What exactly is stress?


So much is written these days about stress and stress management, but what exactly does that mean? The dictionary definition of stress is a strain or straining force exerted upon a body. An applied stress can be measured in pounds per square inch and tends to strain or deform shape. 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 are excluded from the same universal laws that govern our world. After all our bodies are made up essentially of the same carbon and hydrogen atoms that comprise most everything 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 at 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 deleterious effects of stress after studying World War II soldiers returning home from 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 we, too, are suffering from the same process? The answer is unequivocally yes. One study recently published in one of my journals states the average American experiences more stress in one day than the average cave man experienced in a year.

When we perceive even simple 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, a 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, drinking or poor diet.

Therapeutic massage is another way of handling stress. Many of my clients find after receiving their first massage they are more focused and better able to handle their day to day stress. When we put a healthy focus on our body 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.