Stress has become a true buzz word throughout the past couple of decades. Many a patient has been both embarrassed and relieved at the emergency room, that symptoms from chest pain, to fatigue, were explained by “stress.” But what kind of explanation is that? What does it mean? What is stress, and what does it do to/for us, anyway?
It would be easy to just leave it at the definition of stress: “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” This definition, however, is so limiting.
The definition is so limiting, that this is going to be the first of a three part blog, exploring not only some of the basics of stress, but also some of the lesser known updates of science, that allows us to see stress as not just a negative, with the ‘bad rap,’ that has come to be associated with it.
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
Negative stress is called, ‘distress,’ while positive stress is referred to as ‘eustress.’
Further, the identification of a ‘fight-or-flight’ response was described as early as the 1920’s, by American physiologist, Walter Canon. Canon realized that a chain of rapidly occurring reactions inside the body help mobilize the body’s resources to deal with threatening circumstances. This response can be experienced during a true life threatening emergency, or, when we perceive a threat to our well-being, be it physical or emotional.
Imagine that you have an upcoming presentation, in a class or workplace. You might start to feel the impact of stress as you think about what is riding on your performance; what grade you might receive and how it impacts your GPA, or, if your presentation merits consideration for that upcoming job position that would be a promotion. With all that is riding on the outcome, one could have increased anxiety, or, at the worst panic. This is a stress response. But, this is not a life threatening situation, although perhaps, a life impacting one.
So now there is a choice how to view the situation. I can choose to approach the presentation as an opportunity to demonstrate how much I know about the information being presented, and be excited about it, rather than wanting to get it over and done. This added level of stress, also, can be one that can actually enhance my performance, therefore, I can harness the stress for good purpose! Be sure to check for more tips in Part 2.
Mr. David Wiley, MS, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Miller Counseling Services. He has practiced in a variety of behavioral health settings in the Triangle area of North Carolina since 1981, including innovative approaches to substance abuse and chronic pain management, crisis intervention, as well as working with relationship issues with couples and families. Areas of interest, and expertise include: mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, substance abuse education/screening/outpatient follow-up, ADD/ADHD, relationship/premarital/marital counseling along with co-therapy, stress/pain management including biofeedback modality, life transition issues especially with college students as well as older adults, adolescent counseling.