Stress for Beginners

author/source: DrB



  • A Century of Stress

In the 20th century the term stress was introduced into biology from the world of physics. Animals "under threat" can show a physiological "flight or fight reaction", which affects bodily function.  At the same time, there can be a psychological stress reaction, affecting mental function. For human beings stress has been especially associated with the aspects of "modern life", but life these days may not be any more stressful for us than life in previous times. What has happened is that we have developed our particular way of thinking about stress. Fortunately we have also developed effective ways of managing stress.

  • Cause or Effect?

In physics strain is the relative change in shape or size of an object due externally applied forces, while stress is the internal force associated with a strain.  It is confusing in everyday life that we refer to stress as both a cause and an effect - we speak about very stressful situations, as much as being full of stress.


  • The biopsychosocial model

It is important to remember that the biological reaction to stress is both psychological and physiological: stressful life events can lead to both psychological and physical effects. Understanding and managing stress benefits from a holistic approach. The connections between these different areas of study gives us a handle to use in our efforts to keep our heads above water.

  • Stress and hormones

Understanding the link between adverse circumstances and the "fight or flight reaction" highlighted the important role played by certain so-called chemical messengers or hormones, for example adrenaline and cortisol, in enabling us to cope when things get rough.

  • The usefulness of stress

Although stress gets a bad press, coping with stress means that problems get solved, things get done. Adversity challenges, the stress reaction kicks in, and the alert state that results certainly has survival value. Its useful just crossing a busy road.

  • The harm stress can cause

There is a downside. Modern life does not always allow fighting or running away. We may be locked into a stressful environment against which retaliation is not encouraged and escape might bring only more problems. Being on constant alert brings health problems, both mental and physical. See Stress and the skin.

Next on Stress:
Stress in The Past