What is stress?

Stress defined

We are all familiar with stress, we’ve all experienced it. It’s generally acknowledged that life can be pretty stressful. But what exactly is stress? Here are some dictionary definitions:

“a force exerted on an object that causes strain or deformation”

“subject to pressure or tension.”

“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.”

“a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”

“cause mental or emotional strain or tension in.”

At this point it’s worth making the distinction between physical stress such as heat, physical pressure on our body, etc and psychological stress. In Zoom-Out we are concerned with psychological stress – which is what people usually mean when they refer to the stress of everyday life.

The role of perspective in stress

I think we can all relate to these definitions of stress but from a Zoom-Out stance, there is a vital piece of the jigsaw missing and that is the role that perspectives and human perception play in stress. Here’s a more helpful definition:

Stress is: “The physiological changes in your body due to external factors that are perceived as threatening harm, loss or misfortune, or as demanding more than you have in resources or capabilities..”

Theresa Fox, DeStressify

This is incredibly empowering! It gives us an extra variable to play with in the stress equation, namely our perspective on an event – the way we are perceiving a “stressful” situation. So in addition to trying to change or avoid the situation, we now have access to a superpower, the ability to also change how we are viewing that stressful situation. Of course, we need to develop this superpower, but Zoom-Out is all about acknowledging and then developing this ability.

perspective on events

This is ancient wisdom from many different times and places:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

– Shakespeare’s Hamlet

“People are not disturbed by events but by the view they take of them.”

– Epictetus, Stoic philosopher, A.D. 55 – 135

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

– The Buddha, 563 – 483 BC

But for now let’s get back to events and our perspectives on events. How our perspective on an event is a key factor in the amount of stress we experience.

So psychological stress is in the eye of beholder.

  • TEACH: ZO and Events (cannonball visuals)
  • TEACH: What is stress – a definition
  • TEACH: Perspective of stress – a more nuanced definition
  • TEACH: Distortion / Delusion + the Expectations Gap
  • TEACH: Man’s search for meaning?

Perspective on stress itself

It turns out that the rabbit hole goes even deeper than just our perspective on events. Our perspective on stress itself, has a profound effect on the role that stress plays in our lives. It even has an effect on our physical health and life span. If we view stress as damaging and something to be avoided, stress will make us ill and reduce our life expectancy. If we view stress as a challenge and something that strengthens us then the opposite is true. Read more on this here.

>> QUOTE: McGonnigal