Stress (roughly the opposite of relaxation) is a medical term for a wide range
of strong external stimuli, both physiological and psychological, which can
cause a physiological response called the general adaptation syndrome, first
described in 1936 by Hans Selye in the journal Nature.
alarm reaction, where the body detects the external stimulus
adaptation, where the body engages defensive countermeasures against the
exhaustion, where the body begins to run out of defenses
Selye was able to separate the physical effects of stress from other physical
symptoms suffered by patients through his research. He observed that patients
suffered physical effects not caused directly by their disease or by their
Selye described the general adaptation syndrome as having three stages:
Stress includes distress, the result of negative events, and eustress, the
result of positive events. Despite the type, stress is additive. If your dog
dies and you win the lottery, one does not cancel the other — both are
self-understanding (e.g. self-identification type of personality)
self-management (e.g. becoming better-organized)
Stress can directly and indirectly contribute to general or specific disorders
of body and mind. Stress can have a major impact on the physical functioning of
the human body. Such stress raises the level of adrenaline and corticosterone
in the body, which in turn increases the heart-rate, respiration,
blood-pressure and puts more physical stress on bodily organs. Long-term stress
can be a contributing factor in heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and
The Japanese phenomenon of karoshi, or death from overwork, is believed to be
due to heart attack and stroke caused by high levels of stress.
Serenity is a disposition free from stress. (see also our
Health & Stress pages- link).
Neurochemistry and physiology of the general adaptation syndrome
The general neurochemistry of the general adaptation syndrome is now believed
to be well understood, although much remains to be discovered about how this
system interacts with others in the brain and elsewhere in the body.
The body reacts to stress first by releasing catecholamine hormones, adrenaline
and norepinephrine, and glucocortisoid hormones, cortisol and cortisone.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a major part of the
neuroendocrine system, involving the interactions of the hypothalamus, the
pituitary gland and the adrenal glands. The HPA axis is believed to play a
primary role in the body's reactions to stress, by balancing hormone releases
from the adrenaline-producing adrenal medulla and from the corticosteroid
producing adrenal cortex.
Folklore of stress
About the time of Selye's work, the gradual realization dawned that age-old if
sometimes ill-defined concepts such as worry, conflict, tiredness, frustration,
distress, overwork, pre-menstrual tension, over-focusing, confusion, mourning
and fear could all come together in a general broadening of the meaning of the
term stress. The popular use of the term in modern folklore expanded rapidly,
spawning an industry of self-help, personal counselling, and sometimes
The use of the term stress in serious recognized cases such as those of
post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosomatic illness has scarcely helped
clear analysis of the generalized 'stress' phenomenon. Nonetheless, some
varieties of stress from negative life events, or distress, and from positive
life events, or eustress, can clearly have a serious physical impact distinct
from the troubles of what psychotherapists call "the worried well".
Techniques of stress management include:
Some techniques of time management may help a person to control stress. For
becoming more organized and reducing the generation of clutter
setting priorities can help reduce anxiety
using a "to do" list of tasks that a person needs to complete can give a person
a sense of control and accomplishment
Effective stress management involves learning to set limits and to say "No" to
some demands that others make.