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January 21, 2022

What Is Stress?

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An important topic for all of us to understand is stress and the role it plays in our lives. Of course, most fundamentally stress is a physiological response that is in place for our safety. It gives us the energy and focus to fight or flight when confronted with a threat. Biologically our sympathetic nervous system is activated, releasing cortisol which creates these downstream effects.

Unfortunately stress in today’s human world is a bit out of place. I read a book in college that explained this phenomenon perfectly, and it’s called “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert Sapolsky. But now that humans are cognitive beings in a modern world, we experience unhealthy levels of stress because we perceive many psychological threats that activate our sympathetic nervous system on a daily basis. These chronically elevated cortisol levels create health issues for us, whereas a Zebra only activates a stress response when it’s being chased by a lion.

Recently I heard stress defined as a perception that your demands exceed your needs. This makes sense because then your body reacts to expand your capacities in the only way it knows how. But on the other side of it, I want to propose more mindful practices to manage stress where you intentionally lower the perceived demand. Writing out a plan, doing objective thinking, or utilizing gratitude or perspective can help to reframe the meaning of the stressful stimulus and make it more manageable.

At the end of the day, it’s important to be aware and in control of our body’s process, paying extra attention to the ways our bodies might not be caught up to the times. So let’s wrap up by reflecting on this question - What causes unnecessary stress in your life?

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