Stress is a phenomenon that can exist virtually anywhere. Most everyone reading this will personally encounter stress as a natural side effect of experiencing work and life in this world. Of course we are not so special there, stress exists in many, many contexts – whether it be animals, machines or processes.
Here are a couple of thoughts on the matter.
Let’s imagine a system. It receives requests, processes them and returns results. Simple, in principle.
Load is the demand placed on the system. If the system does not have anything to do, it experiences no load. The more work there is within a given time, the more load the system experiences.
Work is work. Load is load. Whether there is a lot or a little does not necessarily say anything about whether things are going well or not. Load is the point – the system is supposed to do the work.
Stress is the system’s response. It is a side effect of doing the work, of experiencing existence.
Some stress is normal, good even. Given too much of it and the system will deteriorate. Performance degrades, perhaps things start breaking. A system that is under load may or may not experience stress. Even a system that is under heavy load may not be substantially stressed. It really depends.
We test, so we can tell what it is like. We test models against reality to see how they hold up against it. Load testing means to test a system against different levels of load. Stress testing means to test a system as it experiences stress. Why? To see how it does, what happens. The point is to learn, to understand.
Systems are of course all around us. Sure, we see it in the physical world, we see it in software-enabled infrastructure. It is virtually everywhere else, too: Companies, teams, individual people. You.
When looking at all of those it can make sense to think about different levels of load, what it means to experience stress. How does load work for the system and what is its stress response? Does it thrive or does it fracture? In what situations? Those questions lead to a more complete understanding of the given system.
When speaking of load and stress, it is not just about examining a system receiving more work and the stress it experiences because of it. Sometimes, it is not about more, but different. Even a very small thing, can be very different and substantially impactful.
Imagine an angry wasp in a dark tent, where you just settled down for the night.
Is this stressing you out?
Pointing out that it is not the thing (or person) that is stressing you, but rather you and how you respond may be accurate. Of course, in practice, while you are highly stressed, this is likely not that helpful, nor appreciated.
It is one perspective though. Perhaps a thing to consider and reflect on, when you are not stressed, so you can fall back to it, when you are.
She (10) looked at me – as I was frowning at this – with curiosity.
Then she asked: “Are you thinking about stress?”
“Yes, I am!”
“Stress is annoying!”
“Why is that?”
“It’s when you try to figure out a thing and you can’t! In the end, the thing is still there, but you –“
She looked at me with a momentarily distraught expression on her face. I smiled. There it was. She had summed it up well.
It is the thing, how we deal with it or sometimes both.