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Module 1: Individual stress

Stress and its negative outcomes

What is Stress?

Stress is understood today as an imbalance between demands on a person and his / her coping abilities. Stress means that a person, at the moment of such demands, does not feel able to handle them. These demands or expectations may come from the exterior environment or from the person themself.

Inner and exterior demands

Management Abilities/

An outer demand can be, for example, a boss, who suddenly gives some work that must be done in three days, although the person had thought that there would be a fortnight to finish it. This well known stress feeling starts up due to the pressure of the demand/ or expectation to finish the work in a shorter time period than expected and the person knows that they would be unlikely to complete it satisfactorily by themselves.

But stress can be provoked not only because of some outer factors. It may also occur if our demands to ourselves are too high. In sport, for example, or in any other activities we can demand from ourselves better and better results. We may even set goals which cannot be reached. This provokes feelings of stress and pressure. To avoid this stress, sports will be given up again. In this case, expectations were too high. Not to trap in such pitfall, stress reducing activities shouldn’t be done under any kind of pressure. In contrast, while relaxing we shall distract from daily life and stock up on strength and energy.

Parents can face inner and outer demands at the same time. To be with children and to care for them can be a very demanding obligation, which can periodically be very strenuous. And parents often get stressed when they have very high expectations of themselves. High expectations may reveal themselves in such phrases as: "I should be always here for my children!", "I must not show weakness!", “I will spend more time with my children!”, “Everything must be perfect!“.

And an interrelated factor of stress can be that parents have too high or too low expectations of their children.


A father expects that his son will clean his room. But the son has other interests besides cleaning and dusting. Towards the school holidays his son is preparing for his exams and might be spending a lot of time in the library, or he wants to win a sport tournament and is busy training. Instead of getting angry the father may try to understand his son's situation and he will change his expectations accordingly. He can say to himself that his son is actually busy with more important obligations at the moment, and cleaning his room can wait a little bit. Or he can say to himself that it is his son, and not he himself who will have to find things in such an untidy room.  

What outcomes can stress have?

When we are under stress we react to situations in an irritated, nervous, aggressive and unfriendly manner. The same stress can be easily transferred to other people. If one of the family members is stressed it often has the same effect on the other members of the family. If the father, after a strenuous working day, comes home and reacts nervously to his son's untidy room it will hardly contribute to solving this controversial point. Quite the opposite, it is possible that a conflict will arise out of such a trifling matter that might otherwise have been avoided.

Stress can have negative physical effects. While some stress at a definite level may give you some energy (eustress), long lasting and / or very severe stress may lead to physical disorders (distress). Headaches, sleep disorders, intestine disorders are three examples. Stress also has negative effects besides on the general health condition. It may lead to depression, dissatisfaction, fear, and burn-out syndrome. In the case of a burn-out syndrome a person feels that they cannot handle any tasks at all. Such a person is tired and has no energy, loses any interest in work. Generally people who suffer from it do not see any sense for action.



Stress has short- and long-term negative effects on our body and our physical condition, as well as on our family climate. It is especially important to learn to prevent stress or to reduce it to some "healthy" level.

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© 2020 by Yves Hänggi and University of Fribourg, Switzerland. top


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