Stress is one of those words that we use so often it can be hard to know what it means. Stress comes in different degrees: Is what you're feeling stress, Stress, or STRESS?
When we're talking about the first level of stress, we mean the usual pressures of everyday life. For example:
Everyday stressors are not always easy, but they're not big disasters either. In fact, a bit of everyday stress can actually be good. For example, the stress most of us feel before presenting in class boosts our adrenaline and helps us perform at our best.
The more practice we get at handling everyday challenges, the better we get at dealing with challenges in general. The better we get at dealing, the less stressed out we feel. It's like learning to ride a bike as a kid: Bumps in the road can look pretty scary when you're wobbly and first starting out. But the more bumps we take, the more confident we become. Before we know it, we're balanced and in control.
Everyday stress simply calls our awareness to a situation that needs attention. It reminds us to slow down, steady ourselves, focus, and get ready. We tackle these everyday stressors by studying for exams, practicing a class presentation, or thinking about how to work it out with a friend. Once we get to work on finding a way to solve the problem, the pressure and stress ease.
Beyond everyday stress, there's the stress that can come from difficult life situations — the ones that are pretty challenging but don't happen every day. We don't get as much practice dealing with these medium-sized stressors (luckily!).
Moving, divorce, a painful breakup, the death of someone close, difficult emotions, family conflict — these things can create stress that takes more time to resolve.
It might seem like the feelings that come with these stressful situations will never go away. But the coping skills we've built as we deal with everyday stress can kick in to help — even if we don't realize it.
The stress that comes with difficult life situations feels stronger and lasts longer than everyday stress. It can help to learn more about how others have dealt with a similar situation; to talk about what you're going through with someone close; and to get support or guidance to help you work out, cope with, or adapt to, your specific situation.
Sometimes, though, stress can overwhelm our ability to cope. Maybe the stress is just too strong, our coping skills aren't there, or the problem we have is too big. That's when stress can get serious.
Serious stress can come from dealing with a personal crisis, a disaster, a health crisis, or a mental health condition that feels out of control.
Some of the things that can lead people to experience serious stress are:
PTSD is an example of stress that's serious and intense. PTSD is a specific type of stress reaction caused by a traumatic event that's so intense it overwhelms the person's ability to cope.
Serious stress is not at all routine. With serious types of stress, you probably need some extra help and support.
When stress is serious, approaching it with these ideas in mind can help: