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Definition of Stress
Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.

Attributed to
Richard S. Lazarus
What Is Stress

Hans Selye, known as one of the "founding fathers" of stress research, stated in 1956 his view of stress. He viewed stress as not necessarily something bad — it all depends on how you take it. Selye believed that the biochemical effects of stress would be experienced irrespective of whether the situation was positive or negative. He referred to the positive response as Eutress.

Since then research has revealed that the harmful biochemical and long term effects of stress have rarely been observed in positive situations.

Now, the most common definition of stress (mainly attributed to Richard S. Lazarus) is that stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.

People experience reduced stress when they have the time, experience and resources to manage a situation. They experience great stress when they think they can't handle the demands put upon them. They therefore experience stress as a negative experience. More importantly here, it is not an inevitable consequence of an event. It depends significantly on the person's perceptions of a situation and their real ability to cope with it.

Physiology and Stress

Our physiology has the same engineering given our caveman ancestors. No one has come along to reengineer us for current levels of stress. We are designed exquisitely for survival. When triggered our bodies rise to the occasion to flee the saber toothed tiger or to fight for our life. In present time. we rarely deal with this kind of stressor. Instead our stress comes from internal psychological pressures and our environment.

Some of the early work on stress (conducted by Walter Cannon in 1932) established the existence of the "fight-or-flight" response. His work showed that when an animal experiences a shock or perceives a threat, it immediately releases hormones that help it survive.

These hormones increase the heart rate and blood pressure. The heart and lungs deliver more oxygen and blood sugar to power important muscles. Blood is shunted away from the extremities to the major organs to increase the functioning of our system.

You may notice when stressed that you have cold hands and feet! This process also reduces blood loss if we are damaged. Our pupils dilate to allow more light in to improves our sight. These hormones also focus our attention on the threat at hand, to the exclusion of everything else.

It is easy to think that the fight-flight response, or adrenaline, response is only triggered by life threatening danger. Recent research shows that we experience this response when we simply encounter something unexpected.

The response is triggered with time pressure, frustration or being interrupted or just because a situation is new and challenging.

I want to emphasize that there are few situations in modern working life where this response is useful. Furthermore, it is important if experiencing the response, to allow through the practice of self management and stress reduction, the body to return to a more balanced state.

Nowadays, without this management, we allow our response to begin to build on itself leaving us exhausted, irritable, and prone to the development of disease.

More importantly, Hans Selye took a different approach from Cannon. He began with the observation that different diseases and injuries to the body

In Joe DisPenza's book Evolve Your Brain, he expresses the following:

"I'm sure you know people who always seem to be stressed — even if they didn't insist on telling you all the time about how stressed they are, you'd still be able to figure it out on your own. Other people may seem placid and smiling on the outside, but inside are a simmering cauldron about to boil over. Still others have an inner and outer peace that can lead us to believe they have minimized their stress levels. Regardless of our experience with others and with our stress levels, it's time to take a different approach to the subject."

"In short, it is important to understand that how we react to our environment, and how we think in response to some past or future moment that may be stressful, is responsible for most of our maladies, both physical and emotional, from which we suffer. It's that simple. When we repeatedly (chronically) place ourselves in a high stress mode, or when we are hyper-vigilent in looking for stressors that may affect us at some future moment, we engage the body's emergency response to stress all the time. What with continually being on high alert or in emergency mode, our body doesn't have the time or the resources necessary to repair and regenerate itself."

"When we are constantly engaged in the stress response, our body's innate intelligence and ability to heal gets silenced. In addition, our body is in a constant state of trying to catch up, but it can't. "In one scenario , we may be loudly arguing with our spouse,or madly dashing around trying to fit a day's worth of errands into an hour. At such times, a stressor in the present moment has us mashing a figurative gas pedal to the floor, to produce the adrenaline that is the primary chemical released during the stress response."

"In another type of situation, no current stressor can be seen. We might be sitting in a chair or lying in bed, not even moving, and yet we are under stress just the same, worrying about tomorrow's job interview or how we are going to pay next month's property taxes. At such times, we are anticipating a future stress that we'll need to resolve. Now we have the brake on plus that gas pedal is mashed to the floor, because that future stress is flooding our body with adrenalin and other stress hormones."

"In either case, we are depleting our body's system until the point at which they break down. We know this breakdown by other terms: illness, injury, and overload."

"It takes only one stray thought about the possibility of a stressor in our future to change the degree of acidity in our stomach secretions. Without ever moving a muscle, we can cause our pancreas to make hormones, alter our adrenal gland's hormones, get our heart to pump faster, direct our blood flow to our legs, change our rate of respiration, and even make ourselves more prone to infections. Humans are powerful entities in this regard. We can simply entertain a thought about that stressor and become physiologically prepared for it, as if the event were actually taking place."

"We humans tend to live in chronic stress situations. On a daily basis, we are subjected to continuous stressors (physical, chemical, and emotional/psychological), moment to moment. Due to our elevated social mores, fighting and fleeing is not socially acceptable. Instead, we worry, anticipate, reason, suppress, rationalize, and compromise in different situations. With trillions of synaptic connections, we are so good in our ability to remember that we can turn on the stress response without the stressor being physically present. In other words, just thinking about the stressor creates the same stress response This is what begins to create the more harmful result called chronic stress."

"In one sense, what gives humans a superior evolutionary advantage is our ability to predict what might happen.

What diminishes that advantage is when we fail to properly predict the correct outcome. What then results is an increase in anxiety, depression, phobias, insomnia, neuroses, and a host of other ills that weren't necessary. We prepare ourselves for a stressor and alter our internal balance , but often we can't control the outcome, and we either over prepared for what we consider an eventuality (that then doesn't materialize), or we are surprised by another stressor we didn't see coming at all."

"...being constantly vigilant, always directed outward toward the environment, can take its toll. Chronic stress, the repeated process of keeping the stress response activated all the time, is what really does the damage. Our bodies are not designed for long term stress. When the stress response is constantly activated, we are headed for disease."

" if we are constantly using our energy resources and mobilizing them against threats (real or imagined), we never get ahead. We are never able to build up a surplus. It's like living from paycheck to paycheck and not quite making it. Eventually, we have to rob Peter to pay Paul. When our body gets to the point that its energy supply is so depleted that it can't perform vital tasks like fighting off invaders, we get sick.

High cortisol levels break down the immune system. Once our immune system is compromised and we're ill, our already-weakened systems take a double dose of hits — both by illness itself and the stress created by being ill. How many times have we said, "I really can't afford to be sick?" Worried sick, perhaps? And what about the fact that illness produces a physical, chemical, and emotional/psychological stress in our body?"

"Most people who are under stress sleep less than they do when they are relaxed, because their circulating levels of adrenalin keep them prepared and vigilant. Sleep is the time when much of the restorative processes take place. The less time we have for sleep, the less time we have for repair. The less sleep we get, the more stressed we are. Just about anyone can relate to lying there in the middle of the night in self-absorption, worrying about everything from our health to our future. All those thoughts push us further away from homeostatic balance."

"People think, "I'll deal with that when this stressful situation subsides." Too often, that stressful situation doesn't subside and we are caught in a vicious circle, compounding stress upon stress. In time, the stress response is doing more damage to us than any of the other conditions or ailments that initiated it or that it initiated. We always presume that it is the monkey chasing the weasel, but in the case of stress and our stress response, it becomes difficult to tell which is which. In humans, the stress response derived from our thoughts and feelings most often causes greater long-term damage than the stressor itself."

"Stress is unavoidable. The key is to limit the kind we experience to acute stress, which is much less harmful to the body than chronic stress. Acute stress happens, it ends and we have time to recover from it. Chronic stress allows our body no recovery time. This its when our body starts to steal energy from other vital processes.

If our external protection system is working overtime, as it always does when we are living in survival mode, the internal protection system can't function well. They are both drawing power from the same energy source, and when we constantly shift to emergency power, we're ultimately going to tax the system. If we have an internal Mr. Scott (Star Trek's Scotty), he's eventually going to shout, "I'm sorry, captain, I'm giving you all she's got!"

Unlike Mr. Scott and the Enterprise, we may not be able to figure out some way to make our energy source compensate. Repeated stress responses act much like the repeated firing of neurons The more times we activate the response, the more difficult it becomes to turn it off. Which leads to the question: Why would we want to turn it off?"

"Recent estimates indicate that as many as 90 percent of the people seeking medical care are doing so because of stress-related disorders. More and more, researchers are establishing links between physical illnesses and extreme emotional conditions.



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