360 Definition of Stress

Maui Luau Sunset - Rev Nancy's private collection, 2004 - a definition of stress page

Welcome to 360's definition of stress. The purpose for this discussion is to provide a basic overview for a large topic concerning us all: Stress!

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

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What is the definition of stress?

That is a question which has many answers depending on whom you are asking. It's 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 quite 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)

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 watching a movie years ago that featured an elderly man dying of a heart attack right after learning that he had the big winning ticket. His heart just 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's very 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.

Okay… so 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 may 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 totally exhausted after their trip… that they needed a vacation from their vacation!

As I always teach: the key is going with the flow. Adaptation is crucial to personal and spiritual development. Changing our mind positively to perceive that our situation is not a threat is how to adapt in our modern world 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 the 360 view, (meaning an all-encompassing vision), helps us 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's an illusion we've created. Perhaps a classic image of seeing "the glass half-empty" or "half-full" may assist in understanding this discussion.

It's 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, (and most do!) they'll probably feel a strong stress response happening (increased heart rate). With informed awareness they may choose to do deep breathing exercises as an effective 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

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: stress reduction techniques
Click for an article related to this topic of stress: Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique (PMRT). This article is short and effective, featuring actual stress reduction techniques you may practice right now… in your chair. (A 360 Definition of Stress. © Copyright, 2008.)

Thanks for visiting 360. Wishing you peace in a strees-free life.

In Oneness, Namasté, Nancy Ash, DD, PhD

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