What is the scientific explanation for stress


stress - a term that everyone uses almost every day and that usually has a negative connotation. Stressful situations and subjective stress reactions are part of everyday life at work, in the family, etc. The term stress is used in a wide variety of ways for a wide range of physical and psychological sensitivities, both in the psychological and medical field and in everyday life. “I have stress at work.” But what do you mean? Too much work? Time pressure? Physical exertion? Conflicts with your boss or colleagues? Usually by stress one means an external stimulus or an environmental event.

"In this sense, stress is an event that induces (causes) a disorder reaction."
Lazarus, in: Nitsch, 1981, p. 221

In this definition, the term stress is more the trigger factor for a reaction.

According to other definitions, stress is

"... the body's unspecific reaction to demands placed on it." 
Selye, 1974, p. 58

In this sense, the term is equated with the response to a request. According to Selye, it does not matter whether the requirement is negative or positive, it is solely the intensity that decides.

The term stress is derived from Latin (districtia = tightness) based on the physical symptoms in emergency situations. The English term "stress" means strain, tension and pressure in the sense of the physical pressure on a material. Both definitions of stress relate to an external stimulus that leads to internal (psychological) processing and external (physical) deformation.

The fields of stress research examine the term from a biological-physiological, psychological and environmental-organization-oriented or ergonomic perspective. If the term stress is understood in an interdisciplinary way, it means every event in which the external and / or internal requirements demand or exceed the adaptability of an individual.

A comprehensive definition was provided by Levine and Ursin (1991). They subdivide into

  • Stress stimuli (input),
  • individual stress management and
  • Stress response.

Stress per se is not bad, it is essential for survival. The stress reaction can be understood as an adaptation reaction to stress and thus as a healthy reaction of the body. The aim of this adaptation reaction is to adapt the organism to the requirements of the stress-inducing situation and thus to develop further on a physiological and psychological level. The body needs this activation, but also the recovery phase. It becomes problematic when the stress reaction becomes chronic under constant stress and the recovery phases are too short or completely absent. But also when the intensity of the stressful situation is too high.

Most of the time, we are burdened by the stress response. It throws us off track, we react mentally and physically to it. But why is the situation stressful for one person (for example, giving a speech to a large group of people), and why does the next find it inspiring and positively exciting? Some people really need this "kick" and enjoy it. They have to go to their limits or need time pressure to be able to work effectively. There are also days when a requirement is beyond our capabilities, and on other days we react calmly to it. The subject of stress shows the subjective experience and the connections and interrelationships between psyche, body and social environment.

In the literature there is often a distinction between eu and distress, positive and negative stress. The distinction between positive and negative stress is debatable. Because eustress rather describes challenges and is therefore also named in the script. The term distress is therefore not used.

In order to be able to define the term stress more precisely, it is important to clarify the basic terms in the context of the stress problem.


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