One of the things that troubles me most in the field of stress management is the concept of good stress. The myth that a certain amount of stress can be good for you is banded around with little thought of the consequences. This can lead to stress being treated like a badge of honour i.e. if you are not stressed; you are not working hard enough. This attitude results in opportunities to identify stress, and intervene, being missed, leading to unnecessary suffering. But, there is no such thing as good stress. Stress is a serious health issue which impacts negatively on the biology of the body; exposing the individual to illness and injury. This is never a good thing.
So what is good stress then?
What is commonly referred to as good stress is actually pressure. Stress and pressure have very different effects on the body. Stressed individuals have much higher levels of the stress hormones in their bloodstreams. Those who advocate the concept of good stress are partially correct though. They are really referring to pressure; and a certain level of pressure is essential for optimum performance and to avoid stress. The big difference between pressure and stress is the person’s perception of their ability to cope. As soon as they perceive an inability to cope, they are experiencing stress.
Pressure is important. Too little pressure leads to a lack of motivation; lack of personal growth and a lack of achievement. Knowledge, skills and talents are severely underutilised. Ambition is lost and apathy sets in. Over a prolonged period, this can lead to depression and rustout.
Too much pressure and the person begins to feel that they can no longer cope with their challenges. It is important to remember that perceptions of ability to cope are every bit as important as actual ability to cope. They feel overloaded and fatigue sets in. Performance levels decline and interpersonal relationships become strained. Excessive demands coupled with a lack of rest and recovery leads to burnout. If the experience is prolonged, they can experience serious mental and physical illnesses such as anxiety and heart disease.
There is no such thing as good stress. Stress is never a good thing. It is not a badge of honour or something that one should aspire to. What has been presented as good stress is in fact pressure. The moment that an individual feels that they can no longer cope, they are experiencing stress. This is the moment when stress needs to be identified so that an early intervention can be made. Perpetuating the myth of good stress can delay the moment when stress is identified, thus delaying an intervention. Any delay results in unnecessary suffering and makes the intervention more difficult. It is time to stop thinking good stress vs. bad stress. It is time to start thinking pressure vs. stress.