What is Stress?
Although we all talk about stress, it often isn’t clear what stress is really about. Many people consider stress to be something that happens to them, an event such as an injury or a promotion. Others think that stress is what happens to our body, mind and behaviour in response to an event (e.g. heart pounding, anxiety, or nail biting.) While stress does involve events and our response to them, these are not the most important factors. Our thoughts about the situations in which we find ourselves are the critical factor.
When something happens to us, we automatically evaluate the situation mentally. We decide if it is threatening to us, how we need to deal with the situation and what skills we can use. If we decide that the demands of the situation outweigh the skills we have, then we label the situation as “stressful” and react with the classic “stress response.” If we decide that our coping skills outweigh the demands of the situation, then we don’t see it as “stressful.”
Everyone sees situations differently and has different coping skills. For this reason, no two people will respond exactly the same way to a given situation.
Additionally, not all situations that are labeled “stressful” are negative. The birth of a child, being promoted or moving to a new home may not be perceived as threatening. However, we may feel that situations are “stressful” because we don’t feel fully prepared to deal with them.
Some situations in life are stress-provoking, but it is our thoughts that determine whether they are a problem to us.
How we perceive a stress-provoking event and how we react to it determines its impact on our health. We may be motivated and invigorated by the events in our lives, or we may see some as “stressful” and respond in a manner that may have a negative effect on our physical, mental and social well-being. If we always respond in a negative way our health and happiness may suffer. By understanding ourselves and our reactions to stress-provoking situations, we can learn to handle stress more effectively.