Understanding Stress

“Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”
Thomas Jefferson

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One of the major reasons of our inability to cope with stress or to reduce it from our lives in first place, is our failure to understand stress. Stress your mind and try defining stress you shall know that what you are talking about are the symptoms or the cause and not what stress actually is.


Chamber’s Twentieth Century dictionary defines it as - hardship, strain, constraining influence, pressure.

A more recent definition according to another dictionary is – stress is a specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.

The word 'stress' is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a state of affair involving demand on physical or mental energy". A condition or circumstance (not always adverse), which can disturb the normal physical and mental health of an individual.

In medical parlance 'stress' is defined as a perturbation of the body's homeostasis. This demand on mind-body occurs when it tries to cope with incessant changes in life. A 'stress' condition seems 'relative' in nature. Extreme stress conditions, psychologists say, are detrimental to human health but in moderation stress is normal and, in many cases, proves useful. Stress, nonetheless, is synonymous with negative conditions. Today, with the rapid diversification of human activity, we come face to face with numerous causes of stress and the symptoms of stress and depression.

Stress is a problem of adjustment which may be defined as “the outcome of the individual’s efforts to deal with stress and meet his needs as well as environmental demands.” Personal adjustment is a process of continuous interaction between the individual and his environment in which the individual either adopts to the environment or alters it.

Stress is any accommodative demand that requires coping behaviour on the part of an individual or group.

Let us try to understand the types of Stress, it’s severity and some other key aspects, in simpler terms.


Frustration - It is the experience caused when an individual is obstructed from pursuing his goal.

Conflict - The state of confusion, wherein one has to choose between two alternatives. Till the selection isn’t done the state of conflict prevails.

Pressure - A situation that makes your journey more complicated or adds on more demands that you are expected to meet, during the process of your adjustment.

Frustrations - Can be personal or environmental:

  • Delays
  • Lack of Resources
  • Losses
  • Failures
  • Meaninglessness

Conflicts - Can be Positive and rewarding or Negative and have punishment factor:

  • Self Direction Vs Outer Direction
  • Commitment Vs Non-Environment
  • Avoidance Vs Facing Reality
  • Integrity Vs Self-Advantage
  • Sexual Desires Vs Restrictions

Pressures - Can be Internal or External:

  • Pressure of Competitive Achievement
  • Sustained Concentration of Efforts
  • Complexity and Rapid Change
  • Pressure from Family & Other Relationships

The extent of strain or dis-equilibrium that an individual experiences due to stress is called the severity of stress. The severity ranges from mild, moderate, severe to excessive.

Other key aspects to stress are :

  • Stress patterns are unique
  • Key Stresses in life are like negative mile stones
  • Stress patterns may be unconscious
  • Adaptation of stress is expensive – lowers adaptive efficiency and can cause health hazards

In a challenging situation the brain prepares the body for defensive action—the fight or flight response by releasing stress hormones, namely, cortisone and adrenaline. These hormones raise the blood pressure and the body prepares to react to the situation. With a concrete defensive action (fight response) the stress hormones in the blood get used up, entailing reduced stress effects and symptoms of anxiety.

When we fail to counter a stress situation (flight response) the hormones and chemicals remain unreleased in the blood stream for a long period of time. It results in stress related physical symptoms such as tense muscles, unfocused anxiety, dizziness and rapid heartbeats. We all encounter various stressors (causes of stress) in everyday life, which can accumulate, if not released. Subsequently, it compels the mind and body to be in an almost constant alarm-state in preparation to fight or flee. This state of accumulated stress can increase the risk of both acute and chronic psychosomatic illnesses and weaken the immune system of the human body.

Stress can cause headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, eating disorder, allergies, insomnia, backaches, frequent cold and fatigue to diseases such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, heart ailments and even cancer. Psychologists, says that 70 per cent to 80 per cent of adults visit physicians for problems that are stress-related. Scary enough. But where are we going wrong?

Just about everybody—men, women, children and even fetuses—suffer from stress. Relationship demands, chronic health problems, pressure at workplaces, traffic snarls, meeting deadlines, growing-up tensions or a sudden bearish trend in the bourse can trigger stress conditions. People react to it in their own ways. In some people, stress-induced adverse feelings and anxieties tend to persist and intensify. Learning to understand and manage stress can prevent the counter effects of stress.

Methods of coping with stress are aplenty. The most significant or sensible way out is a change in lifestyle. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, physical exercises, listening to soothing music, deep breathing, various natural and alternative methods, personal growth techniques, visualization and massage are some of the most effective of the known non-invasive stress busters.