Definition Of Stress

Here's a definition of stress as it applies to a human being's health and happiness.

Stress is...

  1. some form of pressure - a real or perceived danger or discomfort - exerted on a human being by the outer or inner environment, including by the mind, and...
  2. the spontaneous biological responses to such pressure, as well as...
  3. the short-term and longer-term residual effects on the physiology as determined by the degree of effectiveness in the way in which the individual or the person's system deals with those biological responses.

To expand this definition of stress...

The stressor

In human terms, stress - as in 'stressor' - usually refers to something that is putting pressure on the functioning of our psycho-physiology, the biological mechanism through which we function in this physical world.

For example, a stressor might be in the form of:

  • a real or perceived danger from our external environment (e.g. an animal or human attacker, a fall, a car crash, a flood)
  • an unwanted disturbance (e.g. a loud or irritating noise, the behaviour of others)
  • survival needs that are not properly met (e.g. not enough sleep, lack of fresh air, poor solid or liquid diet)

The biological response part of the definition of stress

Our human physiology is 'wired' to respond to perceived danger in a specific way, and the response is often outside our conscious control. This response is a natural survival mechanism in all organisms.

Our wired-in response to perceived danger results in the release into our body of certain hormones and neurochemicals. These are the body's natural method of dealing with perceived danger from our environment.

The response to danger, for example, is popularly referred to as the 'fight-or-flight response'. In other words, certain biochemicals prepare us to take appropriate survival action: either to stay and fight the danger, or to take flight to escape it.

These hormones and neurochemicals are what people experience when they say, "My adrenaline is pumping!". It is 'pumping' or being produced to give that extra boost of energy and sharpness needed to handle the danger appropriately.

Adrenalin can also be deliberately triggered through partcipation in 'extreme sports' such as sky-diving and bungee jumping.

The effects of the fight-or-flight response

Without such a stress response we would not be well equipped to deal with real danger. So in this context raw stress is good and natural.

The problem arises, however, when we don't take the appropriate action there and then. These chemicals then don't get utilized and so remain stored in our physiology. And this is the aspect of stress that is not good.

This explains too why physical exercise or exertion is so important as a natural means for releasing such stored 'stresses'. Exertion would be the body's normal response: to exert energy for the fight for survival or for running like hell in flight to escape the danger.

Either of these responses is appropriate for the ongoing survival and normal functioning of the human organism.

Why is stess usually considered a 'bad' thing?

When we are subjected to stress on a sustained basis - or to sudden and unexpected stress - without getting rid of those neurochemicals quickly, this would be an inappropiate way of dealing with stress.

Health professionals consider this to be the most detrimental kind of stress, adversely affecting long-term health and happiness.

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