Stress is difficult for scientists to define because it is a highly subjective phenomenon that differs for each of us. Things that are distressful for some individuals can be pleasurable for others. We also respond to stress differently. Some people blush, some eat more while others grow pale or eat less. There are numerous physical as well as emotional responses as illustrated by the list of some 50 common signs and symptoms of stress found on the next page.
If you were to ask a dozen people to define stress, or explain what causes stress for them, or how stress affects them, you would likely get 12 different answers to each of these requests. The reason for this is that there is no definition of stress that everyone agrees on, what is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or have little effect on others. We all react to stress differently.
Numerous surveys and studies confirm that occupational pressures and fears are far and away the leading source of stress for American adults and that these have steadily increased over the past few decades. While there are tons of statistics to support these allegations, how significant they are depends on such things as how the information was obtained (self-report vs. answers to carefully worded questions), the size and demographics of the targeted group, how participants were selected and who sponsored the study.
Contemporary stress tends to be more pervasive, persistent and insidious because it stems primarily from psychological than physical threats. It is associated with ingrained and immediate reactions over which we have no control that were originally designed to be beneficial.
Just as stress is different for each of us there is no stress reduction strategy that is a panacea. The key to reducing stress is to prevent it. Getting enough sleep, a proper diet, avoiding excess caffeine and other stimulants and taking time out to relax may be helpful in this regard. Many stress relievers work because of the power of the placebo effect that comes from having faith in the procedure or the therapist. Other very different approaches can achieve the same results because they reduce feelings of helplessness and provide a sense of control over the problem.
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.”
The American Institute of Stress is an executive producer of Body Electric, by Justin Smith, due to be released July 2017 in London. Watch the movie trailer and come back soon to order the DVD or purchase a digital download.