Stress – is it all in your head?

Stress can affect your mind, your body, your emotions, and your spirit. But it starts in your head. It starts with the perception of a threat. That perception may be conscious or unconscious; the threat may be real or imagined, large or small. But the event (called the stressor) triggers a cascade of events known as the stress response (commonly called the “fight-or-flight” response).

The stress response involves two of the body’s systems: the nervous and endocrine (hormone) systems. These two systems have primary responsibility for maintaining homeostasis. Homeostasis is the body’s ability to maintain its internal environment, adjusting as necessary to changing outside conditions, in order to remain healthy.

The nervous system responds quickly, and its effects are relatively short-term. The endocrine system responds more slowly, and its effects are longer-term.

Different people may perceive the same stressor in different ways. For instance, skydiving may thrill some people, yet make others cringe. A public speaking opportunity may spur some individuals to deliver a moving speech, while others may dread every minute and speak hesitatingly.

Hans Selye (considered the “father of stress”) said “it’s how you take it.” The trouble lies not in the stressor, but rather in our reaction to that stressor. People can learn to be more stress hardy – that is, they can learn to handle stress better. It is possible to change the reaction you have to stressors.

Mental techniques such as meditation, visualization, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are often the first approaches people think of when they consider stress management (but mental techniques are only one category of stress management techniques). So not only can stress can start in the mind, one way of managing it is by using the mind.

 

(photo: © David Coleman | Dreamstime Stock Photos)

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