If we are to truly examine stress in this focus month, I figure that it is probably a good idea to start off with an exploration of what the word really means. I think there has been a lot of misinformation and speculation about it due to the word being bandied about and sensationalised to suit all kinds of purposes, most of which are likely to be about scaring us into buying products we don’t need. So let’s simplify some of this stuff, for the benefit of all of us.
According to www.dictionary.com,
“stress” can be a noun with the following meanings:
- Importance attached to a thing: To lay stress upon good manners. Synonyms: significance, meaning, emphasis, consequence; weight, value, worth.
- Emphasis in the form of prominent relative loudness of a syllable or a word as a result of special effort in utterance.
- Accent or emphasis on syllables in a metrical pattern; beat.
- Emphasis in melody, rhythm, etc.; beat.
- The physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another; strain.
- The action on a body of any system of balanced forces whereby strain or deformation results.
- The amount of stress, usually measured in pounds per square inch or in pascals.
- A load, force, or system of forces producing a strain.
- The internal resistance or reaction of an elastic body to the external forces applied to it.
- The ratio of force to area.
- 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.
“Stress” can also be a verb:
- To lay stress on; emphasise.
- To pronounce (a syllable or a word) with prominent loudness: Stress the first syllable of “runner.” Stress the second word in “put up with.” Compare accent (def 18).
- To subject to stress or strain.
- To subject to stress.
- To experience stress or worry: Don’t stress about the turkey; I promise it will be delicious”. Dad is always stressing out over his job.
So what does all this actually mean? If we chunk it down even more and look at themes, we can see that aside from the ones talking about phonetics (words), all of these definitions can be brought back to just a few words: force, strain, pressure.
Physical pressure, mechanical force, emotional strain.
And with the phonetic definitions, they talk about emphasis. Or, if we look at it from another angle, we put pressure on the way we say words to emphasise different meanings. Which brings us back to it being about pressure.
So, at its most basic, stress is about pressure, strain and force.
We can have physical pressure, strain and force, such as in the examples about mechanics.
And we can also have similar forces, strains and pressures on our physical and emotional selves.
At this point you may be thinking about how stressed out you feel on any given day, and wondering how such an (ultimately) simple definition can have such a massive impact on minds and bodies.
Beginning tomorrow we’ll look at some things that can place stress on our systems and what happens inside our bodies (and brains) to produce the way we feel.
Of particular interest is number 7, above:
Physiology. 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.
We’d love it if you would let us know what you think about this in the comments below …