What is Stress?

We do it to ourselves

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” [Shakespeare – Hamlet]

The first thing to realize is that stress does not come from the outside world. It comes about as a result of our reactions to the outside world. In other words, we do it to ourselves. Let me illustrate this with an example that many of us can relate to. Imagine you’re on your way to do something pleasurable. You’re looking forward to it. You feel feel good – happy. There’s no appreciable stress in your body. You suddenly have a worrisome thought like, ‘Oh my God, I think I left the door unlocked!’ How do you feel as a result of that thought? You probably don’t feel good anymore. You’re probably feeling quite a bit of stress. Now, here’s the point – nothing touched you to put that stress and tension into your body. Your surroundings are the same, your clothing is the same. nothing has changed except that worrisome thought that produced all kinds of chemicals that flooded your body – elevating your body temperature and generating tensions – ie. stress, all over your body. You can’t be happy and relaxed anymore. but all this took place inside your mind and your body. You did it all!

Even positive happy situations, like going on vacation, or getting a promotion – can be quite stressful for some people.

Holmes and Rahe (1967 – published by the Canadian Mental Health Association) developed a list called the ‘SOCIAL READJUSTMENT RATING SCALE‘ (SRRS) for identifying major stressful life events. Each one of the 43 stressful life events was awarded a LIFE CHANGE UNIT depending on how stressful it was felt to be by a large sample of participants. A total value for stressful life events can be worked out by adding up the scores for each event experienced over a 12 month period.

They state that:

“If your total is more than 300 points, you have an 80%/90% chance of experiencing a serious change in your health status.”

“If your total is between 150 and 300, you have an approximately 50% chance of becoming ill.

“If your total is less than 150, your situation is comparable to that of the average population and your susceptibility to contract a serious illness is approximately 30% (or less).

But, why settle for any amount of stress? Wouldn’t it be better to eliminate as much stress as possible? Why not aim to be the best that you can be – healthier, happier, and being your best? Mindfulness will help you achieve all of this.


What is Stress?

In a word – tension.

Imagine a single cell organism – like an amoeba, for instance. Most of us have seen images of these creatures as seen through a microscope. They’re kind of like jellyfish – flowing, relaxed. However, disrupt their environment or prick them with a pin, and they immediately contract and become more rigid. Stress in our body is pretty much the same. The cells in our body are either in a state of relaxation – like that amoeba – or they’re constricted and tense. Take any negative emotion – fear, anger, sadness, embarrassment, etc. – and you’ll find that some parts of your body are no longer an a perfectly relaxed state. Some tension has crept in. Different emotions have patterns and flavours of stress or tension that are specific to them. For example, most people feel fear in the stomach and back of the neck. As an example, if someone experiences a high level of fear, they might say that they could feel the hairs on the back of their neck stand up. Flavours refer to the different ways the stress is felt. It might be felt as a sharp stabbing feeling, or pressure, or heat, or something more vague, like a thick fog. Nonetheless, they are simply different patterns of tension in the body.

In a sense then, stress is the body fighting itself. The pressure, or heat felt, has not come from the outside. It is something generated internally – within ourselves. The solution to letting go of stress then, is to simply stop fighting yourself. Sounds simple? It’s not. What are the difficulties in dealing with stress?