There is no universally accepted definition of stress. As a result, measuring stress is difficult if there is no agreement on what stress should be defined as. People have very different ideas about what constitutes stress. Most people consider stress to be something that causes only harm; however, any definition of stress should include positive stress as well. The most common definition of stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension caused by adverse or extremely demanding circumstances. The American Institute of Stress defines stress as “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” My favorite definition is the Stoic’s, “the friction of conflicting obligations.” Stress is a mental and physical reaction to what you perceive to be happening.
Acute stress, for example, is the fight or flight response, in which the body prepares for defense. Chronic stress is characterized by a persistent sense of pressure and overload over an extended period of time. Eustress, the positive connotations—which is the bitter-sweet excitement that comes with overwhelming emotions, such as marriage, promotion, lottery, or meeting new people. You know when you finally get to that milestone you’ve been looking forward to, like graduation, so thrilled about advancement but with lingering thoughts of what comes after, like oh shit, I’m now an adult or the reality of responsibilities like student loans? Or when you’re ecstatic to get your firstborn child but have no idea how to parent or even what to do when it arrives. The other sort of stress is distress, which has negative connotations such as divorce or financial difficulties, among other things. Distinguishing between the unpleasant or damaging type of stress known as distress, which often connotes sickness, and eustress, which often connotes euphoria, is critical. Both eustress and distress cause the body to have nearly identical non-specific responses to the many positive and negative stimuli acting on it. Eustress, on the other hand, produces far less harm than distress. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that how a person handles stress influences whether or not they can successfully adapt to change.
What causes stress?
According to Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, a leader in the field of stress mastery, believing that stress is something that happens to us is a myth. For example, if I say that my girlfriend is stressing me out, she is only a stressor; the stress is caused by my reaction to what I perceive to be happening. A stressor is someone or something that presents you with a challenge. What is the true source of stress? Perception. The majority of stress is caused by perception. We become stressed when our perception does not match our expectations.
“We suffer more from imagination than from reality.”Seneca
Stress, according to the Stoics, is optional. Stress isn’t something that happens to you, as psychologists and neuroscientists have recently confirmed. That is definitely true; I believe stress is optional, but stressors are not. Stressors will always be present in our lives every day, minute, and second; what matters is how you respond to that stressor. Because stress is caused by perception, relieving stress is essentially a matter of training your perceptions. As the Stoics put it, mastering the discipline of perception.
I did think once that I had to carry the entire world on my back. When a problem arose, whether it was controllable or not, I made every effort to control the situation. My mind’s racing thoughts increased my adrenaline levels. I was always so stressed that I thought my heart would burst one day. I spoke with this woman, and she told me something I will never forget: the world existed before you were born, and it will exist after you are gone; control what you can and let go of the rest. That was the exact day I said, “Fuck it.” Of course, I encounter stressors, but my reaction to them has shifted so dramatically that I occasionally relish the challenges. It is important to consider how you perceive the situation. The way one perceives the situation has a significant impact.
Stress can be unhealthy, but it can also be beneficial.
Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, highlighted a massive piece of research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in her TED talk, which shocked many people. A study of 29,000 people over an eight-year period discovered that your attitude toward stress has a far greater impact on your health than the stress itself. People who were under a lot of stress and believed it was bad for their health had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. Nonetheless, in the study, people who experienced too much stress but did not perceive stress as harmful had the lowest risk of dying. The researchers now estimate that 182,000 people died prematurely over the eight years they tracked mortality, not from stress, but from the assumption that stress is bad for you. This equates to more than 20,000 deaths per year. If that calculation is true, stress was the 15th leading cause of death in the United States last year, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS, and homicide combined.
According to the study, if you believe that stress is always harmful to you, your prediction will come true. You’re also correct if you believe stress is a positive thing because it energizes, challenges, and motivates you. People who had a positive attitude toward stress lived for several years longer than those who had a negative attitude toward stress, which is a remarkable finding. Short-term stress can strengthen your immune system, make you more social, help you learn better, and even improve your memory. Stress boosts motivation, increases resiliency, and promotes growth.
There are a number of ways one can reduce stress, exercising, meditation, mindfulness meditation, counseling, finding a hobby, journaling, reading, cold showers- Cold exposure is a hot trend. Silicon Valley swears by taking cold showers first thing in the morning to reduce stress and boost mental fortitude. It’s been dubbed the “secret weapon” and most cost-effective “biohack” in the pursuit of ageless vitality by anti-aging researchers. Dissecting the situation aids in narrowing it down and locating the source of the problem; pause and analyze. What is the source of this? Is this something I’ve brought on myself? What can do? Is it under my control or not? Careless about what others think of you, please…don’t you think it’s easier to be yourself than to try to be someone you’re not—your happiness and peace of mind are too important to be placed on the whims of others? Life is too short to be swayed by the opinions of others. Accept yourself for who you are and what makes you unique.
“Daily Life.” The American Institute of Stress, 18 Dec. 2019, https://www.stress.org/daily-life.
“Dealing with Stress: 12 Proven Strategies for Stress Relief from Stoicism.” Daily Stoic, 16 Feb. 2021, https://dailystoic.com/stress-relief/.
McGonigal, Kelly. “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” TED, https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend/up-next?language=en.