Recently, I received a really interesting question from a participant in my Foundations of Well-being course. This person had heard that stress itself is normal and that it is our negative reactions to stress that are harmful to us. This idea has significant implications, and I’d like to offer these comments about stress and how people think about it.
Thoughts on stress
We need to keep the distinctions clear among three things: challenges (i.e., stressors), mobilization of body and mind to meet challenges, and stress.
Stress is a particular kind of body-mind reaction to challenges that is distinct from normal mobilization. Stress usually involves negative emotions such as frustration, irritation, hurt, anxiety, loneliness, or hopelessness. Over time, stress does tend to wear down body and mind, and it creates issues in our relationships.
How we approach challenges and how we relate to experiences of mobilization are distinct from how we approach stress itself. This is not a merely semantic issue. If we blur these distinctions, we open a door to obscuring, minimizing, and tolerating the negative effects of stress.