: When expectations exceed your resources: how to differentiate challenge and stress/Image courtesy of Prakoiroj at freedigitalphotos.net
The majority of us become stressed from time to time. Stress can have has detrimental effects upon our health (such as high blood pressure), or our relationships (increased conflict or neglecting loved ones).
It can also have negative repercussions for our self-confidence - when in fact we have had unrealistic demands placed upon us, rarely will we be told!
This is one of the reasons we need to differentiate between the two. As such, this article describes how I have found helpful to separate the two.
Mild to moderate stress in this article will be redefined as “challenges” and will be also distinguished from no stress in that it is actually healthy, and that its positive effects outweigh its negative! This will be done by substituting "challenges" for this kind of low-level stress.
The purpose of this article is to differentiate challenges (or 'healthy stress') from stress from that which is excessive.
For the purposes of this article this excessive stress will merely be called ‘stress’ – which are when our resources to cope exceed the expectations upon us.
This shall be contrasted with 'challenges' - which will be the term for 'mild or healthy' stress. These can actually be positive as summarised below.
1 Are not easy and ones which damage our health, relationships, or sense of confidence. The pressures placed upon us are not offset by factors which enable us to deal with it in a healthy way – we are forced into situations we feel obligated to forgo good nutrition or adequate sleep in order to complete the task and/or:
2 We are given little resources or support. Or, we are placed in a position where we feel we cannot ask for this.
3 Are more difficult than we have had training, instruction, experience or assistance to deal with. Also none is provided or easily accessible.
4 There are no or insufficient rewards: Even if we are paid, our self-confidence and self-efficacy may suffer; our skill base stays the same because of inadequate feedback or success in fulfilling the task; a decrease in self-esteem through insufficient understanding of the person who imposed the task, or worse, harsh criticism.
Challenges can be seen as experiences that:
1. Although are not easy, are able to be performed by us without detrimental effects to our health, other relationships or self-esteem.
2. We are given resources and/or support so that they can be performed. Alternatively, even if it is challenging, we already have been exposed to it, and have the skills to do it. Alternatively, we are in a social context where we feel we can ask for assistance.
3. Are not easy but not so hard we cannot perform them.
4. The rewards of the experience can include: increase in self-confidence and self-efficacy; widened skill-based; increased self-esteem.
In summary stress can be distinguished from challenges by the fact that the negatives of it will outweigh the positives.
It should be noted that the same event may be seen as stressful by one person and challenging by another.
It should also be remembered that although not ideal, stress if an unavoidable reality as one time or another for most of us: to avoid it altogether may be unrealistic.
To help put more ‘stressful’ experiences in the ‘challenging’ basket may be assisted by:
-asking for support. Sometimes this is hard for many of us.
-saying ‘no’ from time to time.
-being honest with ourselves and with others about what we can do and don’t have the resources to do.
-an awareness and reminding oneself of, what separates the two.