Stress Under the Microscope


What can we learn from stress and our relationship to it?

Stress under the microscope

Stress can be seen as having 2 related meanings –

Materials and humans

The first relates to the tension, or pressure that is exerted on an object or material

The second relates to mental, emotional or physical pain resulting from challenging, difficult or overwhelming circumstances. Also included are situations we do not believe we can manage, or control and the potential for threat.

I think those definitions are incredibly important when we look at our own relationship to stress

What is probably more helpful is this very simple medical definition –

Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations, whether real, or perceived

And there we have it

That definition pretty much sums up being human and all that we face and deal with in life and the fact that we suffer more from our mind than anything we actually experience in real-time.

We may be very unlucky and have several car crashes in a lifetime over decades of existence, but the worry, doubt and patterns that keep us as spectators and hiding our true potential will do much more damage over time.

I think it is also crucial to understand that stress is actually a very natural response, just as fear is and both are an essential part of who we are

While low-level stress is manageable and can help our growth, high-level stress can have serious health consequences over time and even threaten our existence.

Let me paint a picture early and you are free to walk with that for some time and see if it fits your world in any useful way, or discard it and carry on –

Stress largely has the impact you allow (or create) based on your relationship to that word and how you use it as you will see later on

Let me flesh that out

For as long as I can remember, stress was a terrible thing and a thing to be avoided. You didn’t want stress, stress was bad for you, stress could kill you and you could even be signed off from work for stress. I am not going towards areas like PTSD here as that is very different from the everyday tasks most of us face and would rather not do, or that causes a degree of suffering.

Reflecting and reframing are powerful tools to better understand and manage stress. If you were tied up in a way that you could hardly move, very uncomfortable, in a dark room and exposed to random and terrifying noise you would be experiencing an extreme level of stress. Now consider the things that normally stress you, or what you would label as stress as you navigate your week. What are the consequences here? What is avoided? What is done that does not serve you? When you realise many of the things we normally regard as stressful, only appear so because they wear the hat we have given them, you also realise your power to remove that hat, change the label, change the impact, change the behaviour and finally change the outcome of that situation. In fact, if it will help write them all down –

Things that stress me.........

Not global things that you are powerless to impact in any realistic way. The events and situations you face on a regular basis that would lead to you formulating the word stress in your brain and labelling that situation as something challenging.

Is it stressful, or is it boring and something you would rather not do?

Not to judge, but I can tell you from experience that doing nothing is absolutely exhausting and when you avoid important tasks and even taking care of yourself, there is a deep realisation that you are letting yourself down and at some level it is perfectly possible to translate that as stress.

This is the power of reflection and the observer. Taking a deep look at what is actually going on instead of reacting and repeating heavily wired responses to familiar situations. You really do get to change once you are aware of the map and how it plays out. You will probably find there is much less potentially damaging stress in your world than you realise, and you will tread softer and faster with much of it off of your shoulders and out of your mind.

Stress is a normal part of life that can either help us or hurt us depending on how we deal with it. When we are able to reframe our stressors and view them as challenges instead of threats, we are more likely to experience positive outcomes. This resilience allows us to thrive in the face of adversity and come out stronger on the other side.

However, when we dwell on our stressors and allow them to consume us, they can take a toll on our physical and mental health. Anger, anxiety, and depression are all common side effects of unmanaged stress. It’s important to find healthy ways to cope with stress so that it doesn’t take over our lives.

Stress: How to Reframe it and rebuild resilience

When it comes to stress, we often think of it as something negative that causes us health problems and makes us angry. But what if we could reframe stress and use it to our advantage?

According to some experts, stress can actually be a good thing. It can help us become more resilient and better prepared for challenges. So how can we reframe our thinking about stress?

First, we need to understand what happens to our bodies when we're under stress. When we feel threatened or stressed, our bodies go into "fight-or-flight" mode. This means that our heart rate increases, our breathing quickens, and our muscles tense up.

While this response is helpful in emergency situations, it's not so great when it's constantly activated by everyday stresses. Stress is a ubiquitous part of modern life. Though its effects are often invisible, stress takes a toll on our physical and mental health. It can manifest as headaches, insomnia, and even heart disease. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Learning to reframe our relationship to stress can help us become more resilient in the face of adversity. By understanding the science of stress, we can begin to see it as a challenge to be overcome rather than a threat to be avoided. With this new perspective, we can start to build the skills necessary to thrive in spite of stress.

So next time you're feeling overwhelmed, remember that you have the power to turn your relationship with stress around. Stress is a part of our lives that we can't avoid. It's important to learn how to manage stress in order to stay healthy.

One way to do this is by reframing our perspective on stress. Instead of seeing it as a negative force, we can view it as a challenge that makes us stronger. This resilience helps us cope with stress in a more positive way. When we're stressed, our bodies respond by releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can lead to feelings of anxiety and anger. If we don't manage our stress levels, it can take a toll on our health both mentally and physically. Chronic stress has been linked to serious health problems like heart disease, depression, and obesity. It's important to find ways to reduce our stress levels. One way to do this is by changing the way we think about stressful situations.

Think of the gym or any type of sport. Every single aspect is stress as you raise metabolism, and homeostasis and increase activation of the sympathetic nervous system – the part related to fight and flight rather than relaxation. However, this is not only good stress, but a welcomed stress that is chased by millions of people daily who realise the importance of looking after their vehicle. You would not avoid exercise because it is stressful. You understand that stress is beneficial and an essential part of life.

Relating to physical exercise, it was Hans Seyle that gave us the GAS (general adaptation syndrome) principle for exercise. You exercise, you ache as the body recovers and adapts to meet those demands better for next time. Think of it as a personal evolution of your own life, rather than across hundreds of generations over time. You literally can change your own physiology and mind through working diligently towards specific goals.

A trivial, but perfect example comes from my own world over 25 years ago when I was a very keen guitarist. I wanted to play a piece and the stretch of the first chord killed me. However, I stuck with it and the span of my index finger is almost 1 inch more on my left hand compared to my right. Stress was present and the body adapted to meet the demands over time.

Proof below


The piece was Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tarrega

A wonderful way of viewing stress was presented in this TED talk by Kelly McGonigal