What is Stress?


Every time we push ourselves too far and the demands we meet are overwhelming we plant the seed of stress. That’s why balance is paramount.

We need to know ourselves well and respect our limitations. We can always evolve and expand our capacities, but we must do this very gradually and carefully.

It’s just like doing exercise. If you want to be a runner, first you must start running in a rather slow pace for a short period of time; especially if you are a beginner or lead a sedentary lifestyle. The best thing is to run just ten or fifteen minutes at first, and expand your capacity slowly, increasing about five minutes every week. If you exceed your limitations you can even get hurt. The same applies to everything else.

Alarm Reaction: Fight or Flight!

Stress is the way nature prepares us to face danger. At least that’s the way it was intended originally.In ancient times, when survival depended on defending ourselves from predators and other menaces, the process we now call stress was crucial for preserving our species. When real danger appeared –like an attack from a wild animal or a natural disaster-, a series of physiological changes prepared us to fight –if we were strong enough to overcome the situation successfully- or flight –if we weren’t fit to face the challenge.

Three issues should be considered:

  • * Real Danger
  • * Action
  • * Frequency Real Danger

The first point to be emphasized here is the fact of the real danger. This process only took place in real danger situations, when action was crucial for our survival.

The second point is this very need for action.

The last is the frequency of such situations.

We no longer answer merely to real danger anymore. In fact, most of the time, this response is triggered by illusionary, inexistent dangers.

What’s the danger implied in getting a low grade in a test or forgetting your homework? How does your life depend on remembering a discourse at a wedding party?

However, more and more people get unexplainable phobias, like speaking in public or being attacked by a shark inside a pool. Our body reacts to imaginary dangers, that usually exist only in our minds.

This reminds me of a story of a group of people inside a tent who were terrified by a snake, which turned out to be a piece of rope. The danger only existed in their minds. But that was enough to trigger their fight or flight response. Their hands began to sweat, their heart beat accelerated and they felt their bodies react in the same way it would respond to a real snake.


Action is another ingredient that often lacks in our present responses. When you’re stressed because of a meeting, no matter how terrified you may feel, you won’t escape or fight someone. The same happens when you have to face a large audience or drive during the rush hour. You just stand still, without running or fighting. This is very harmful, as action is the only way the adrenaline that is released in your bloodstream can be reabsorbed. When this doesn’t happen, this substance remains in your body, causing a lot of damage.


This leads us to the third negative factor of modern stress: frequency. As you can imagine, our ancestors didn’t face such dangerous situations very often. Fortunately for them, meeting a wild beast or facing a flood wasn’t very common. On the other hand, our own stressful situations follow us almost all the time, sometimes several times on the same day. As we wake up, we have to drive the kids to school and experience all the stress involved with traffic.

These are major cause of stress these days.Once we recognize the factors inducing stress among us, we can effectively manage our stress.

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