AC4P with Dr. Scott Geller 003 | Stress vs. Distress

How often do you feel stressed? What about distressed? Do you know the difference?

Stress is a daily part of our lives, but could it actually be a good thing? With everything going on in today's world it is easy to get these two feelings confused, but there is a different way to look at it. Join Dr. Scott Geller as he explains the difference between stress and distress and how you can learn to use stress to your advantage as we continue to learn to ACTIVELY CARE FOR PEOPLE (including ourselves).



Dr. Scott Geller (00:00):

So are you stressed? Do you feel pressure? Do you feel some anxiety? That means are you motivated. You know, stress is not bad. Stress simply means you're aroused. You got things to do. We're going to talk about that. 'Cause stress is a good word. The bad word is distress. And we're going to explain the difference. So we're going to go back to 1908, the Yerkes-Dodson law. Let me explain, really easy to understand. And as I explain this, you're going to nod your head and you're going to say, ah, yeah, it's common sense. You've been there. What are we talking about? Your performance, your performance gets better with arousal. So let's use the general term arousal, but arousal means pressure, stress, emotion, stimulation, anxiety. These are all motivating terms, but the general word is arousal. So the more arousal you feel, the better your performance to a point, you can be overly aroused.

Dr. Scott Geller (01:36):

You can be overly stressed, you can be overwhelmed. That's too much. So there is an optimal level of arousal. So think about performance increasing as arousal increases, but think of an inverted U shaped curve or a bell shaped curve where arousal increased performance keeps increasing until you get to a point a peak level. And then with more arousal, performance gets less quality, performance decreases in quality. So that's, that's the Yerkes-Dodson law 1908, Robert Yerkses and John Dodson put this together. And we're going to talk about how meaningful that Yerkes-Dodson law is for understanding motivation. So here you go. Do you ever feel aroused? Of course you do. What makes you feel over aroused and how do you control it? Let me talk about personality for a moment. Are you a type A personality? There's a type A or a type B. I know that I am type a, how do you know if you're type a, you know, if you're type a, if you get a little frustrated in traffic, when, when you're in the left hand lane and everybody is going too slow, you got places to go, people to meet people to meet, you're stressed and you want to get to the job, or you're standing in line at the grocery store and you look for the shortest line. And if you're like me, you not only count the people, you count the number of groceries in the cart. Yeah, if you do that, you're type A, and guess what? We are aroused, we're carrying around this extra arousal. Sure enough. Now back years ago when I took the SATs, and in those days you didn't have practice tests and you couldn't learn how to take the tests more effectively, so here you go. I'm going in and I'm sitting down to take the test and I'm already aroused. I'm a type A, see type B you type Bs, I envy you guys. You can just sit back and relax and take it easy, but I'm aroused. And then they tell me that this test will determine whether you get to go to college or not.

Dr. Scott Geller (03:57):

Are you kidding me? My arousal was now increasing. And then they say, you only have so much time to answer these questions. Oh man, I'm over the peak. I'm over the top. I'm now overly aroused. And as your Yerkes-Dodson claims, now my performance will decrease. Let's talk about sports for a second. They talk about the home team advantage. What is the home team advantage? You know what it is, it's extra arousal. It's people out there screaming for the home team and we're aroused. Does that help the home team? Absolutely, if the home team knows what to do. See, if they are well-practiced, another way to say this, they have a dominant response to make given different stimulus situations. If that's the case over arousal is okay, the audience clapping and cheering, I know what to do. So that extra arousal is extra motivating and my performance will improve.

Dr. Scott Geller (05:09):

So now we're talking about feeling in control of the situation. The difference between stress and distress is the perception of control. Really can't tell you anything more important than that. So the deal is, if you know what you're doing, if you're in control, that's stress, you have a stressor, what's a stressor? It's an environmental event that you believe is important. It could be an exam coming up, could be a speech you're going to present, could be a sporting event that performing in or watching, but it's an important event. Okay, now it's the reaction to that stressor is going to be stress or distress. You make a cognitive appraisal. You say to yourself, this event is important, but I'm in control. Meaning I'm motivated, I'm aroused, but I know what to do. That's stress. That's good. But if you're motivated, if you're aroused and you're not prepared, you don't feel prepared.

Dr. Scott Geller (06:18):

That's distress. So the difference between stress and distress is the perception of control. If you believe you're in control, it's a stressor and it's just stress. One more example, let me ask you a question. You've never played tennis before, or take golf for example, and you'd take golf lessons or tennis lessons. Do you want a crowd watching you? Probably not, because that's a relatively complicated task for you to make. You're just learning the task, the extra arousal from a crowd watching you, even somebody else, even a friend watching you could take you over the top of the Yerkes-Dodson bell shaped curve, aha, but suppose you're an accomplished tennis player or golfer. Now you have dominant behaviors to make for certain stimulus situations. Now the crowd cheering, that gives you extra motivation, extra arousal and your performance improves. So there we go, I think we need to remember that it's okay to feel stress. If you're prepared for the event, it's stress. If you're not prepared, it's distress and arousal then is good or bad, depending upon your perception of control.


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