What kind of stress do you have?
by The Learning and Wellbeing Team | September 2022

Most people report feeling stressed — more often than you might think.  In fact, about 73% of working Canadian adults aged 20-64 report some level of stress. More than one-fifth (22%) of adults say they are “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressed out most days.

Psychologists define stress as “any demand, psychological or physical on you or your body.” For psychologists, there are two different types of stress. The first kind of stress is “stress as load.” This is about the number of things you have to get done at any given time. The more you have to do, the greater your load. Three exams in a week is a lot to do. Three exams, plus work, plus your friends, and the paper that is due next week can become overwhelming.

Stress as “load” is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means you have a lot to do. Engineers talk about the stress on a bridge. In fact, bridges and flatbed trucks are all designed and built to handle stress. You have all noticed the slight arch on a bridge and a flatbed truck, which is a sign that the bridge and flatbed truck has been pre-stressed by design to hold large loads from time to time. 

People are the same way.  We are designed to tackle large amounts of stress from time to time by working a bit harder or a little bit longer.  But like a bridge, there is a limit. You can put more cars and trucks over the bridge than what is ideal for short periods of time. But eventually, exceeding the limits has a cost, which, if sustained for too long, can be costly. The bridge can become compromised or may even fail. 

What is important about this type of stress is that it doesn’t matter how you feel. Too much “load” and you are stressed, whether you know it or not. 

The second kind of stress is “stress as worry.” This is about all of the negative thoughts, doubts, criticisms and worry that you play over (and over) in your head.  Everyone has doubts, worries and concerns. But when they become overwhelming, turn into a flood that you cannot stop, or have absolutely nothing to do with the facts, then stress as worry can become debilitating.   

What is important about this kind of stress is how you deal with these thoughts when they become a problem. One or two worries is just fine and not a problem.  But worries that turn into a flood need to be managed, which you can do by learning to fact-check, rethink or just interrupt them. 

Next steps:  The first step in learning to manage stress is to find out what kind of stress you have and how much of it you have. If you experience high levels of stress as load, then you will need skills to help manage your work (such as scheduling). On the other hand, if you have high levels of stress as worry, then you will need skills to help you manage your worries, doubts and what if. 

After taking the Stress Quiz, you might want to join one of our Friday Afternoon Seminars and learn one of many life-changing skills that can increase your well-being and improve your success at school and at work.  

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