Health Articles

What is Stress?

Gaining some control over our once necessary survival reactions requires some new learned abilities.

Stress was first defined by a Canadian biological scientist and Canadian University Professor in 1936. His name was Dr. Hans Selye. Hans defined biological stress as a “response of the body to any demand for change” knowing that demands can be either physical or emotional. A demand need not be physical to affect a stress response since un-manifested worry or an incorrectly perceived situation has exactly the same stress-arming response as an actual physical threat.

His definition actually refers to a strain placed upon a body and he later revised his definition to: “the rate of wear and tear on the body” since stress’ impact on the human aging process became better understood. In fact Hans was unaware at the time of naming the phenomenon “stress” that in the engineering field the term had been used already to describe distortion of materials that depended on the coefficient of elasticity since “Hook’s Law” in 1676.

Biological stress is the extent to which the body can withstand a given force of influence. Many words can be used to describe the biological effect that relates to any factor, acting internally or externally, that makes it difficult to adapt and that requires increased effort by the recipient to maintain a state of equilibrium both internally and with respect to the external environment. Tension and stress can be considered synonymous, both effected by physical and psychological stimulation.

Stress is therefore a state of being and not as some incorrectly imply the stimulus that produces that state. Influencers that produce the state of stress are known as “stressors”.

Dr. Hans Selye understood that the stress response involves the mobilization of the body’s resources. He scientifically determined that, since organisms have a finite capacity to withstand prolonged, increased requirements, stress demands can tax or even exceed our limited resources.

There are many physiological and biological changes that occur when one is placed under duress and most of them can be harmful to our healthy survival and homeostatic balance if experienced long term. Rapid aging and decreased bodily efficiency result from chronic high stress, a chemically damaging state that many people become so accustomed to that they don’t even recognize the harm that stress is inflicting on them until it is too late.

Stress is a very personal experience and effects everyone differently. What may be stressful to one person could be a source of pleasure to another. Consider an attention seeker that gains great pleasure from shining in the spotlight. To a shy, reserved person, being forced to sing outside of the shower to a crowd of onlookers could mean a very distressing and physically sickening situation.

When it comes to stress, it’s the perception of the individual that determines just how stressful any given situation is. We are all unique and the way we each experience stress is similarly unique. Our physical responses to stress also differ greatly from person to person. We do not all blush, sweat and feel battling butterflies when speaking in public, some people actually thrive on the attention!

In today’s time-starved and rapidly advancing high tech world, stress is building to epic proportions beyond the current capacity of the average human being. It takes many thousands of years for evolution to alter the physiology of any species on this planet and humans have barely changed since our hunter-gatherer days. Technology, on the other hand, has progressed exponentially, even in just the last 25 years.

With the advent of computerization and our global market-place, mankind is being pushed to the limits to keep up with the ever-increasing demands.

Humans as a species may previously have survived a ferocious attack from a wild animal by instinctively freezing and appearing “dead” but this innate drive is of little use when confronted with a speeding car heading towards us!

So much is constantly changing around us and we are a long way from evolving our survival skills to cater to modern age threats which are not all as obvious as a dangerous driver. Fight, flight or freeze being our only instinctive reactions, are of little use in a time of computer viruses, impending recession and ongoing terrorist activity.

To survive under 21st century demands requires 21st century solutions. Gaining some control over our once necessary survival reactions requires some new, learned abilities that fortunately are within our intellectual capacity to integrate.

If you need help coping with stress, you might be surprised at just how quickly your situation can change. Call me today and let's start working on changing things together - (416) 820 3686.