Episode 1 — what is stress?
“It’s two in the morning, you’re in bed. The next day, a very important event awaits you, for example a decisive meeting, presentation, exam. So you need a good dose of rest, but still stay fully awake. You try different strategies to relax, breathe slowly and deeply, imagine mountain landscapes with chamois. But instead of feeling relieving peace, you keep thinking that if you don’t fall asleep your career will be ruined. And here you lie, and your tension grows with each passing second. “
Hello Mister Stress!
In everyday life, this word describes the various difficult situations we go through. However, the challenge remains to determine whether stress is the cause or effect in such a “transaction”.
After all, we say that “we have a lot of stress in life” (cause), but we also hear voices of people reporting that they are “stressed” (effect).
Selye, considered one of the fathers of stress research, defined stress as “the general response of the body to any pressure or demand”.
Three things are emerging now.
First, Selye treats stress as a reaction, while introducing the term “stressor” to describe an event or thought that triggers the stress response. We even now have a classification of various stressful events, from the death of a loved one (100 stress points), through losing a job (47), to vacation (13).
Second, the phrase “overall response” is disturbing because it assumes the same nature of the stress response regardless of what the stressor is. Selye argued that the evolutionary learning of this reaction allowed us as a species to adapt to pressures, to maintain our form and even life.
At this point, I begin to appreciate that mother nature gave us such a mechanism. But I immediately recall that, unfortunately, apart from reacting to a real threat, I myself often stress just thinking about it, as in the case described in the introduction by Robert Sapolsky in the book” Why zebras don’t get ulcers”.
Thirdly, the reaction itself occurs because we strive to maintain balance in our body, because balance or homeostasis is a necessary condition for the feeling to arise, that we are OK. Because everyone wants to feel OK. A stressor is therefore everything that in the outside world throws us out of the state of homeostatic equilibrium, and the stress reaction is all actions taken by our body to return to the state of homeostasis.
In the next episode, I will describe the mechanism of stress.