What Exactly Is Stress?
by Rebecca Huber

So much is written these days about stress and stress management but what exactly does that mean and what is stress? The dictionary definition of stress is a strain or straining force exerted upon a body. An applied stress tends to strain or deform its shape. It goes on to say that the intensity of such a force is usually measured in pounds per square inch. Of course, we can't measure stress in pounds per square inch as it applies to the human body but that doesn't mean that we as humans are excluded from the universal laws that govern all bodies. After all, we are made up essentially of the same carbon and hydrogen atoms that comprise most everything else here on planet earth.

Each one of us needs a certain level of stress to be able to carry out and perform our regular and daily routine tasks. As a matter of fact, without a certain level of stress­­ an optimal and healthy level, it would be impossible for people to work, live, or engage in any activities. Therefore, a healthy amount of stress is a definite need for human life.

Hans Seyle, Nobel Prize laureate, was the first to describe the dilatrious effects of stress after studying World War II soldiers returning home after years of intense combat or imprisonment. Most of these men suffered from a plethora of subjective symptoms ranging from insomnia, night sweats, weight loss, joint pain, hair loss, anxiety and depression­­ yet many times appeared normal. Today we call it "post traumatic stress syndrome."

So, is it possible that even though most of us have not been to war lately that we too are suffering from the same process? The answer is unequivocally yes. How can this be? We seem to have more than we have ever had­­ better standards of living, better health care, larger homes, bigger cars, etc, etc. One study done and recently published in a professional journal states that we experience more stress in one day than the average cave man experienced in a year. Could it be that part of the answer does not equate to more is better?

When we perceive too many situations in our lives as crises, we chronically over activate our fight or flight response which equates to unhealthy stress. This can be different things for different people. For some of us it can be a domineering boss that reminds of us (subconsciously) of a father that we could never please, a traffic jam that makes us fearful of being late, or a school or work task that we are poorly suited for causing us feelings of failure. It can truly be just about anything.

There are many ways of managing stress. Some of us choose exercise, better sleep habits, giving up unhealthy habits such as smoking­­ the list is lengthy.

Therapeutic massage is another way of handling stress. Many of my clients find that after receiving massage they are more focused and able to handle their day-to-day stress. This comes by helping us literally get out of our heads and into our bodies. Many of us have been out of touch for years and when we finally become more aware of our bodies it seems we are less willing to abuse it.

Managing your stress does not mean living in a cave or not having a fascinating stimulating life; it means having the ability to recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy stressors and the willingness to manage them appropriately.

Till next time, Rebecca.

This article posted to Zephyr online March 6, 1997
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