360° Definition of Stress

Maui Luau Sunset from Definition of Stress Page, Photo by Rev Nancy Ash, 2004, from her collection

Definition of Stress
Welcome to 360. The purpose for this discussion is to provide a basic overview for a large topic concerning us all: Stress. Stress Site-Map

Having studied and taught stress reduction techniques for decades, such as progressive muscle relaxation training, yoga, meditation, etc., I feel it's important to share 360° insights on this vast subject. About this author

What is the definition of stress?

That is a question which has many answers depending on whom you are asking. It is a term used very loosely, so let's look at the meaning of it as defined by the "father of stress," Hans Selye, MD., who dedicated his whole life to researching stress.

The Hungarian pioneering doctor of psychosomatic medicine (mind-body connection) coined the phrases "stress," "stressors" and "stress response," as well as others. He generally gave two definitions. The first is simple: "the rate of wear and tear within the body." The second is obviously more complex: "the state manifested by a specific syndrome which consists of all the nonspecifically induced changes within a biologic system" (Selye, 1956). Go to Stress Info Site-Map

Essentially, stress is a force that can be external as well as internal. The key to understanding a definition of stress is knowing that stress is not always "bad." For example, winning the lottery is "good" but it can be a very stressful event, too. I remember a movie a few years back that had an elderly man die of a heart attack after learning he had the winning ticket. His heart couldn't take the intense excitement.

Stress is good for us. We need stress in our lives for creativity, to challenge and motivate us. An example of this is doing exercise. Regular, vigorous brisk walking is an external stress placed on the body...but of course we all know it is good for us, and we should do it often to maintain radiant health.

The issue when examining a definition of stress is understanding that too much stress, or too many "stressors" can wreak havoc on our health and well being.

What is a "stressor"?

A stressor is something that triggers the stress response. For example, traffic may be perceived as a stressor if we feel that it's a threat to our well being. Air and noise pollution are stressors. Overcrowding, deadline pressures at the office, death of family or friends, financial difficulty, foreclosure, etc. are all examples of "negative" stressors. Positive, or "good" stressors can include a marriage ceremony, getting a promotion, and as I mentioned above, winning the lottery. Even a vacation can be a subtle stressor. Haven't you ever heard someone say they were exhausted after their trip...that they needed a vacation from their vacation!

As I always teach my students...going with the flow is key. Adaptation is crucial to personal and spiritual development. Changing our mind to perceive that our situation is not a threat is how to adapt in our modern world that is filled with stressors. Of course stress reduction techniques like various meditation methods, progressive muscle relaxation, and conscious movement disciplines such as yoga are very beneficial and effective.

Understanding a definition of stress from a 360° view, meaning an all-encompassing vision, helps one to see that what we think...we create. So if we think falsely that something is stressful, then that belief becomes our perception, and that is an illusion we have created. Perhaps a classic image of seeing "the glass half-empty" or "half-full" may be helpful in understanding this discussion.

It is vital to our health and well being to be able to discern a stressor (source of stress) and its effects. In other words, when a person recognizes the stressor and the effect it has on him/her, then they can evaluate it consciously and apply stress reduction techniques accordingly.

For example, if someone believes that public speaking is going to be a stressful event, they will probably feel a stress response happening (increased heart rate). With informed awareness they may choose to do deep breathing exercises as a form of stress reduction to produce a relaxation response (lowered heart rate).

A definition of stress according to Dr. Selye:

  • Stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand made upon it...All agents to which we are exposed produce a non-specific increase in the need to perform adaptive functions and thereby to reestablish normalcy....It is immaterial whether the agent or situation we face is pleasant or unpleasant; all that counts is the intensity of the demand for readjustment or adaption. (Selye, 1974).

Maui Sunset from Definition of Stress Page, Photo by Rev Nancy Ash, 2004, from her collection

Definition of Stress: Article on Stress Reduction Techniques: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Click here for an article related to this topic of stress: Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique (PMRT). This article is short and features actual stress reduction techniques you can practice right now...in your chair.

Definition of Stress
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