Stress Definitions 101: Glossary of Terms to Know

Learn about key terms related to stress, from stressors to coping mechanisms. Understand the impact of acute vs. chronic stress on your health and wellbeing.
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When learning about stress, it’s beneficial to know various relevant terms to help understand the topic thoroughly. Here are some key terms and their definitions that you might find useful:

  • Acute Stress: Short-term stress that goes away quickly. It helps you manage dangerous situations. It also occurs when you do something new or exciting.
  • Adaptation Syndrome: The body’s response to stress involves three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.
  • Adrenaline is a hormone released into the body in response to stress or fear. It is often called the “fight-or-flight” hormone. It prepares the body to respond to a threat.
  • Allostatic Load: The long-term negative impact of stress on the body, including wear and tear on bodily systems.
  • Allostasis: The process of achieving stability through physiological or behavioral change.
  • Anxiety: A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
  • Autonomic Nervous System: The part of the nervous system responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes.
  • Avoidance Coping: A strategy of ignoring or avoiding stressors rather than confronting or addressing them directly.
  • Behavioral Activation: Engaging in positive activities to combat stress and improve mood.
  • Biopsychosocial Model: An approach to understanding health and illness that considers biological, psychological, and social factors.
  • Burnout: A state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
  • Chronic Stress: Long-term stress that occurs for a prolonged period. It can have a negative impact on your health if it goes untreated.
  • Cognitive Distortions: Irrational or exaggerated thoughts that contribute to stress and negative emotions.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health by challenging and changing unhelped cognitive distortions and behaviors.
  • Coping Mechanisms: Strategies or behaviors that individuals use to manage the stressors in their lives and the emotions associated with them. Coping mechanisms can be healthy or unhealthy.
  • Cortisol: A steroid hormone, often called the “stress hormone,” produced by the adrenal glands. It regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism and the immune response, and has a very important role in helping the body respond to stress.
  • Distress: Negative stress that can cause anxiety or concern and can be short or long-term. It is often perceived as outside of our coping abilities.
  • Emotion-Focused Coping: Coping strategies aimed at regulating emotions rather than solving the underlying problem.
  • Emotional Intelligence: The ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you.
  • Eustress: Positive stress which has a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being.
  • Expressive Writing: A therapeutic technique involving writing about emotions and experiences to reduce stress and improve well-being.
  • Fight-or-Flight Response: A physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.
  • General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): A model describing the body’s short-term and long-term reactions to stress.
  • Homeostasis: The body’s ability to maintain a stable internal environment despite changes in external conditions.
  • Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis: A complex set of direct influences and feedback interactions among three endocrine glands: the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal (or suprarenal) glands.
  • Mind-Body Connection: The theory that the mind and body are not separate entities and that psychological well-being can affect physical health.
  • Mindfulness: A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
  • Neuroendocrine System: The mechanism by which the hypothalamus maintains homeostasis, regulating metabolism, energy levels, and the immune system.
  • Perceived Stress Scale: A self-report questionnaire used to measure the perception of stress in individuals.
  • Positive Psychology: The study of factors that contribute to human flourishing and well-being, including resilience and coping skills.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.
  • Problem-Focused Coping: Coping strategies aimed at directly addressing and solving the source of stress.
  • Psychoneuroimmunology: The study of the interaction between psychological processes, the nervous system, and the immune system.
  • Psychosomatic: A term describing a physical illness or other condition caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Methods used to decrease stress and anxiety, including deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Resilience: The ability of a person to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. It’s often referred to as the ability to “bounce back” from adverse situations.
  • Resiliency Training: Programs designed to strengthen individuals’ ability to recover from stress.
  • Self-Efficacy: The belief in one’s abilities to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task, which can play a significant role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges.
  • Social Support: The perception and actuality that one is cared for, has assistance available from other people, and that one is part of a supportive social network.
  • Stress: A physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stress can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous.
  • Stress Management: Techniques and psychotherapies aimed at controlling a person’s levels of stress, especially chronic stress, usually to improve everyday functioning.
  • Stressor: Any event or situation that triggers stress. Stressors can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure).
  • Subjective Well-being: An individual’s personal assessment of their overall happiness and life satisfaction.
  • Time Management: The process of organizing and planning how to divide your time between specific activities to reduce stress.
  • Wellness: The active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.
  • Work-Life Balance: The equilibrium between personal life and career work, contributing to less stress and a higher quality of life.
  • Yoga: A mind and body practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy, which includes breath control, meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures.

Alex Reijnierse
Alex Reijnierse

Alex Reijnierse is a stress management expert with over a decade of experience in helping individuals effectively manage and reduce stress. He holds a Master of Science (MSc) and has a background in high-pressure environments, which has given him firsthand experience in dealing with chronic stress.

The articles on this website are fact-checked, with sources cited where relevant. They also reflect personal experiences in dealing with the effects of stress and its management. When in doubt, consult with a certified healthcare professional. See also the disclaimer.