This paper delineates mental load and stress as two related concepts that originate from different theoretical frameworks. A proper distinction between the two concepts is important, not only for theory building, but because it may lead also to different interpretations of experimental results, and, conse-quently, to different recommendations in applied situations. High workload is regarded as an important but not a critical factor in the development of stress symptoms. It is quite possible to work hard in difficult and complex tasks, even under unfavourable conditions, without cognitive strain, psychosomatic complaints, or adverse physiological effects. High task demands can be met by mobilizing extra energy through mental effort. This "trying harder" reaction is a normal and healthy coping strategy to adapt to situational demands. In contrast, stress is regarded as a state in which the equilibrium between cognitive and energetical processes is disturbed by ineffective energy mobilization and negative emotions. Stress typically is characterized by inefficient behaviour, overreactivity, and the incapacity to recover from work. Stress is regarded as a state in which the physiological system is disorganized, which results in decreased well-being, sleeping problems, psychosomatic complaints, and increased health risks.
Het onderscheid Mentale belasting en stress is, niet alleen theoretisch interessant, maar heeft ook implicaties voor methodologie en advies in praktische situaties.