overcome.

But I'm focusing on biology so...

Epinephrine, that thing that causes stroke and heart failure in excess. Well let's take a normal amount, say a friendly soccer game. You're generally relaxed, but your body will be under at least a little stress physically for such a taxing activity, this means you're getting a nice little trickle of Epinephrine causing just a tiny bit of constriction in your veins. This makes your heart work a little harder, but not so much it can't handle it. Your heart is a muscle, and like any muscle it needs exercise, otherwise when it takes a lot less to do something that can be too much for it to handle.

The chemicals that lead to rheumatoid arthritis also help the body break down and replace damaged tissue. You want to keep a little of this moving around to help keep that regenerative cycle working like clock work. It'll help your body heal up properly from injuries better.

The chemicals that cause damage to your nerves and immune system actually help kick those parts of your body into high gear. In other words a healthy amount of stress actually helps you focus as well as helps your body fight off infection. (don't stress yourself out when your sick, that's a too little too late situation) Note: this focus is probably not the lion's share of why you focus on manageable tasks, that's more likely to non stress related self preservation than stress itself.

Ultimately a little stress though is good if not for any other reason than that your body is better prepared when an extremely stressful situation rolls by.

How much stress is healthy?

This is VERY disputed and arguably varies person to person. Generally speaking though if the stress is enough you feel like punching someone in the face, your chest is sore, or you have an unusual numbness or ache in your hands, feet, or head you went way past the healthy point. (I will also say if you have any of these symptoms other than the urge to hit someone you should mention it to your doctor, it could be signs of a serious and not yet diagnosed health situation. Especially the chest.)

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Stress is a good thing as long as you don't wallow in it. Stress is a good indicator that something in the outside world does not mesh with your vision of how it should be, Stress is also a trigger point for thinking and making decisions about the thing.

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