In our last post, Got Stress?, we gave a very brief overview of this week’s theme which will be a trilogy looking at stress, what it is, how it affects us, and how we can manage it. If we begin with the most basic definition, stress is “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change” (Selye, 1936). This means anything from walking uphill to trying to outrun a cheetah creates stress. Stress is perhaps the clearest demonstration of the link between the mind and body, most easily seen in the fight, flight, or freeze response.
Once we see stress for what it is, an external force that puts pressure on internal processes, we allow ourselves an opportunity to manage how it affects us. When we experience stress and believe our response to be something that simply “happens” to us we lose the ability to manage how it impacts us, and how we manage it. An example of this is when someone says “This is stressing me out.” Whatever it is, it’s not – the event is creating the conditions for stress, but how much stress and how we respond to it is not out of our control.
Experiencing stress and being “stressed out” are not the same. One is an everyday occurrence, the other is a reaction to extreme stress. “Stressed out” happens when we view the event as being beyond our ability to manage it. We accept a low locus of control, and low self-efficacy. In short, we believe we are powerless to change the situation, and we believe we don’t have the skills to match the challenge. This is often seen in sport, especially when a lower ranked team plays against one ranked higher, or during a game when one team has been dominant over another. When confidence takes a hit it can be hard to regain it, and often teams or athletes lose the competition before they have set foot in the stadium.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – Stress happens. It’s a part of life, and it is something that can be managed.
2 – Stress is neither good or bad, but our responses are. Bad stress responses causes sickness and injury, but a body trained to manage stress will get stronger. So it is with our minds and mental toughness.
3 – When we are in the middle of a crisis it can be difficult to be objective. We can become stuck in the fight, flight, or freeze condition, even when it isn’t warranted.
In our next article we will look at the relationship between stress, the mind, and the body. Stress can cause sickness and disease, but it can also bring about success and strength. Stress happens, how we deal with it is critical to our well-being.
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Selye, H. (1936). A syndrome produced by diverse nocuous agents. Nature, 138, 32.