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What is stress?

If you type ‘stress definition’ into the search bar, ‘Google suggestions’ brings up options in the fields of psychology, engineering, science and physics. Common to all of these definitions are the words ‘pressure’, ‘tension’, and ‘strain’.

The human experience of stress is multi-dimensional. It incorporates a cocktail of pressure, tension and strain, which can be experienced emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. This internal experience of stress invariably affects our behavioural response and interaction with our external environment.

Common stressors

Many of us will say it is something in the external environment – our circumstances – that is causing us to feel stressed. Common examples of this are relationships; life events (e.g. births, deaths, marriage, divorce, illness & employment related issues); transitions (e.g. retirement, moving and relocating); and change, or fear of change (e.g. new people, new surroundings, new technologies, new systems & structures).

Stress as a threat to our capacity to cope

While external events may well impact upon us, our internal stress derives from the feeling of a basic threat – a perceived inability to cope with whatever it is we are facing. In other words, we feel stressed when our perceived demands threaten to outweigh our perceived supply of resources to cope.

Our perception of our innate ability to cope is an important component of self-acceptance and healthy self-esteem. Similarly, how we perceive life is so often determined by the way we perceive ourselves. Thus, the stress reaction is a unique personal experience, triggered by our individual perceptions of self, others and the world.

Chronic stress is pervasive

Extreme or prolonged, chronic stress can leave us prone to ‘dis-ease’ and a wide range of psycho-somatic ailments, or stress-related diseases affecting all major systems in our body. The over-production and release into our system of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine can cause a broad range of health problems. These include but are not limited to:

  • Suppressed immune system
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Cardio-vascular problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Reduced libido
  • Skin problems
  • Sleep disturbance

‘Positive’ stress

However, stress also has a generic positive function, in that, like anxiety, it can act as a warning signal, encouraging us to be alert and prepared for threat or danger. Stress arousal and pressure can also work positively in motivating and inspiring us to act, perform and achieve – all things which enhance our sense of self-efficacy, and self-esteem.

Do you feel stressed?

Loraine can help you to understand the universal body responses to stress, as well as explore with you your unique triggers and experience of stress. She can also help you understand the context of your stress, and assist you in devising strategies for coping, managing appropriately, re-framing and gaining a personal sense of empowerment.

Contact Loraine to speak in confidence about stress in your life.