What is Stress?

“People are disturbed not by a thing, but by their perception of a thing.” — Epictetus

 

Stress

There has been no definition of stress that everyone accepts. Therefore, it’s difficult to measure stress if there is no agreement on what the definition of stress should be.

People have very different ideas with respect to their definition of stress. Probably the most common is, “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension”. Another popular definition of 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.”

Most people consider the definition of stress to be something that causes distress. However, stress is not always harmful since increased stress results in increased productivity. A definition of stress should also embrace this type of healthy stress, which is usually ignored when you ask someone about their definition of stress.

Any definition of stress should also include good stress, or eustress. For example, winning a race or election is just as stressful as losing, or more so. A passionate kiss and contemplating what might follow is stressful, but hardly the same as having root canal work. Any definition of stress should similarly explain the difference between eustress and distress.

The definition of stress for most people tends to focus on the negative feelings and emotions it produces. Almost every definition of stress also discusses certain resultant physical, physiological or biochemical responses that are experienced or observed. A very comprehensive definition of stress that includes these and more is the biopsychosocial model, which, as it name suggests, has three components. This definition of stress distinguishes between an external element, another that is internal, as well as a third that represents the interaction between these two factors.

In the biopsychosocial definition of stress the external component is made up of elements in the external environment. The internal component in this definition of stress consists of physiological and biochemical factors in the internal environment or body. The interaction between these two components in this definition of stress represents the cognitive processes that result from the interaction between external and internal components. Some of the physical reactions experienced during stress include hypertension, headaches, gastrointestinal and skin complaints, etc. Any definition of stress that does include these potentially dangerous physical responses is incomplete.

A definition of stress that does not refer to the role of the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal axis or stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and adrenalin secretion in the “fight or flight” response should also be considered to be a deficient definition of stress. Since stress is such a subjective phenomenon that differs for each of us, there really is no satisfactory definition of stress that all scientists agree on. The original definition of stress by Hans Selye, who coined the term as it is presently used, was, “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. This definition of stress was confusing when Selye’s experimental animal results were extrapolated to humans and stress became a buzzword. For some, the definition of stress was something external, like a bad boss, for others the definition of stress referred to chest or stomach pain or some other disturbing reaction you experienced, but the definition of stress could also be the end result of these responses such as a heart attack or peptic ulcer. Selye subsequently had to create a new word, stressor, to distinguish between stimulus and response. He struggled unsuccessfully to find a satisfactory definition of stress and in his later years suggested that the best definition of stress was “the rate of wear and tear on the body”. He was also unaware that the definition of stress in physics that had been in use for several centuries was the degree of distortion in a malleable metal when it was subjected to an external load. Thus, his original definition of stress was really a description of strain.

Acute Stress

Fight or flight.  The body prepares to defend itself.  It takes about 90 minutes for the metabolism to return to normal when the response is over.

Chronic Stress

The cost of daily living: bills, kids, jobs…This is the stress we tend to ignore or push down.  Left uncontrolled this stress affects your health- your body and your immune system.

Eustress

Stress in daily life that has positive connotations such as:
Marriage
Promotion
Baby
Winning Money
New Friends
Graduation

Distress

Stress in daily life that has negative connotations such as:
Divorce
Punishment
Injury
Negative feelings
Financial Problems
Work Difficulties

2014 Stress Statistics

Statistic Verification
Source: American Psychological Association, American Institute of Stress, NY
Research Date: 7.8.2014
Top Causes of Stress in the U.S.
Cause Factors
1
Job Pressure Co-Worker Tension, Bosses, Work Overload
2
Money Loss of Job, Reduced Retirement, Medical Expenses
3
Health Health Crisis, Terminal or Chronic Illness
4
Relationships Divorce, Death of Spouse, Arguments with Friends, Loneliness
5
Poor Nutrition Inadequate Nutrition, Caffeine, Processed Foods, Refined Sugars
6
Media Overload Television, Radio, Internet, E-Mail, Social Networking
7
Sleep Deprivation Inability to release adrenaline and other stress hormones
U.S Stress Statistics Data
Percent of people who regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress 77 %
Regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress 73 %
Feel they are living with extreme stress 33 %
Feel their stress has increased over the past five years 48 %
Cited money and work as the leading cause of their stress 76 %
Reported lying awake at night due to stress 48 %
Stress Impact Statistics
Percent who say stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional life 48 %
Employed adults who say they have difficulty managing work and family responsibilities. 31 %
Percent who cited jobs interfering with their family or personal time as a significant source of stress. 35 %
Perccent who said stress has caused them to fight with people close to them 54 %
Reported being alienated from a friend or family member because of stress 26 %
Annual costs to employers in stress related health care and missed work. $300 Billion
Percent who say they are “always” or “often” under stress at work 30 %
People who cited physical symptoms experienced the following
Fatigue 51 %
Headache 44 %
Upset stomach 34 %
Muscle tension 30 %
Change in appetite 23 %
Teeth grinding 17 %
Change in sex drive 15 %
Feeling dizzy 13 %
People who cited psychological symptoms experienced the following
Irritability or anger 50 %
Feeling nervous 45 %
Lack of energy 45 %
Feeling as though you could cry 35 %

General Stress Response

Hans Selye defined stress as the body’s nonspecific response to any demand, whether it is caused by or results in pleasant or unpleasant stimuli. It is essential to differentiate between the unpleasant or harmful variety of stress termed distress, which often connotes disease, and eustress, which often connotes euphoria. During both eustress and distress, the body undergoes virtually the same non-specific responses to the various positive or negative stimuli acting upon it. However, eustress causes much less damage than distress. This demonstrates conclusively that it is how an individual accepts stress that determines ultimately whether the person can adapt successfully to change. Selye hypothesized a General Adaptation or Stress Syndrome; this General Stress Syndrome affects the whole body. Stress always manifests itself by a syndrome, a sum of changes, not by simply one change.

There are three components to the General Stress Syndrome. The first stage, which is termed the alarm stage, represents a mobilization of the body’s defensive forces. In other words, the body is preparing for the “fight or flight” syndrome. This involves a number of hormones and chemical excreted at high levels, as well as an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration, respiration rate, etc. In the second phase — the stage of resistance — the body becomes adaptive to the challenge and even begins to resist it. The length of this stage of resistance is dependent upon the body’s innate and stored adaptation energy reserves and upon the intensity of the stressor. Just as any machine wears out even if it has been properly maintained, so do living organisms that sooner or later become the victim of this constant wear and tear. The acquired adaptation is lost if the individual is subject to still greater exposure to the stressor. The organism enters into the third and final stage — the exhaustion stage — and then dies because it has used up its resources of adaptation energy. Thankfully, few people ever experience this last stage!

Stress diseases are maladies caused principally by errors in the body’s general adaptation process. They will not occur when all the body’s regulatory processes are properly checked and balanced. They will not develop when adaptation is facilitated by improved perception and interpretation. The biggest problems with derailing the General Stress Syndrome and causing disease is an absolute excess, deficiency, or disequilibrium in the amount of adaptive hormones — for example, corticoid, ACTH, and growth hormones produced during stress. Unfortunately, if stress is induced chronically, our defense response lowers its resistance since fewer antibodies are produced and an inflammatory response dwindles.

 

Physiology of the Stress Response

Links

The following list of topic links are historically of great interest to guests of AIS:

Financial Stress Coping Guide for Seniors

Is there proof of a connection between stress and cancer- or anything else?

Stress and Heart Diesease

The Disease of Civilization

Stress and Hypertension

Anitdepressants/ Depression

Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation for Treatment of Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia –The full article was originally published by published The Psychiatric Clinics and is posted here with permission. Visit  www.psych.theclinics.com.