What You Really Must Know About Stress (1 of 3)

Stress, stress, everywhere … and no place to hide! Do you know what stress truly is? Let’s understand the meaning of stress and learn to differentiate good stress from bad.

We hear and read about stress everyday. Many of us experience stress in our lives so often. We are all better educated, more affluent and have access to more comforts than our parents and grandparents, yet we find ourselves running faster than ever before to keep up with the demands on our lives.

And ‘stress’ has become the overarching code-word for all the resulting turbulence and friction of this fast-paced lifestyle. Unfortunately, the word ‘stress’ has become so familiar and so common, that we’ve never stopped to ask ourselves: “do I know what stress truly is?”.

So what is it?

Dr. Bill Mitchell, a UK-based stress expert defines it very simply as: “The loss of equilibrium when the pressures on an individual exceed his/her coping abilities.”

From this definition, we can immediately see that ‘stress’ is different for each person. First, each person faces different types of pressure and to different extents. And second, each of us has different coping abilities and ‘breaking points’. Beyond this point, when pressure overwhelms us, the resulting physiological state is called ‘stress’.

Good stress and bad stress

Many people will argue (correctly) that not all stress is bad. In fact, we all know that as pressure increases, so does performance, up to a point. For example, if we have committed to doing something within a certain time-frame, this deadline pressure focuses and disciplines us to perform and deliver. We feel enthusiastic and motivated, which builds our capacities. This is called ‘good’ stress (eustress).

Then comes a stage, when even if the pressure increases, our performance remains at a high level. This is called our ‘peak performance’ zone, when we are able to respond to the pressure positively i.e. when are coping abilities are adequate.

However, when the pressure crosses breaking point, our performance actually drops – first gradually and then steeply. We feel tired, jaded, overwhelmed and demotivated. Now we are experiencing ‘negative’ stress stage (also called ‘distress’). This is when it starts to become damaging.

Distress has a unique chemistry

We instinctively know that distress (physical or mental) has a direct impact on our health. But modern medicine generally treats such reports as anecdotal because of the lack of any compelling evidence that links the cental nervous system to the immune system. It was argued, “For a body to fall ill, the immune system needs to break down. What’s the mind got to do with it?”

The breakthrough discoveries of Candace Pert have proved conclusively that our feelings and emotions produce specific chemicals (called neuro-transmitters) in the brain, which carry and circulate these emotional imprints throughout our entire body. Pert calls these neuro-transmitters ‘molecules of emotion.’

In the words of another modern researcher, Bruce Lipton, every thought and feeling we have has the ability to change our body’s internal chemistry.

The link is now clear. Feelings of distress – helplessness, hopelessness, depression, anxiety, panic, isolation, rage, resentment, fatigue, demoralisation, hurt, vulnerability, etc. directly lead to immune dysfunction or breakdown. If your immune system is constantly under-performing, its only a matter of time before illness strikes.

Reflection

  • What typical life-situations cause you stress?
  • How does the stress affect you – physically (in your body) and psychologically (in your mind)?
  • How aware are you of any recurring patterns with the stress in your life?
  • What kind of stress do you find constructive (eustress) and what kind of stress do you find obstructive (distress)?
  • How do you cope with distress? What steps can you take when the stress is too much to handle?

More from this series

Title About the article
Part 1 We hear and read about stress everyday. Many of us experience stress in our lives so often. We are all better educated, more affluent and have access to more comforts than our parents and grandparents, yet we find ourselves running faster than ever before to keep up with the demands on our lives.
Part 2 In his book ‘Immune Power Personality’, author Henry Dreher says “When our coping strategies falter and we are flooded with feelings of distress, our immune system is also flooded – with too much, too little, or the wrong kinds of messenger molecules. Once the immune system receives inappropriate messages, it can malfunction, setting the stage for disease.
Part 3 Under stress, what happens inside us is that our body responds through the “flight, fight or freeze” response, triggered by the stress hormone: adrenaline. As long as adrenaline stays in our blood-stream, it creates a series of changes in the body’s function.